Damn the crypto-skeletal Adam Silver and his transparency fetish. Damn officiating crew chief Mike Callahan for missing the Richard Jefferson trip and the LeBron James rim-hang. Damn the excuse machine that allows the Golden State Warriors and their well-cushioned fans to feel hard done by in Cleveland Sunday.
The hard and enduring fact is this: San Francisco-In-Training blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead at the home of their archest of rivals of their volition. They decided they were home and dry when they were neither. They declined numerous opportunities to take care of the ball at the most important time of the game. They seemed to forget that Cleveland is the hardest team for them to play in the entire world, and that a 14-point lead over LeBron James should not be taken as an invitation to fall back in love with the step-back jumper when they lead was built with hard-nosed/to-the-basket playoff-level basketball.
And in all these ways, they allowed Callahan and his fellow accomplices, Sean Corbin and Matt Boland, to become factors that the league had to apologize for a day later.
All those things are on the Warriors themselves. Indeed, when they are offered the opportunity to use the late-game officiating as a way to explain how they failed, they should angrily and aggressively decline. Steve Kerr should actually come out and say, “We are glad that those calls went incorrectly against us because it is the only way for us to learn the lessons we must learn to see to it that this never ever happens again . . . until, of course, the next time it happens.”
You see, stuff like Sunday happens to the best of teams – it just happens rarely enough to be conspicuous.
The Warriors should have closed the deal because they could have done so, and because they know how to do so. They should have treated their five-possession lead down the stretch with far greater care (six turnovers in the fourth quarter when you average 14 a game is, well, poor) because they have enough experience with the Cavs to know how much work that takes.
The Cavs, you see, can lay justifiable claim to being more tough-minded than the Warriors, and being given a chance to alter that notion by showing a resoluteness and devotion to the things that got them there over the first 40 minutes, they failed demonstrably.
That’s your two-minute report right there, Junior. That’s your takeaway.
You see, the standards are different for Golden State, by their own creation. They’ve won too often, and improved their rotation more dramatically, to be given mulligans via Callahan. They are supposed to dictate terms at all possible times, and while they will occasionally get hammered by someone because they are human beings who occasionally fall short of their best selves, they aren’t going to be afforded that luxury against the LeBrons . . . in Cleveland . . . on Christmas Day . . . before a massive captive-by-tryptophan audience . . . with a hefty fourth-quarter lead.
They were winning Sunday by being as tough-minded as Cleveland . . . by going to the basket with purpose and repetition . . . by forcing pace and pressure. They did get hammered on the offensive boards, but that’s almost a number to be endured against a team as dramatically better at that as the Cavs.
And then they reverted to the maddening inattentions to detail that they can get away with in so-so home games against the Portlands and Utahs and Indianas, and lost a game that defines them yet again as “less than the Cavs when it matters most.”
Which is why the NBA’s announcement that the officials failed to call the James hang-by-the-rim technical or the Jefferson-lazy-soccer-tackle on Durant at game’s end isn’t helpful in the greater scheme of things. True, NBA officiating has deteriorated in significant ways over the last decade or so, to the point in which the best way for a quality team to combat that fact is to choke games into submission by powering through the corrosive temptation of let’s-enjoy-what-we’ve-done-while-we’re-still-doing-it self-satisfaction.
In short, to maintain one’s competitive nature so comprehensively that the officials get noticed only when they are walking off the floor at game’s end.
This, then, is the real lesson of Christmas for the Warriors: Don't let someone undo your work because you couldn't be bothered to finish it. After all, a present isn’t a gift until it’s wrapped, stuck under the tree and then unwrapped again by the recipient. Until that moment, it’s all just shopping.