The book deals you know the Golden State Warriors were in line for this summer are evaporating to a precious few, and they all will have the same theme.
The folly of believing in pre-ordination.
With Tuesday’s 118-94 loss to the Oklahoma City Spoiler Alerts, the Warriors must win three must-win games, at a time when they have never looked more vulnerable, less confident, or less like themselves. And being invulnerable, supremely confident and utterly sold on who and what they are are the three attributes that served them best these past two seasons.
Their defense has been shredded. Their shooting touch has betrayed them. They are utterly swagger-free. They are on the verge of being the 45th team in NBA history to go home to an old trophy, and this was not the plan.
It never is, of course. The plan for every champion is to spark a new Celtic-like dynasty, winning year after year after year and viewing the world with impunity bordering on disdain.
But these Warriors were going to reinvent basketball for the analytics generation. They were changing the paradigm for good, because their roster was seamless, their coaching staff was kissed on the forehead by the ghost of Red Auerbach, and Stephen Curry’s picture was going to go on the $100 bill.
Front and back.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors lose Game 4 in OKC, fall into 3-1 hole]
Now they have to cheat one of the sport’s most powerful reapers – the 3-1 deficit. What is more, they have to do it under the realization that they not only have lost two successive games (not a big deal, historically speaking) but lost them by 20-plus points (a very big deal, ass-kickingly speaking).
They are the 233rd team in league history to be faced with three elimination games against the same team, and only nine of them escaped. None of those nine, however, had to deal with successive body-and-soul dismantlings to get to 1-3. Houston lost the first two games to Phoenix in the ’95 Western semifinals by 22 and 24, but won the third by 23, and rendered the rest of the series too weird to explain except for two things.
Hakeem, and Olajuwon.
The Warriors have an Olajuwon of their own in Stephen Curry, but he has been nothing of the sort in this series. Maybe his knee and ankle are still embittered by their rude treatment in earlier series, but he has not been the advertised and anticipated force against Oklahoma City, Draymond Green has been at his worst, but this is not an individual breakdown.
The defense has been horrific, and film study can’t say it the same way that successive 72-point first halves can. Telestrators don’t do justice to raw statistics like “allowing 120.4 points per game in the last seven games.” Oklahoma City has created/been allowed a staggering number of uncontested shots, and only a few of those have been tactical decisions.
The offense has been arrhythmic and doubt-riddled, and nothing like the force of otherworldly nature it has been for the last two years. The ball isn’t cared for, the passes to nobody have returned as though it were 2013 again, and the Thunder are getting the disturbingly vast majority of loose balls and rebounds.
And now they must reverse all those things starting Thursday, and then do it again Saturday in Oklahoma City, and then thrice this coming Monday. They have to treat a team that owns them like they are owned, and make the Thunder believe what the Warriors believe now – that this may be too hard to do.
So never mind the narratives about energy expended getting the 73rd win, or this being a make-or-miss league, or getting Stephen Curry off Russell Westbrook at all costs, or any of the other hope-without-evidence bromides.
The Warriors have to deal with a brand new sensation – having to beat a team that at this moment is better than Golden State. The Warriors haven’t been the lesser team to anyone since the Los Angeles Clippers series two years ago, and they’ve come to love the sensation. Now they have to regain a taste for being the sandpapery underdog nobody believes in, and they have to remember the feeling again, and then again.
But the numbers say 223-9. In short, the Warriors have been pushed into a tar pit with a piano they have to push to dry land while the Thunder stands at the edge of the pit hurling blows at them all then while.
History awaits, good and ill. And to the Warriors, the Superman suddenly stuck on a planet with a red sun, best of luck with that. Pre-ordination only works for so long before the laws of physics intrude.
The following nine teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game series:
1968 — Boston over Philadelphia, Eastern Conference Finals
1970 — Los Angeles Lakers over Phoenix, Western Conference Semifinals
1979 — Washington Bullets over San Antonio, Eastern Conference Finals
1981 — Boston over Philadelphia, Eastern Conference Finals
1995 — Houston over Phoenix, Western Conference Semifinals
1997 — Miami over New York, Eastern Conference Semifinals
2003 — Detroit over Orlando, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
2006 — Phoenix over Los Angeles Lakers, Western Conference Quarterfinals
2015 — Houston over Los Angeles Clippers, Western Conference Semifinals
*The winning team won the NBA Finals in 1968, 1979, 1981 and 1995