Other than Draymond Green supplicating himself to his compatriots by describing himself in almost exhausting detail as “a terrible teammate” by missing Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors Wednesday revealed none of the impending doom the Cleveland Cavaliers would like to see in them. They have come to see that poor games, infrequent though they might be, are not the same as defining events.
They can be, of course, something they will learn to their detriment if this series goes back to Oakland for Father’s Day and ends as Game 5 did. So yes, lose this series and the Warriors very definitely give the nation the answer to Steve Kerr’s rhetorical, “You guys get to make up that story, so whatever you want to write is fine.”
But playing Game 7 is a thousand miles away, and losing it is about a million. Game 6 is what there is, and even though the jumping off point is the misery farm of Game 5 (“We were poor in so many areas,” Kerr said), there is still the fact that they not only still had a chance to win that game (“. . . and yet with five minutes to go it’s still a six-point game,” he concluded) but are in position to do as they did a year ago and coat Quicken Loans with another layer of champagne and shame.
“We have great memories from last year, memories that will last forever,” Kerr said, trying to reinforce the template that the seas are calm, the wind favorable and all conditions are clement on the S.S. Dub. “But more than anything, they want to feel it again, whether it’s here or in Oakland. It doesn’t matter.”
And, well, it doesn’t. This is a different situation in that last year, the Warriors were coming off wins in Games 4 and 5, and the one-man Cavaliers were running on E. This time, the Warriors are coming off a more-convincing-than-Kerr-lets-on defeat, and even though Green claims that he is the reason the Warriors lost, he would not have guarded Kyrie Irving on any of his 41 points. Moreover, he would have to show that his presence alone is worth 16 points, which emotion and post-Game 4 body language may support but analytics do not (in the first four games, the Green-at-center lineup was plus-51, which is 12.75, which isn’t 16).
“It’s different because it’s a different year,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s a different challenge, different circumstances, obviously, with a couple of injuries and whatnot. But the opportunity is there, and I think we’re a very poised group that’s ready for it.”
Indeed, lots of things turned Game 6 a year ago, not the least of which was Festus Ezeli’s performance in the pivotal third quarter, when he replaced Harrison Barnes and scored nine points (five of six from the free throw line) as part of a 17-10 run that put the Cavs at arm’s length for the rest of the game. With Andrew Bogut out for the next 16 weeks (we’re going with the notion that he won’t play until the season opener in late October), Ezeli’s contribution must be more than the inert performances he has offered in much of this series.
Or at least should be. The Warriors are at their best when they don’t need all hands on deck, as they did in Game 5, but when the hands on deck they have make demonstrable contributions.
That, too, was missing in Game 5, where Curry and Klay Thompson did not overcome Green’s absence, Bogut’s injury and the lack of impact by their teammates not named Andre Iguodala, as Irving and LeBron James did theirs. A year ago, James was the one who could not mask his mates’ deficiencies.
But none of that will be a tale worthy of the retelling if the Warriors are as they typically are Thursday night. Their placid press conference confidence and Green’s not-quite-abject self-flagellation will be part of the gray smear of unimportant events if the Warriors win their second title, and then get to talk about being the 13th team to win successive titles, and planning to be the sixth to win three straight. Because the bar always moves no matter how many you’ve cleared, and you have no enduring legacy until you’re not playing any more.
They are, in short, doing that Warrior zen, and will remain in the state until required to be otherwise. In short, they have no more baseball games on the schedule this season.