This piece was originally published after Game 6. It has been updated following the Warriors' Game 7 defeat.
The Golden State Warriors were bad at losing in more ways than one this season. They were bad at losing in the literal sense: they lost fewer games this regular season than any team in NBA history, and they had a way of making every deficit seem surmountable.
Even after the Cavaliers opened up a dominant 20-point lead in the first few minutes of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors always seemed a few threes away from getting back into what was genuinely a lopsided game. Even after LeBron James smothered Andre Iguodala's layup and Kyrie Irving nailed the go-ahead three-pointer in Game 7, the Warriors always seemed able to spring Stephen Curry for some sort of three. Any game, any situation, we came to expect that these Warriors would win.
Yet this series also revealed one other thing: they are bad at losing in the sense that they never quite figured out how to handle themselves in the rare instances the tide did turn against them.
After it became clear that the Cavaliers would win Game 6, things rapidly flew out of control. Stephen Curry fouled out for the first time all season, then hurled his mouthpiece into the stands, where it hit a fan. This earned Curry an ejection on top of his disqualification, making him the first player to get ejected from a Finals game since Seattle's Frank Brickowski in 1996.
A few plays later, Draymond Green spent the entire length of a set of Cavaliers free throws turned away from the action, berating a referee. After the game, coach Steve Kerr criticized the referees for their fouls on Curry, an act of defiance that earned him a hefty fine from the league office. Two games after calling LeBron James a baby, the Warriors whined.
Whether or not you care about the moral aspect of Golden State's sore losing, their actions were stupid. Having lost Game 6, they seemed determined to undermine their own chances in a winner-take-all Game 7.
By throwing his mouthpiece, Curry ran the risk of getting himself suspended for the biggest game of the year. Luckily, NBA precedent was on his side. However, I doubt Curry was weighing the NBA's precedent when winding up to chuck his saliva-drenched chew toy.
After earning a suspension for Game 5 for punching LeBron James in the penis, Draymond Green should've known that he was two technical fouls from earning a suspension for Game 7. And yet, in a game that was already decided, he turned away from the action to rip a referee. He avoided any technicals, but he was mighty close.
Green came through in Game 7, but Curry simply couldn't. The Warriors played as well as they could, but they left the door open for LeBron James to steal the series. And steal it he did, with the help of an Irving three and lockdown defense by Kevin Love of all people on Curry's game-tying attempt.
The Warriors are arrogant. In competitive sports, arrogance is generally good. When trying to be the best in the world, it's important to genuinely believe you're the best in the world. And the Warriors' arrogance was well-earned. There are times this year when they've seemed like the best team ever to play basketball. They told themselves nobody could beat them, and prior to the Finals, nobody had.
To that point, the Warriors had been unkillable. They responded to a 3-1 hole and a slew of double-digit deficits against the Thunder by simply deciding to make every shot. They broke records that weren't supposed to be broken, and smashed their own records by ridiculous amounts. They transformed games they should have lost into improbable victories. They made this season their game of limbo, and there's been no bar so low that they couldn't slip under untouched with a smile. And they faced a Game 7 at home, and home teams almost never lose Game 7s.
But arrogance can make you believe things you shouldn't. During a magical season, the Warriors nevertheless convinced themselves that there was no hole they couldn't dig themselves out. So, they tried to see how deep of a hole they could dig and fell in. They believed they could top the Bulls' vaunted 72-win record and still have enough left in the tank for a successful postseason run. They believed they could mock LeBron James and he'd just be aight with it. They believed they could kick and punch players in the junk without repercussions. And in the end, those beliefs cost them.
Their occasional testing of the NBA's boundaries has left the Warriors' on-court actions the subject of severe scrutiny by the officials and the league office.
Their mockery of LeBron James backfired about as badly as mockery can backfire. It's not that James wasn't motivated for the first four games of the most important series of the year, but in the last three games, he was ANGRY. And Angry LeBron plays in ways no other player in the world can. James played one of the best Finals in NBA history, leading both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.
Worse, their quest for the NBA's wins record might have overextended the team. Game 7 was 106th of the Warriors' season. The upshot of their chase for 73 is that they've played all 106 like they needed them, while Cleveland was starting Sasha Kaun and friends down the stretch. And Cleveland swept its first two opponents and didn't struggle much against the third, while the Warriors dropped games to the Rockets and Blazers before going seven hard-fought battles with the Thunder.
Andrew Bogut's knee got bonked out of commission in the 104th game of the season, and Andre Iguodala's back gave way in the 105th. Perhaps if the Warriors hadn't needed every single one of the previous 100, the bodies of their defensive stars wouldn't break for the games they really needed.
That forced the supposed best team in NBA history to play a single game for their legacy, against a better-rested team, with their best center sidelined, with their best opponent furious, with their best option for guarding their best opponent hobbled and with the referees on high alert. The deck was ultimately stacked against them, despite the home-court advantage. In the end, they just couldn't pull another rabbit out of their hat.
The Warriors believed they could chase ghosts, poke bears and mock the gods. But that left the Warriors with ghosts haunting them, bears chasing them and gods launching thunderbolts and avalanches at them. The 2015-16 Warriors were one of the best teams in basketball history, but the obstacles they wrought for themselves turned out to be too much for them to bear.
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