When the Golden State Warriors were invulnerable, Stephen Curry’s drives to the basket with 15 seconds left not only resulted in a basket but a game-sealing and-one.
When the Golden State Warriors were invulnerable, Draymond Green’s rebound tap-out would have gone to a teammate, or he would simply have seized it.
When the Golden State Warriors were invulnerable, Curry’s pass to Green with 2.4 seconds left would have gone to Klay Thompson, or to a more prepared Green.
When the Golden State Warriors were invulnerable, James Harden going 0-for-11 from three and Chris Paul coming up lame meant an Oakland rout. And when they were invulnerable, Kevin Durant did not look like he was straining so hard to be the team’s only qualified savior.
When the Golden State Warriors were invulnerable, they closed out Game 5s rather than lose them, as they did to the Houston Rockets Thursday night, 98-94.
And when the Golden State Warriors were invulnerable, they didn’t have to return home in a desperate state, suspecting at least somewhere in their cerebra that they may actually be facing a better team. A team that has turned back the clock a decade and made it the Warriors’ kryptonite.
In a taut, dysrhythmic, glass-chewing battle between the two best teams in basketball, the suspicion must finally be dawning on the nation that the Warriors are the second team – or at the very least are playing the role all too well. The “we’ll be all right” mantra that they have used through all their relative difficulties this year has finally given way to a frantic, unsettled, skittish demeanor that makes every offensive possession less a fait accompli and more a shrieking white-knuckler where disappointment looms with every errant pass, isolation shot or desperate appeal for a foul call that never comes.
The Warriors, in short, look right now like the team that is one card light rather than flush. They look every bit as locked up as they did after Game 4 of the 2016 Western Conference Final, when they lost successive games to Oklahoma City by 28 and then 24 points.
They look, in a weird way, like the team of the future losing to the team of the past.
Part of that may be Andre Iguodala’s absence for the second consecutive game, because the Warriors have inadequately replaced his minutes rather than his defensive presence. I mean, it’s a nice crutch if you want to use it – it just isn’t the reason the Warriors are down 3-2.
The reason is Houston, the team whose defense has been mocked almost reflexively for years but which has gummed up what the Warriors want to do and reduced them to being the second-best isolation-based team on the floor.
Once again, Houston went only seven deep, but the Warriors, who tried to use more of their bench, still ended up needing at least 40 minutes from each of the remaining 80 percent of the Hamptons 5.
Only now the argument about them being tired makes more sense because the Rockets are making those minutes a brutal possession-by-possession grind, reducing the pace to a muddy slog and making the Warriors play a game they have been trying to render obsolete since the start of the Steve Kerr era.
But it isn’t obsolete. All styles are valid when employed by the right players, and the Rockets have mastered theirs while the Warriors are struggling to find theirs.
All this said, the Warriors are still a very live underdog. Iguodala is expected back for Saturday’s sixth game, while Chris Paul looks like he has found a new injury (a hamstring), and the game itself is in Oakland, which used to be more proof of the Warriors’ invulnerability.
It is no longer.
So here’s how the Warriors escape the fate that seems theirs – by relocating the rhythm in their offense that Houston slowly but surely has been squeezing from them, by maintaining their defensive stubbornness, and by taking back the battle for pace and movement that Houston has been demonstrably winning. They have to utilize their obvious anger in ways that work against the Rockets rather than themselves, because they are used to playing with joy rather than anger, more used to frustrating others than overcoming their own.
The Warriors are finally underdogs in more than just the Vegas line. They have to wrest control of the game’s flow from a team that has taken the initiative by employing the one thing all the brainboxes in the sport have sworn is the basketball of ten years ago.
Specifically, the basketball of ten years ago.
||Warriors 119, Rockets 106
||Rockets 127, Warriors 105
||Warriors 126, Rockets 85
||Rockets 95, Warriors 92
||Rockets 98, Warriors 94
||Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
||Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm
The National Football League has come to grips with social protest among its employees in the classic NFL way – as an optics problem.
And the solution is to let protest reign, as long as nobody sees it.
The 32 owners decided Wednesday to introduce a new rubric for individual teams to use in dealing with the nagging non-problem of players kneeling for the National Anthem – namnely, to offer the option of staying the locker room during the anthem. But the back hand of that is that teams that choose to be in plain view during the song cannot “disrespect” the anthem by not conforming to standing at rigid attention.
