Sports dynasties die slowly, and then all at once. There are a million little signposts we’ll retrofit onto the Warriors’ demise should it come either Monday night (Game 5 is at 9 p.m. ET on ABC) or later this week. The fraught relationship between the team and Kevin Durant has seemingly deepened since Durant has been unable to play while teammates DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, and Kevon Looney are all playing hurt. Everyone seems to be saying the right things, but there is enough smoke from the well-established Bay Area media to suggest something’s amiss. (How fitting that a team led by Kawhi Leonard would potentially take advantage of tumult over disagreements on the viability of playing with an injury.)
You can go back to the Durant vs. Draymond Green blowup early in the season, and Durant’s decision to allow rumor and innuendo to dominate the talk this season. You can refer to the fact that Stephen Curry is still infinitely more beloved in the Bay than Durant, even though the latter led the team to both of the last two championships according to Finals MVP voters and, well, reality. There were some moments where infinitely patient Steve Kerr’s patience with Green wore thin enough to see through. The unavoidable depth issues have sprung up, especially in Game 3 of the Finals.
All these little moments could have been mere bumps on the road to the threepeat, or they could have been warning signs that championship days were over. It took a team like the Toronto Raptors and a player like Kawhi to ensure those flaws were fatal. Assuming the Raptors close out the series from here, we just may go into next season with a vastly different Warriors team, one that isn’t favored to win the championship.
Or the dynasty could continue. Durant could decide he really wants to play in Chase Center and continue making money in Silicon Valley. Or maybe he leaves, but the Warriors rekindle their pre-KD magic on a suddenly shallow West. It’s all on the table beyond this year: the Warriors could win two more titles with Steph leading the way a la 2015, or they could break apart with Thompson and Green coming up for expensive contracts (and the latter perhaps being a trade piece).
We won’t really know until we know, just as we didn’t know the 2018 Warriors were truly vulnerable until the Raptors punched them in the mouth. What happens next is likewise a total mystery.
Durant’s status has been upgraded to questionable, as Slim Reaper practiced with the team on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine a bigger boost to a team’s prospects than to get back Kevin Freaking Durant for the first of a potential three elimination games. If he does come back, how he’ll look and how many minutes he can play will remain questionable.
Remember, the Warriors have already beat the Raptors in Toronto without KD available. They did it with a classic third quarter blitz. The Raptors have figured out some stuff since then, but it’s obviously within the realm of possibility that Golden State pulls off a survival act on Monday. If Durant’s at the center of it, some Bay Area opinions are going to have to change about his centrality to the project.
I wrote about the Raptors proving you can win a title without building a superteam. A few have responded that Toronto is actually a super team on account of having Kawhi, Kyle Lowry (a multiple-time All-Star), Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and Pascal Siakam. Kawhi is the only superstar among those. Gasol was a fringe superstar four years ago. Siakam is going to be a star, but he averaged 7 points per game last season when Masai Ujiri built this team. Lowry is a legit second star, but he’s not exactly the Dwyane Wade to Kawhi’s LeBron. This should not be a debate: the Raptors were not built as a superteam. Just because they are incredible and are about to win a title doesn’t mean everyone on the squad is now a star.
Nice piece by Tim Bontemps on who Kawhi Leonard is, going back to his high school and college days, including the summer he spent working out with (against?) Trevor Ariza.
The Raptors defense thrived in part by ignoring the Warriors’ non-shooters.
Marc Spears says the memories formed in Oracle Arena will never die. I agree, a magical place to watch basketball, even when it was Troy Murphy or Speedy Claxton.
And finally: incredible story on Patrick Mutombo, who is not related to Dikembe but is a dedicated artist and Raptors assistant coach. It’s so refreshing to see coaches with outside interests! Everyone should have interests that aren’t work.
Be excellent to each other.