I’ve written this whole season under the assumption Warriors were going to win the NBA title. I did that last season too, and the season before that. My measure of the situation, which I share with at least half of the rest of the basketball writing world, is that the Warriors are the most talented team in the history of the league and they have no business failing, not even to the handful of quite good teams that populate the echelon directly below them. The Bucks would need to acquire Kawhi Leonard, the Rockets would have to add Anthony Davis, to truly approach the Warriors’ level in terms of pure ability. Nevermind that Golden State’s roster fits together well, and they play in a style that brings out the best in their stars. At their most locked in, they’re a great defensive team that’s totally unguardable at the other end of the floor. Their peak and everybody else’s are an atmosphere apart.
You can’t really prove inevitability. Stuff just kind of happens and it lines up with your expectations or it doesn’t. It’s more of a feeling than an actual phenomenon, because obviously the Warriors could fall to the Rockets. Houston’s a championship caliber team, they almost beat Golden State in the playoffs last year, and as we’ve seen in these Western Conference Semis, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can improbably string together a few bad shooting nights that imperil the Warriors’ chances. A seven-game series is not a crapshoot, but it’s not a definitive measure of which team is superior either.
Because if that were the case, the Warriors would never lose. Here is a deeply frustrating thing about them: they only intermittently seem interested in making this clear. For quarters—entire games!—they cut the figure of geniuses with no deadline to fix their minds on, noodling around and working half-drunk and sleeping in late. They seem pretty sick of each other, or at least everybody seems sick of Kevin Durant’s sulking, a bit less tolerant of Draymond Green’s loudmouthedness. They’re definitely weary of having to continually restate their greatness, to in fact put in the labor that’s required to certify what everybody already knows. It’s boring, being so awesome, and fighting for rebounds is exhausting.
As feisty as the Rockets are, it’s not unfair to say the Warriors’ greatest opponent is their own apathy.
Okay, apathy or an unanticipated disaster? The combination of Durant and Curry are what make Golden State world-historically potent. Klay and Draymond help out a lot, but it’s the fact that Steph can shoot like 6-for-18 and the Warriors will still win because Durant’s playing out of his head, or vice versa. When James Harden sucks, the Rockets go down. The same is true for the Giannis and the Bucks. When Curry and Durant are cooking simultaneously, the game’s usually over well before the final buzzer.
Without one or other, the Warriors might still be the best team in the league, but if they are, it’s no longer be any kind of sizable margin. In other words, they’re mortal without Curry or Durant, and given the putridity of their once-decent bench—how did Jonas Jerebko get in here? and how is he even worse than he was three years ago?—a significant injury to one or the other would mean Steve Kerr has about five not-embarrassing NBA players at his disposal. It’s not ideal, and for the Warriors, less than ideal represents a huge drop off. It’s the difference between Superman skin and a bulletproof vest.
It represents the slim hope that Daryl Morey might finally get that title he keeps lobbying the league office for.
It’s (charmingly?) self-parodic of Kerr to use a dull 15-second preamble about a soccer manager as an excuse to swear joyfully. (Jürgen Klopp is immediately lovable; Kerr is more of a debate teamer’s argument for the idea of his own lovability.) I’m also not sure he’s entirely right. Golden State almost always pull it out in the end, and it’s hard to give them sincere congratulations when they do, because they’re supposed to. And they wouldn’t have had to sweat against the Rockets in Game 5 if they had kept even half an eye on the 20-point lead that dwindled down to nothing before any extraordinary hardships needed to be overcome. The Warriors didn’t exactly play like giants so much as they played like themselves—brilliantly, then sloppily, then plenty well enough to win. Kevin Durant wasn’t there at the end, but then again neither was James Harden.
Perhaps inevitability is a lie that describes the truth. When we say that a Warriors title is inevitable, we mean it and we don’t. We’re talking about a condition—our own pessimism or annoyance, maybe, provided we’re not Bay Area sports fans. What does it take to break this spell? Well, how jacked up is Durant’s leg? Have the Rockets already blown their opportunity? What’s your read on the Bucks or Raptors or Nuggets?
The fact that we’re asking questions tell us that we’re close. But again, the Rockets were close last season. Did you really think they were going to break through? There’s no right or wrong answer to that, but of course in the end, they didn’t.