Game Seven of the Western Conference Final will not be as good as Game Six of the Western Conference Final. That is the only prediction upon which you, the earnest consumer, can reliably trust.
The Golden State Warriors may win. The Oklahoma City Thunder may win. They may play three overtimes in a hot lava shower –- although I am reliably informed that the arena in Oakland has a lava-proof concrete ceiling -- but it won’t match this.
Oh, it should try to do that. It should try to create a hero like Klay Thompson was in Game 6 . . . or for that matter Russell Westbrook. It should have great transitional plays and incandescent defensive moments and moments of huge momentum and tactical swings.
And it should have the Warriors slightly favored in a game that four days ago had a 97 percent chance of either a failure in Oakland or not existing at all.
But it won’t beat this. This should get some time to resonate in the soul, whether it is the exhilaration of the Warriors violating the laws of probability or the stabbing abdominal pain of the Thunder walking off their home floor blank and vacant.
Now this is unfair to the Thunder, we grant you, but this is a moment in Golden State history that will be topped only by Game 4 of the 1975 Finals and Game 6 of the 2015 Finals. This was the Warriors taking repeated fists to the gullet and falling back but never over, wheezing for breath but never letting the game break their spines.
This was their adversity final.
Not the Stephen Curry injury, not the Game 3 losses last year, not the successive chokeslams in this series. Being down eight in the fourth quarter, with extermination as their likely reward, they rose in unison.
Okay, that last part is a lie. They were lifted by Thompson, whose shooting was elegantly described by head coach Steve Kerr as “ridiculous,” a murderous three by Curry to tie the game at 99, then five intercontinental defensive stops (one missed shot, four turnovers) to consolidate the lead they stole when Thompson hit his 11th three-pointer with 1:35 to play.
To be sure, the Thunder offense was hideous –- Westbrook and Kevin Durant were 20-for-58, 1-for-13 from three, taking 64 percent of the team’s shots, missing six more shots than their teammates combined to take, and ended up averaging a paltry 0.98 points per shot, which is substandard by any metric.
But they also were reduced by Curry and Thompson, whose mathematical response to Durant and Westbrook was 22 for 51, but 17 for 31 from three. In addition, the defense took 19 points from Thunder turnovers, and broke their will in the fourth quarter, when champions do champion things.
So now we are here, on the cusp of a game Monday whose worst feature is that it will end a series that rallied from an uneventful beginning to an incendiary finish. The Warriors know they have won the last two games, but had to be sensational in different ways to do so, and have been gut-kneed by Oklahoma City throughout this fortnight.
In other words, both teams go into Monday knowing they have had to digest the indigestible, and have to remember that relying on momentum to do any of the heavy lifting is asking to lose. Momentum is made, not bestowed, and great games between great teams happen organically rather than by design.
And we should all be good with that. We were looking at a defending champion in the throes of humiliation (think the Heat swept by Chicago in the first round in 2007), and we were looking at a very ornery three-seed ready to knock all the preconceptions of the basketball punditocracy into the dumpster fire of history.
Now we get what we thought all year we would get with Warriors-Spurs. Now we get open-faced history with a side of WTF Was That, because in the end, nothing explains greatness quite like two teams exchanging soul-crushing blows and coming back with more soul for more blows.
So Game 7 is Monday, and let the fates have their way. True believers will find the result all-encompassing, but they must know what we all do –- that we are playing with the casino’s money from this moment forward, even if Game 7 cannot be Game 6 in its wildest drunken fantasies.
And you can’t ask for a fairer damn deal than that.