Okay, yes, big ideas: greatness, hegemony, courage, masculinity, free will, late capitalism. Steph Curry turned twenty-nine a few months ago and he’s Golden State’s oldest star. We’ll have time enough for the big work. Let’s start with something more granular, the primary reason the Warriors are NBA champs with eyelash-short odds to nab two or three more: attrition.
There are a lot of ways to explain the why and how of the Warriors’ dominance, but the most striking thing about them, as they occasionally toiled but mostly calmly outgunned the Cleveland Cavaliers, was the wearying totality of their talent. They were many things—smart and well-coached and skillful and athletic and inventive and hard-working—but they were mostly all of these things at once. They were too much. They floated three inches above the court, and the Cavs operated as if the Warriors were a massive barbell grinding them into the hardwood. In four out of five games, they were eventually pancaked by the pressure.
You could see it in Game 5, when the Cavs assembled an inspired opening quarter and earned a mere four-point lead, then got a little leggy midway through the second and the Warriors ripped off a thirty-to-eight run. They weren’t necessarily running a zippier offense than they did in the first period, but the Cavs couldn’t keep up any longer. The run started with some deep threes from Steph and Kevin Durant—nothing to be done about those—but then LeBron James and Iman Shumpert lost their concentration and blew a couple coverages on back-cuts and the Cavs were a little less apt to close down shooters. The Warriors demonstrated that unless your defense is thrumming along at full capacity, they’ll create bunches of open shots and dunks for themselves. Concurrently with this defensive downtick, the Cavs’ offense grew sluggish and sloppy. Kyrie Irving turned the ball over; LeBron receded a bit; bench players clanked jumpers. It was the death of them.
Jeff Van Gundy was ragging on the Cavs during this stretch—as is his charmingly, coachly pessimistic wont—but it was hard to feel like it was completely their fault that they had surrendered the lead and were beginning to drift into undoable comeback territory. They were wiped out. Scoring against the Warriors is work; stopping them from scoring is even more taxing. The Cavs just didn’t show up to the arena with twenty-four straight minutes of flowing offense and disciplined defense in their bodies last night. They can get away with this against any other team in the league, which is good news for them, since it’s a virtually impossible ask. The Cavs played less than as well as they can possibly play for about six minutes. They went into half having scored sixty points, down by eleven.
And being down double-digits to the Warriors is to know Sisyphus’s pain. During the regular season, the Warriors get up big and their opponents pack it in. No use killing yourself chasing a win that’s not going to arrive when you’ve got the Clippers coming to town tomorrow night. But the Cavs, having no option other than to push on, showed us what it looks like when an exceedingly capable team gives the Warriors everything they’ve got. The result, brutally and obviously, is that the Warriors simply have more. They don’t have to exhaust themselves to stay in games. Klay Thompson can have a bad shooting night, but your two-guard can’t. The Warriors can get beaten on the boards, but if they’re beating you, you’re toast. It’s not easy for the Warriors to overcome a squad as gifted and industrious as the Cavs, but they don’t have to spend all their energy to make it happen. Margin for error is the en vogue term these days. The Warriors have a Kevin Durant-sized margin of error.
It says something about both them and the Cavs that, as my colleague Corbin Smith pointed out, sniggeringly, the Warriors seemed to actually need Durant, which is mildly surprising. But that’s as close as we got in these Finals to an upset. We can argue that the Cavs biffed Game 3 and, considering how record-settingly prolific they were in Game 4, that they perhaps had a chance to put some genuine fear into the Warriors, but that’s blowing past the headline to dwell on hypotheticals, and the headline is that Golden State dispatched a team for which LeBron James averaged 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists on 56.4 percent shooting in five games, with two blowout and one blowout-adjacent wins. That’s decadent superiority.
So, what we were already pretty sure was true is now further proven: the Warriors as currently constituted are only theoretically mortal over a seven-game series. Too many things have to go wrong for them, too many things have to go right for another team, over too many contests for them not to be heavy, heavy favorites against every foe they meet. They are too—everything. They are the sky under which everyone else fails. When the rest of the league is tired and reeling and cursing beneath its laboring breath, there they are, always: up above.