So it turns out after all that Lakers 112, Warriors 95 is only the 23rd biggest upset in NBA history, according to the EloScore formula. Not that it matters, but it was one of the rare times this year that numbers did not work in Golden State’s favor.
Numbers, though, are still more reliable than hysteria, and with 20 more regular season games to slog through before the actual season begins, it is hard to convince people that it is May and June that matters, and that all the numbers between now and then – 300, 400, 125, 73, 63, 13.7 will all be undone and rendered a cruel and massive joke if they don’t do one other.
That is the underlying truth about this season, that all the numbers they amass between now and Tax Day will be irrelevant if they don’t have another parade. This seems obvious, and everyone knows it intellectually, but the Warriors have historically been a franchise whose fans put greater stock in entertainment than victory, and there is nothing more galling in the modern era than to be a bad-ass until right before closing time.
The Carolina Panthers went 17-2 this past football season, and ended on the “2.” They have been, as the British say, “binned,” as in dustbinned. The 2001 Seattle Mariners went 116-46, but 1-4 in the postseason. Binned. The 1954 Cleveland Indians went 111-43, and swept in the World Series. Binned. The 2007 Dallas Mavericks, 67-15. Binned, and by the Warriors. The 2007 New England Patriots, 16-0. Binned. Hell, Conor McGregor last Saturday.
No excuses. You did it, or you got done. That’s the rule.
You get the idea. In America, winners get worshiped, and silver medalists get slagged. Until there is relegation in all sports, the trophy is the only thing that we care about, and the parade the only civic enterprise we pay attention to. This is a hole in our cultural soul, but it is what it is what it will always be. You can’t change a person’s essential character, and we require championship as the only proof of purchase we will accept.
And the problem with this outlook is that all the fun things you’ve seen and the achievements that have been amassed mean nothing when Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against (ick) the Houston Rockets begins. It means you are still in the NBA’s version of spring training, no matter what everyone gushes at you.
This is equally true for those of you who are fretting about how the Warriors lost to the horrific Lakers and barely escaped Orlando the next night. Shooting 13 percent happens to the best of them. Scuffling on the second night of back-to-backs happens to all of them. This is hard work they are producing, and it still means far less than the work that awaits them.
In short, you cannot have lasting relevance in March of an NBA season. You simply can't. Every assumption you make is made by a fool, every conclusion you draw is a lie. The seats at the final table haven't even been assigned yet, no matter how good the snacks at the buffet table look.
This bears repeating only because here in the belly of the beast more than anywhere else, the devotion to the Warriors’ stunning preseason has been, well, cultish. The only story angle that has not been mercilessly flattened by the “give us more, damn you” editors has been how the Warriors are quietly trying to monetize the burgeoning stand-outside-the-restaurant-window-in-the-cold-and-watch-the-television-over-the-bar crowd on the streets of Oakland, San Francisco and all suburban hamlets. This is a revenue stream owner Joe Lacob has clearly forgotten, and his fellow owners shun him as a result.
The fixation on mocking old players who want to use the the-game-wasn’t-played-this-way-when-I-was-around argument to defend their eras . . . the particular whining about Charles Barkley . . . the angry disavowal of both luck and the modern rules as factors in their results . . . the absurdly over-the-top blatherage about the records start, the record home record . . . hell, about the 1996 Chicago Bulls in general, and . . . frankly, kids, it’s all a little worrisome.
The 2015 Warriors were spectacular not because they went 67-15 and because Stephen Curry won the MVP trophy, but because they went 16-5 and Andre Iguodala was the Finals MVP and everybody got rings. They owned the real season more than the 82-game prelude, at least when you look at the history of the current playoff format.
The Warriors’ 16-5 postseason ties for second-best (with the 2011 Mavericks), one game behind San Antonio’s 16-4 in 2007. Nobody ever brings that up as a potential goal for this as-yet-not-quite-epochal team, and frankly, that is a better measure of the kind of postseason dominance that people will remember. Before 2003, the NBA had a damnable best-of-five opening series which somehow proved a greater benefit to eventual winners than the current one does (the 3-4-4-4 system produced an average of 4.68 losses per champion, while the 4-4-4-4 jacks it to 6.76).
But as we have tried to say, the Warriors’ goals are immediate ones, because they cannot win the 1996 NBA title from Chicago, or the 1986 title from Boston, or the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers. They can only win the one in front of them, and they haven’t even started that yet.
Now we are fine with everyone enjoying what they seeing, because this doesn’t need comparisons to create validity, let alone beauty. This is a remarkable show, no question, and every person trying to watch TV for free in the cold rather than go in a buy a drink knows that better than you or I.
But if the Warriors do not finish with 16 wins in their final whatevers, this season will be a massive letdown, both within and without the organization. The stakes are far higher than Curry’s 300th trey or the 45th consecutive home win, or the road to a potential 73rd win or Curry getting all 130 first place MVP votes (which would be another first that doesn’t get mentioned).
In short, this isn’t a special season . . . yet. It looks like one, and it has a better chance of being one than any other team’s does, but this is still prelude to the main event. Ask any Mariner or Patriot or Maverick or Indian. They’ll tell how much fun it is to have the prettiest dress and have to hail a cab home from the prom.