Adam Silver knew as he rose from his center-court seat 15 rows up that the right thing for him to do was to declare that the Cleveland Cavaliers would play the Portland Trail Blazers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA commissioner didn’t do that, of course, because people would notice the sudden up-tick in entertaining basketball on the other side of the bracket and suspect some high-handed chicanery. But it would still be the right thing to do.
The Blazers were slowly but surely squeezed out of this postseason by the Golden State Warriors, losing Game 5 of this Western Conference Semifinal, 125-121, but as any Warrior will tell you . . .
. . . well, what they would tell you is, “Oh, no. We’re not doing this again.”
But the Warriors did, in fact, do it, in five games, even though they took harder blows in this series than in any of the other five they have played in the last year and change of postseason play. They earned their four victories, to be sure, but they earned their four victories.
How much this will serve to benefit them in the Western Conference Finals remains to be seen. Five-game series aren’t supposed to be this taxing, you see, and the difference between a 73-win team and a 44-win team isn’t supposed to be this small.
“The Blazers made it . . . that might be the closest five-game series of all time,” Thompson, who was superb at both ends of the floor throughout the series, said.
“It’s not often that you play against a team in the playoffs and admire them at the same time,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “This was a pretty unique series the way Portland plays, because not a lot of teams do what they do. They put a lot of pressure on your perimeter defense and they space the floor beautifully. They were tough to guard.”
In other words, they both said, “We’re happy to see the back of you. Don’t be in a hurry to come back.”
Indeed, every Warrior blow but the last one -– the murderous step-back three by Stephen Curry with 24.9 seconds left that made the score 124-119 and has killed more games than Mom yelling, “Dinner’s On The Table, So Get Home Now!” –- was answered by a Portland team that would cheerfully play a meaningless sixth game just to give the Warriors all they want one more time.
Curry scored 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, but the Warriors could not pull away because Portland’s Allen Crabbe refused to allow Thompson, who had 33 points in the first three quarters, to get a shot in the fourth. The Warriors, most notably Thompson and Andre Iguodala, held Damian Lillard to 28 points on 7-of-24 shooting, but could not contain Crabbe or Al-Farouq Aminu.
They won because of Curry’s miraculous save of a blind Leandro Barbosa pass that led him too far and too close to the sideline, that Andrew Bogut collected and sent back to a collected Curry for his first three of the night, but the Warriors still gave up more threes than they made.
They won because Festus Ezeli made four trick shot free throws that used everything but the shot clock bolted to the top of the backboard and Joe Lacob’s forehead, but the Blazers shot 10 more free throws.
In all, the Warriors deserved to win this series, and they needed every bit of those plays to overcome the Portland responses that nearly foiled them. In short, they proved their greatness by having it tested more relentlessly than ever.
And now they hope that the San Antonio Spurs can cuff the Oklahoma City Thunder around the face and ears Thursday so that they can get two extra days to heal and deal before the conference final begins. Curry’s knee, Draymond Green’s ankle, which his glorious mother Mary Babers thoughtfully tweeted had been tweaked in Game 4, and Bogut’s right adductor muscle and delicate bits all need some heat, stim and spackle before the grind resumes.
“We definitely need a few days off,” Kerr said. “Steph’s been back two days now, but he’s not 100 percent, so this will be good for him to get a couple of days to get off the knee and then do some treatment, and we’ll see how Bogut and Draymond do. Yeah, we could use a little rest.”
But for the Blazers, barring Silver doing what he knows he should do, a surprisingly glorious season ends, hard and cruel, and the rest they get will taste a bit ashy.
That may be why Portland coach Terry Stotts said as he left the postgame presser, “You guys have a good summer. Well, you guys still have to work.”
In a better world, the Blazers would still have work to do as well. The Cavaliers will never know how lucky they are.