David Koppett

How Warriors can get back to glory despite NBA Finals loss, injuries

How Warriors can get back to glory despite NBA Finals loss, injuries

For Dub Nation, it was surreal and heartbreaking to wake up this morning with the Warriors as non-champions for the first time in just over two years.  

Losing two future Hall of Famers to cataclysmic injuries in back-to-back Finals games was the equivalent of a meteor striking the basketball world twice in one week. (Except these meteors helped the dinosaurs.)  

But despair not, Warriors fans – there exists a potential path back to glory.  Here’s an eight-point plan for world domination.

1. Re-sign Kevin Durant for five years and $221M

OK, we know this has been considered unlikely, but it became more plausible after the Achilles tear that will likely force him to miss all of the 2019-20 season. The Warriors can offer KD $57 million more (including one extra year) than anyone else, and that may have suddenly become more attractive to him in light of an injury that will remove a year of his prime and could shorten his career on the back end.

2. Re-sign Klay Thompson for five years and $191M

This seemed highly likely already and feels like a lock after the ACL tear that could cost him all of 2019-20. Klay's father, Mychal, reportedly said Friday there's "no question" that his son will re-sign with Golden State. Klay loves it here, the management and fans love him, and he is a legendary shooter and healer whose game figures to age well despite the injury.

3. Both sit out next season entirely

4. The Warriors spend the 2019-20 season tanking

Now, that will be painful for the two all-world players they’ll still have active, Steph Curry and Draymond Green, two of the most talented and competitive athletes on the planet. But each could use a year to rest and recharge after playing more than a full season’s worth of postseason games over the past five years.

In the name of “load management,” the Warriors could withhold them from back-to-backs as the Raptors did this year with Kawhi Leonard, and leave the rest of the roster to marginal bench talent and prospects.  This would likely serve to miss the playoffs entirely, while also offering an opportunity to evaluate the long-term ceiling of young players like Damian Jones, Jacob Evans and next week's draft picks.

(Spoiler alert: this is not a new idea. It is similar to the blueprint used by the San Antonio Spurs to establish their dynasty. Thanks to key injuries, the talented Spurs plummeted all the way from 59 wins in 1995-96 to 20 in 1996-97. Their consolation prize was Tim Duncan, and two seasons later, they won the first of five NBA titles).

This strategy may not prove popular with fans who have shelled out big bucks for personal seat licenses and tickets in San Francisco and weren’t expecting to watch the Santa Cruz Warriors. But at least for one honeymoon year in the new arena, it is a captive audience, and on balance, fans should understand one year of pain for long-term gain.

5. Use the resulting lottery pick to obtain the next Warriors star

And hey, it doesn’t have to be with the first or second pick. The Warriors selected all-time greats Curry, Thompson and Green with the 7th, 11th and 35th picks in the draft, respectively. Kawhi was the 15th overall pick in 2011. This is about player evaluation, not ping-pong balls.

6. Keep the band together by re-signing Draymond Green in 2020

Draymond is the heart, soul and defensive engine of the team. Joe Lacob said back in May he hopes Draymond is a Warrior forever. Let's make that happen.

7. Come back healthy in the fall of 2020

With KD and Klay back, Steph and Draymond rejuvenated and a transcendent young talent (or two) in the fold, the Dubs will have countless motivation. Steph and KD will be 32 years old, Klay and Draymond will be 30 – still plenty of great basketball left.

8. CRUSH EVERYTHING IN YOUR PATH FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL YEARS!

This plan would weigh very heavily on Joe Lacob and friends' wallets. Given how far it would extend the Warriors into salary cap repeater taxes, it could saddle them with the largest payroll in sports history, well north of $300 million.

But hey, that’s what the new Chase Center is for, right? If you want to be Light Years Ahead, you have to pay the freight.

Let’s choose to dream.

Sharks, Giants have perfected art of winning playoff elimination games

Sharks, Giants have perfected art of winning playoff elimination games

The San Jose Sharks have already staged one of the more dramatic playoff runs in Bay Area sports history, and they’re only halfway to a championship. That’s why it feels impossible to win the Stanley Cup.
 
