By Jason Keidel
The Golden State Warriors have had us so spellbound for the last two years it has skewed our senses.
They seemed to literally rise from the NBA grave to win 67 regular-season games and the NBA title last year, the club’s first in 40 years. Then followed that with a surreal 73 wins this year, with these playoffs serving as little more than a de facto coronation of history’s greatest team.
The Warriors have flipped the old-world metrics with their new-world game. And for the last 23 months, it’s been a blast. Any basketball fan has surely wiped some drool from their mouth, as the Splash Brothers turn the sport into a comic book blizzard of three-pointers.
But no matter how gifted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and their mutant shooting teammates clearly are, it doesn’t erase the doomsday proposition that awaits them at Oklahoma City on Saturday. Certain basketball verities are eternal. The closer you are to the rim, the easier the shot. Layups are slump-proof.
And while the Warriors are unbeaten in these playoffs when Curry scores at least 30 points, it was his blue-collar brothers who won that game last night. Andrew Bogut pining around the rim; Draymond Green being reviving with his ornery persona and junk buckets. Even Marreese Speights kicked in 14 points.
That’s why the Warriors won. And that’s why they will lose this series. You can’t change your identity and team ethic 95 percent of the way through the season. The fatal flaw in this system is last night was an aberration.
The Warriors are 9-0 this when scoring at least 110 points. But they are 1-5 when they don’t. And the playoffs tend to slow the game some, even if slow ball is relative when it comes to Golden State.
You can’t make your living 25-feet from the rim and never expect to lose a series. You can’t have your best player weigh 180 pounds and expect him to take the tumult and pounding of 100 games a year sans injury.
Russell Westbrook worked the league MVP for most of this series, before forgetting what made him so singularly special, reverting back to bad dribbling clinics, bad shots and turnovers. But Westbrook, who can score all his points in the paint, if needed, is the perfect emblem of why the Thunder are an old-school nightmare for the space-age Warriors.
It almost feels like there’s a karmic tax on Curry for being handed the NBA MVP by the only unanimous vote in league history. It was laughable, and deeply disrespectful to the irreplaceable player of the sport — LeBron James.
Indeed, the Warriors stretched their lead last night largely with the second-team, while Curry chomped on his mouthpiece from the bench. That’s not to trivialize his transcendent shooting ability. But he doesn’t play with the tool belt King James has flaunted for 13 years.
The Golden State Warriors are way more than a novelty act. They are NBA champions. And Stephen Curry is clearly more than a two-year wonder. But it’s perilous to crown players and teams before they earn their place on the totem pole.
Of course, the Warriors could win their next two games and the NBA Finals. But forgive us if we see last night as little more than a 48-minute speed bump for Oklahoma City. Saturday night is the Thunder’s chance to restore old-world realities to a new-world game.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.