The fans who value easy traffic left with two minutes left. The rest – the ones who stayed for the last bitter dregs of San Antonio’s 94-82 series-clinching gave the Warriors their well-deserved “Thank You A’s” moment.
You know the one? The one where they got smoked by Justin Verlander in the final game of the AL Division Series, and the fans roared for the players until they came out to acknowledge themselves and their season? You know? The lovefest moment.
Jarrett Jack stayed to applaud the satisfied lingerers, a towel around his neck handy for chewing. Then the others came back out of their locker room to join in. It was the Oakland Goodbye done once again, and it will spring the Warriors through a healing offseason into a season fraught with change and promise and expectations.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors' run comes to an end with Game 6 loss to Spurs]
There were, though, subtle differences to be found. The A’s got shut out by the game’s best pitcher, while the Warriors got beat despite a mediocre game from Manu Ginobili and a nearly total disaster from Tony Parker. The A’s never had a chance against Verlander. The Warriors had chances late.
And the A’s were pretty healthy. The Warriors were anything but. In fact, they finished their season with one final injury, to Harrison Barnes’ head late in the first half. And one final painful night from Andrew Bogut, who in the words of head coach Mark Jackson, “basically couldn’t move.”
But Jackson also says, “We’re a no-excuses team,” so that’s how they should be remembered. Ignore the injuries. They changed the franchise’s virulent culture – at least for the moment (one should never forget 2008, or the fragile nature of any team not containing LeBron James). They showed themselves to be an exceedingly tough out as well as an aesthetically pleasing one.
Even Thursday night, when they struggled to find their familiar rhythms and led for only 66 second of the entire game. Bogut couldn’t play. Curry did, but the Spurs corralled him well and saw to it with a couple of tactical time outs that he didn’t ignite the building with one of those Curry-esque runs. He ended with 22 points, but on 25 shots, an inefficient finish for a very efficient player.
Klay Thompson struggled to find his shot, again, Barnes was strong early but then collided with San Antonio’s basilisk-like Boris Diaw and splitting his eyebrow open and never fully cleared his head. Indeed, other than Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, the Warriors never made a real dent offensively.
In short, they got Spurred, which most observers thought was the true difference between the two teams. San Antonio had years of experience at this. This Warrior team had the Denver series.
Hey, it matters. You saw how.
“It was exactly what we expected,” Curry said of the experience gained, “but you gotta go through it. How much attention to detail it takes, how much mental and physical toughness it takes to grind out these series. We all enjoyed the process, and we’re just itching to get back to this level.”
But in the three-and-a-half months between now and the resumption of the job, he and his mates will remember the Parker three-pointer with 3:36 to play that gave the Spurs an 80-75 lead, and then the Kawhi Leonard trey from the deep left corner with two minutes to play to push the lead back out to six, 85-79, and finally the Parker trey with 1:15 left to dagger the evening.
And as a vicious little metaphor for game and series, jumpers by Thompson at 1:50 and Curry at 1:35 rattled out of the basket. You know, just to make sure everyone understood the physics of basketball at this level, starting with its first law: To be a king, you have to beat all the other kings.
At the end of the day then (and Jackson lit that lamp up two final times Thursday night), the Warriors hit “E.” Emotionally, physically, mentally – all their gauges were at zero when the final horn sounded. Even winning Game 6 would have done them little good in Game 7, given the amount of oil they were leaking. They did all they had a right to expect themselves capable, except process the season in five minutes.
“It’s hard to mellow out that quick when you’re still in game mode,” Curry said. “We fought to the finish, but the plays they made, the threes they hit – they deserved to win.
“It’ll take a minute for us to realize the accomplishments we made, for the Warriors to be in this position. We can build on this. We have 3 ½ months to kind of sit on it and think back on the goods and bads. But whoever is in that locker room next year will be ready to go.”
With their new teammate, expectation. This was the Warriors at their most fun – the new kid in the show, doing things other teams don’t do and not doing things that other teams do. This was better than the We Believe team in 2007, but the We Believe team was better the following year, and didn’t make the playoffs at all. That’s the cruelty of the historical Warriors.
But the funny thing is, history is always available for remaking, and that is Golden State’s task for 2014. To be what they were in 2013, only older, wiser, tougher, healthier and deeper.
The goal: To try and delay the Thank You A’s moment awhile longer.