The Sharks have come face-to-face with extinction four times in their first two series – three elimination games after falling behind the Vegas Golden Knights three-games-to-one, and then Game 7 against Colorado after surrendering a three-games-to-two lead. While winning all four, the Sharks have survived a 3-0 third-period deficit, two sudden-death overtimes and an ugly head injury to captain Joe Pavelski. They spent the last 19 minutes of Wednesday’s victory clinging for dear life to a one-goal lead.

Cheating the reaper four times is quite an accomplishment, but it is not a Bay Area record.  That belongs to the 2012 San Francisco Giants, who fought off elimination six times – six! – on the way to their second World Series title.
 
“You have to give everything you’ve got.  Play like it’s the last game of your life,” says Tim Flannery, third base coach of those Giants teams.  
 
Flan had the best seat in the house to watch the Giants erase a two-game deficit vs Cincinnati in the 2012 NLDS and then repeat the feat vs St. Louis in the NLCS. But it was not his first rodeo. Flan had seen firsthand the intense emotions that can accompany becoming the hero or goat in a do-or-die game.
 
As a San Diego utility man in 1984, Flannery hit the ground ball that slipped between Cubs’ first baseman Leon Durham’s legs in Game 5 of the NLCS. It was one of the most infamous errors in baseball history, tying that game and sparking the Padres to a miraculous series turnaround and their first pennant.
 
“You hate to see the other side of it – Leon Durham, Bill Buckner. Those guys were good players in this league for a long time and deserve to be remembered for more than one play.”
 
Flannery recalls the afternoon of Game 3 in Cincinnati on October 9, 2012. After two lopsided losses at home, the Giants seemed dead in the water.
 
“Should I say something to them?” manager Bruce Bochy asked him.
 
“It’s your team – do what you feel is right.”
 
So Bochy assembled the troops and launched into the biblical story of Gideon, his triumph against long odds and a superior force. But before he could get too far, he was interrupted by an intensely pacing Hunter Pence.  

“That’s great, skip. But I want to play one more day with YOU! And one more day with YOU!”

He stalked around the room, pointing to each of his teammates. That’s how the legend of Reverend Pence was born, and throughout the remainder of that postseason, Pence’s impromptu sermons took place in the dugout before each game.
 
The Giants barely eked out a win in that Game 3, scoring the winning run on a 10th-inning Scott Rolen error. The next day, they were in attack mode – three home runs and a dominant Tim Lincecum relief appearance buoyed them to an 8-3 win.
 
In the decider, the Giants jumped out 6-0 on a Buster Posey grand slam and seemed ready to cruise home behind Matt Cain. But the game tightened up late, and in the bottom of the 9th, the Reds got the winning run to the plate. The Giants were one pitch from a sudden vacation. Sergio Romo and Jay Bruce then engaged in a 12-pitch battle that seemed to go on forever.  

Flan remembers: “I have this old piece of coal that belonged to my dad – he grew up across the river in Kentucky, coal-mining country – and I had taped it to my wrist for good luck and to help me keep calm. As that at-bat went on, I got so nervous that I started chewing on it.
 
“After we won, we’re all celebrating and Barry Zito saw me in the pile. He said, hey Flan, what’s that black stuff all over your face?”
 
Michael Morse played in only one elimination game as a Giant. But it was the most memorable in team history – Game 7 of the 2014 World Series in Kanas City. It was immortalized by Madison Bumgarner’s epic relief appearance, but that would have meant little without Morse, who drove in the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly and then the eventual winning run with a 4th-inning single.
 
“You have to give everything in an elimination game, but you also can’t overthink it,” says Morse. “You see guys thinking, ‘I have to swing at strikes. I can’t make an error.’ You have to stay calm and just play baseball.
 
“The effort was so intense, I was absolutely exhausted at the end of that game.”
 