In other words, it put a band-aid on a paper cut and acted like it had casted a broken tibia.
Granted, there wasn’t a lot the league could do because, as has been the case throughout the last half-decade or so, it is lousy at contributing its voice to social issues. These are turbulent times, and the NFL has always worked best when conformity is the preferred public mood.
So the anthem solution, which is largely a red herring when it comes to deciphering why the league is losing ratings points and children’s attention spans, represents the NFL trying to simply hide the issue so that people will forget that it exists at all. And that may work for the moment because we as a culture believes that how things look are more important than how they actually are.
But the real issues besetting football are elsewhere. They are rooted in the game’s perpetual safety failings, the diminishing number of kids playing the sport, and the growing number of kids who don’t want to invest three-plus hours of watching on the weekends because “that’s what Dad does.”
It is, however, easier to kick the can down the aisle on those slowly building issues and deal with the barking dog of anthem disrespect. Kneeling for the anthem represents a social statement about our societal failings to the protesters, but to the NFL it represents a level of individualism and independent thought in a sport and business that greatly distrusts both of those things.
So the anthem issues will go away, but if the ratings are still decreasing at the end of this year of visual obedience, the NFL will be faced with the issue they thought they could clothe with a winter coat made of the American flag:
That maybe the sport wasn’t hurt by players' exercises of free speech but by evolution itself. Maybe, despite the shoutings of the true believer robots, football has finally crested in America, the guarantees of continued rampant growth no longer guaranteed in a country that is changing in more ways than sideline decorum can address.
It’s now been three years since we congratulated ourselves about hosting Super Bowl L, it’s now going to be at least six years until it comes back, and the smartest money says that it won’t be back until the 49ers build a new new stadium to replace their old new stadium.
This was the argument one humble typist (well, me) made at the time to must finger-wagging and shame-on-you-ing, and the obvious evidence is bearing that out.
The San FranClara Super Bowl was clearly a one-off eased into the momentary vacuum of suitable West Coast Super Bowl sites. And now, as we re-survey the landscape, the West Coast is lousy with Super Bowl sites. So, unless the Raiders move again, Las Vegas is a disaster, or the cost overruns in Los Angeles start to rival the space program, the NFL doesn’t need San Francisco at all. Or for that matter, particularly want it.
Barring massive glitches, Las Vegas will be an automatic Super Bowl rotation regular, and the same for Los Angeles. Arizona has a growing amount of history on its side as a preferred place to hold a corporate bacchanal, New Orleans is everyone’s ideal of the perfect place for said bacchanal, plus there’s Dallas, plus there’s Atlanta and/or Miami, plus there is the next new stadium game to be played in other cities.
And, we should mention this, Jed York is not a power broker among the owners. He is too young, not rich enough (relatively speaking, of course), and is also considered by the powerful and hardliners among the owners having been too conciliatory on the Great Kaepernick AgonyFest.
This last point matters because the owners have no earthly notion of what to do about social justice or what the league’s position should be on employee protest, but they are excellent at delegating blame. That’s why Kaepernick has no job, and why owners are being deposed, and why they are gathering at meetings to figure out ways to punish players without having the right to deport them. The other owners won’t say so publicly, and maybe not even to York personally, but they think to themselves that a stronger owner would have stopped the Kaepernick train before it got started.
This is not the main reason San Francisco won’t get the Super Bowl, though. It’s money, and there is more money to be made and fewer complications to endure in all those other venues. The Bay Area is the one thing it cannot stand being – insufficiently desirable to billionaires.
But that’s the landscape in the post-modern NFL – an aging and increasingly reactionary world in which the San Francisco geography, the Silicon Valley caricature, even Oakland’s dismissive rejection of the NFL’s take-it-and-leave-it offers viz. the Raiders all work against getting perks like a Super Bowl.
And the same almost certainly will prove to be true for the college football national championship as well. Santa Clara is getting this one, but when L.A.’s stadium is done and the NCAA comes to peace with the money fountains of Las Vegas, San Francisco will have seen the last of those as well.
This is not a tragedy, either, but the reality of a sporting landscape that no longer even tries to pretend that the business serves the games rather than the other way around. This is evolution, kids, and evolution wins every time . . . at least until the meteor hits and the best available Super Bowl site will be a tar pit.