Anybody who has ever played pickup basketball knows the feeling of walking in a gym and seeing a stacked team at the other end of the court.
A why-bother feeling takes root in the pit of your stomach. You end up guarding someone you cannot guard, and being guarded by someone who swats your weak-ass stuff off the far wall. It’s not a good run, not a good feeling.
It’s just a waste of time.
There are no doubt those who view this NBA season in the same light, after the Golden State Warriors stacked the sides and went on a fo’-fo’-fo’-fi’ run through the postseason, completing it with a 129-120 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Finals Monday night.
They added Kevin Durant to a team that won 73 games last year? Of course they won it all!
Durant has borne the brunt of the criticism for being a ring-chaser, after spending nine title-less seasons with Seattle/Oklahoma City. Tweets like this have been common:
I know this sucks. I know it's probably wrong. But, even now, it just feels wrong, Golden State+Kevin Durant. Makes it hard to root for them
— jeffpearlman (@jeffpearlman) June 13, 2017
Even Alex Trebek and Co. took a shot:
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) June 13, 2017
I get all that. Again, no one wants to see a stacked team. I would submit to you, however, that the Warriors needed Durant as much as he needed them (if not more) – that they would have been doomed to repeat last year’s Finals loss to LeBron and Co. if they stood pat.
And according to SI.com’s Lee Jenkins, the Dubs knew it before anyone else. Jenkins writes that Draymond Green texted Durant as he sat in the locker room after last spring’s Game 7 loss to the Cavs, Cleveland’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit complete.
And here, according to what Green told Jenkins, is the substance of that text: “See what we’re missing. We need you. Make it happen.”
Eventually, according to Jenkins, the reply came: “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
And he was. And they did.
Durant eclipsed the 30-point mark in all five games of the Finals to earn MVP, and his explosion in the clincher was significant not only for how many points he scored – 39 – but when he scored them.
The Dubs came out jittery, uncertain. They looked, in fact, as they did in Game Seven last year – ripe for the taking. They were down by as many as eight in the second quarter, and were still behind until Durant buried two 3-pointers midway through the period.
Just like that, the wind was at their backs.
They never trailed again, though Cleveland hung around. LeBron had 41, Kyrie 26, J.R. Smith 25 (including ridiculous 7-of-8 shooting from the arc).
Golden State’s lead was 98-95 after LeBron coaxed in a tough reverse layup to open the fourth-quarter scoring, but Durant answered with a wing jumper, assisted on Andre Iguodala’s 3-pointer and answered Kevin Love’s three-point play with a 3-ball.
Now the Warriors were flowing again. Consecutive defensive mix-ups by the Cavs – a recurring theme in this series – led to dunks by Durant and Iguodala.
Up 10 now, with the finish line in sight.
LeBron dunked. Durant hit a pull-up.
And finally, there was Durant at the top of the circle, with only Kyle Korver in front of him.
Korver is a wonderful shooter, one of the best of all time. He is not, however, a defender, and Durant treated him like a pylon.
The score was now 118-106, with five minutes left. Too tall a mountain for Cleveland, as it turned out. And as the ABC crew went to break, one of the analysts, former Golden State coach Mark Jackson, mentioned Durant’s predecessor at small forward for the Warriors: “If I was Harrison Barnes watching this game right now, I would say, ‘I understand.’ ”
We all should. They needed Durant to make this happen, at least as much as he needed them.