The Giants had been annihilated 10-0 in Game 6 the night before. Bochy then made another rousing speech before Game 7, singling out each player for his contributions that had made the team’s journey possible. But Morse remembers what Buster Posey told him immediately afterward.
 
“Buster pulled me aside and said, 'Relax, we’re going to win. We win these games.'”
 
A few hours later, he was right.
 
Elimination game victories can turn depth players into household names. For the Sharks this year, they have included Kevin Labanc, who scored an NHL playoff record four points during the third-period rally in Game 7 vs. Vegas, and fourth-liner Barclay Goodrow, who netted the overtime winner in that game.

They can also certify established stars as high-stakes heroes – like Pavelski, who enjoyed a Willis Reed moment with a goal and assist in his storybook return to the ice in Game 7 vs Colorado.

[RELATED: Watch Setoguchi predict Pavs' Game 7 goal vs. Avs]
 
The Sharks must still navigate two more tough series.  Again, they may have to summon their best while walking the cliff’s edge. It is not inconceivable that they could break the Giants’ record of six wins in elimination games.
 
Doing so will require a total team effort and heroes yet to be named.  Keep calm and carry on.

Sharks' Game 7 history in NHL playoffs filled with elation, heartbreak

Sharks' Game 7 history in NHL playoffs filled with elation, heartbreak

Sudden death. Instant life. Nothing in sports is more intense than overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as we learned anew when in the Sharks’ thrilling and terrifying Game 6 overtime loss at Colorado on Monday.
 
That loss ratchets the intensity of the second round, best-of-seven series up even higher as we now confront a do-or-die scenario. A handshake will happen Wednesday night at SAP Center. What if this one also should go to extra time? The stress is fearsome to contemplate.

It seems impossible for Wednesday night's Game 7 to top the Sharks' last winner-take-all-game -- a mere 15 days ago -- where San Jose came back from three goals down late in the third period to stun Vegas in overtime. But with playoff hockey ... you never know.

Besides the history-making comeback vs. the Golden Knights last round, the Sharks and their fans have experienced the joy or heartbreak that accompanies a winner-take-all game 10 other times.

Here’s the history.

1994 first round: Sharks 3, Red Wings 2

It still ranks among the greatest upsets in NHL history. A tenacious Sharks group populated by castoffs and youngters made their first-ever playoff appearance.  

The offensive magic of aging Red Army legends Sergei Makarov and Igor Larionov. The toughness and savvy of veterans Bob Errey and Gaetan Duchesne. The talent and young legs of pups Sandis Ozolinsh and Ray Whitney. Ulf Dahlen digging pucks out of the corner. Arturs Irbe defending his net Like Wall.

This greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts collective defeated a Stanley Cup favorite stacked with future Hall of Famers Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Paul Coffey and Dino Ciccarelli -- and they did it in Detroit, to boot. 

At 13:25 of the third period, Jamie Baker scored the most momentous goal in Sharks history as Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood strayed from his crease. Bakes’ winner was immortalized by the keen insight of color analyst Pete Stemkowski: “It’s in the net!”


1994 second round: Maple Leafs 4, Sharks 2

The real action in this series was in Game 6, when Sharks forward Johan Garpenlov’s potential overtime series-winner clanged off the crossbar behind Felix Potvin.

In Game 7, the Sharks finally ran out of gas. The Leafs cruised on home ice behind a pair of goals from Wendel Clark and one from Doug Gilmour.

1995 first round: Sharks 5, Flames 4, 2 OT

Another series projected as a mismatch saw the Sharks win squeakers while losing blowouts. In Game 7 in Calgary, original Shark Pat Falloon scored twice, but San Jose gave away a two-goal lead late in the third period.

They hung on for dear life until fellow franchise original Ray Whitney eventually beat Flames goaltender Trevor Kidd over the shoulder in the second overtime -- on assists from Russian icons Larionov and Makarov. To date, it remains the franchise’s only Game 7 Golden Goal.

Journeyman netminder Wade Flaherty, aka Flats, came up huge, making 56 saves to enable the upset.


