OAKLAND -- In the end, all the history talk was for nothing, and so was the angst when the history talk was extinguished. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA title expected of them, they firmly thumped the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James at the seeming height of his powers, Kevin Durant won the Most Valuable Player award expected of him, and all seems in balance – as it does when everyone who said this would happen in July turn out to be righter than they could have possibly imagined.
But being right by standing with the chalk is not in and of itself invigorating. In winning Game Five-And-Done Monday night in Oakland, 129-120, the Warriors essentially finished what will be remembered as their second season-long hand-ride in three years. They were actually forced to consider the inconceivable only once, after Cleveland routed them in Game Four of this series, and responded with a tough-minded and obstinate performance in Game Five.
And yes, that includes the final 3.4 seconds that were run off the clock after the Warriors had come off the bench to celebrate justifiably if technically prematurely.
Indeed, when David West pushed his nose into Tristan Thompson’s in a second quarter fracas-ette, he made a metaphor for the season and perhaps for the future as well.
Namely, that the best talent, the best plan and the spikiest exoskeleton wins every time.
And that was what the Warriors were from the moment they charmed Durant in July. They endured his 20-game absence, and Steve Kerr’s 11-game postseason symptom-fest from the back surgery that won’t go away. They endured taunts that they were the team that blew the 3-1 lead a year ago, and the scorn that comes from being the billionaire that wins the lottery.
And in a triumph of bullying by virtue of massive superiority, they took their massive chip lead to the final table and won all the pots.
Put another way, they were really good and a bit lucky two years ago if you want to acknowledge the six-ounce elephant in the room. This time they were all things to all opponents, as long as by “all things” you mean “that thing standing on my neck that I cannot dislodge.”
And what made this so delicious for them was the collapse of 2016, when they learned that thinking you’re invulnerable and being invulnerable are two very different things. The abuses they took were, by the frontier rules of modern culture, deserved. Great teams close out 3-1 leads, pure and simple, and that one didn’t.
This one did, because of Durant (39/7/5) and Stephen Curry (34/6/10) and the remarkable shape-shifter Andre Iguodala (20/3/3) and Draymond Green (12/12/5) and Klay Thompson, whose defense throughout the Finals transcended numbers, and West, who was, well, classic West.
This one did because early in the second quarter when Cleveland was feeling its most vibrant, the Warriors went on a 21-2 run that boa constricted the Cavs into a position it could not reverse. They tried, to be sure, and showed the healthy and aggressively thumping heart of a defending champion, starting of course with LeBron James (41/13/8), but cheating the house odds requires more firepower than they had, and less than the Warriors did.
In short, they spent all their available energy trying to repeat a history that was no longer available to them.
There are any number of ways to slap numbers onto this team, and that will be done soon enough. But this was a feel thing more than anything else, the same way that an stretch limo feels when you’re trying to lift it off the ground. This was a triumph for the eyes and the heart, especially when Kerr was semi-dragged to Doris Burke for the celebratory interview that he highlighted with the “We had very little talent, it was mostly coaching” line that got as many laughs as his homage to Mike Brown for covering him through the worst of his traumatic and ongoing post-surgical ordeal won applause for its graciousness.
There is a parade scheduled for Thursday. Between now and then the stories will be told of how this all happened even thought everyone already knows all too well. And after the parade, the narrative will shift to “So, what does the league plan to do about this?”
Right now, the only answer seems to be “not a damned thing.” Because that’s the only answer that makes sense. This is Golden State’s era, as long as it can defend it – for that is the only task left to the Warriors. To defend what they have won, lost and won again. To be what they were expected to be all along, exceed all expectations, and to repeat again and again what they have actually done.
Hey, it’s always good to have a goal. And then to beat it flat to use as a foundation for the next one.