2000 first round: Sharks 3, Blues 1

Then-Sharks analyst Drew Remenda voiced the view of the hockey world before the playoffs began: “There is no way the Sharks are winning this series.”

Oops!

In another stunning surprise, a San Jose squad that had barely snuck into the eighth spot overcame a President’s Trophy juggernaut led by all-world defensemen Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger. The Sharks shrugged off a 6-2 massacre in Game 6, and took the lead early in Game 7 on a goal from grinder Ronnie Stern.

Then a long-range skipper by Owen Nolan from out near the red line with just 11 seconds remaining in the first broke the Blues’ spirit. Sharks goalie Steve Shields got the better of the Blues' Roman Turek between the pipes, and San Jose had sprung another upset on the road. 


2002 second round: Avalanche 1, Sharks 0

This was the most bitter of Game 7 defeats. It was the best team in franchise history so far, featuring a mix of veteran performance (Teemu Selanne, Owen Nolan, Vincent Damphousse and Gary Suter) and young talent (Patrick Marleau, Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm) that also was strong in net (Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff.)  The 2001-02 Sharks hung their first-ever Pacific Division banner.

But in Game 7 in Denver against the defending Stanley Cup champions, Selanne missed a wide-open cage from point-blank range with a back-hand shot early in the first. Avalanche legend Peter Forsberg scored early in the second, and Patrick Roy did the rest.


2008 first round: Sharks 5, Flames 3

It was a series much like the current one against Vegas — hotly contested and highly physical. Veteran forward Jeremy Roenick, better known for his accomplishments elsewhere, put his stamp on Game 7 with an epic performance, scoring twice and dishing out a pair of helpers.

Joe Thornton scored the opening goal, and the Sharks rallied from a 2-1 deficit at home with four straight scores, as Nabokov outdueled his former understudy Kiprusoff.

For Sharks fans, pain would pounce in the next round, when the season ended with a quadruple-overtime loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 6.


2011 second round: Sharks 3, Red Wings 2

This series ended up way too close for comfort, as the Sharks handed back every bit of a 3-0 lead to a Detroit team led by superstars such as Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. But in Game 7, San Jose got the jump on the Winged Wheel at SAP Center with first-period goals by Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture.

Patrick Marleau scored the eventual game-winner -- his first point of the series -- in the third as the Sharks withstood furious Detroit pressure behind 38 saves from Antti Niemi.


2013 second round: Kings 2, Sharks 1

San Jose battled toe-to-toe with the defending Stanley Cup champs coached by former Sharks bench boss Darryl Sutter. It was a series in which every game was won by the home team, and the Sharks couldn’t get over the hump in a tight-checking finale at Staples Center.

Game 7 specialist Justin Williams scored both goals for the Kings, and LA goaltender Jonathan Quick sprawled and robbed Joe Pavelski with a spectacular glove save with 5:04 left in the third.

[RELATED: Limiting Sharks' chances is key to a Game 7 victory]

2014 first round: Kings 5, Sharks 1

A series that will live in infamy: the Reverse Sweep.
 
The Sharks took a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead on Marleau’s overtime winner in LA, but they couldn’t finish the job. A trio of three-goal Kings wins eventually led to the clincher in San Jose.

Team Teal took a short-lived 1-0 lead on defenseman Matt Irwin’s goal, but they were then overwhelmed by an LA onslaught and ultimately completed the collapse they had flirted with in 2011. The Kings went on to lift their second Cup, and the Sharks went into a tailspin, missing the playoffs entirely the following season.

2016 second round: Sharks 5, Predators 0

In a series that matched San Jose’s strength and skill against Nashville’s speed, the Sharks left no doubt in a decisive home victory. Pavelski started the scoring on the power play, Couture scored a goal and added two assists, and Jumbo and Patty each contributed a goal and assist.

Sunday’s hero, Martin Jones, delivered a calm 20-save shutout. The most successful playoff run in franchise history ultimately would fall just two victories short of San Jose’s first Stanley Cup.