War­riors driven by bit­ter mem­o­ries

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TIM BONTEMPS The Wash­ing­ton Post

Golden State War­riors owner Joe La­cob has never been known to be shy. So, in a quiet mo­ment on Mon­day night af­ter his team com­pleted its Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal sweep of the San An­to­nio Spurs to ad­vance to the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion fi­nal for a third con­sec­u­tive sea­son, it wasn’t sur­pris­ing that La­cob made clear what the stakes are for the War­riors this time around.

“Now is the mo­ment of truth,” La­cob told The Wash­ing­ton Post. “We got to our goal, to get to the fi­nals. “Now, we’re go­ing to try to win it.” If La­cob is the most lo­qua­cious per­son as­so­ci­ated with the War­riors, the per­son least ex­pected to make waves is Klay Thomp­son, the star shoot­ing guard who would rather do just about any­thing than sit down to talk to the me­dia.

Yet, when Thomp­son was asked how of­ten he had thought about get­ting back to this point, of get­ting a chance to avenge last sea­son’s ag­o­niz­ing col­lapse from a 3-1 se­ries lead over the Cleve­land Cava­liers in the NBA’s cham­pi­onship round, he an­swered with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “Ev­ery day,” Thomp­son said. “I al­ways thought about it. We were so close last year … a game away. I would be ly­ing to you if I didn’t think about it all the time.

“I’m a com­pet­i­tive guy. I’ve thought about it all the time. I think that’s what fu­elled a lot of us to stay con­sis­tent this year, is to get back to play­ing in June.”

The re­sponses from La­cob and Thomp­son are em­blem­atic of the feel­ings through­out the en­tire War­riors or­ga­ni­za­tion. From the mo­ment the Cava­liers won the ti­tle in June and cel­e­brated in­side Golden State’s Or­a­cle Arena in Oak­land, the fran­chise, from top to bot­tom, has been en­gaged in a sin­gle-minded pur­suit to erase that mem­ory — at least, as much as such a mem­ory can ever be erased — by reach­ing the NBA fi­nal once again.

Any­thing less this sea­son wouldn’t have sim­ply been a fail­ure, not af­ter land­ing Kevin Du­rant, adding one of the game’s top four play­ers to a core that had al­ready won a ti­tle and a com­bined 140 games the prior two sea­sons. It would be a colos­sal dis­ap­point­ment.

So it should come as no sur­prise that the cel­e­bra­tions Mon­day night were muted. Sure, the War­riors were happy and smiled broadly as they posed with the Western Con­fer­ence tro­phy, pre­sented to them by former War­riors great and Hall of Famer Chris Mullin. But the War­riors knew this part was ex­pected. They knew, af­ter win­ning 67 games to fin­ish with the league’s best record for a third sea­son in a row, that mak­ing it back to the fi­nal wouldn’t be enough.

Win­ning a cham­pi­onship — and, prefer­ably, win­ning a cham­pi­onship against those same Cava­liers, pro­vided Cleve­land fin­ishes off the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal with a win in Boston on Thurs­day night — is the only ac­cept­able out­come for a team with this much star power and the ex­pec­ta­tions that come with it.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Stephen Curry said. “We ap­pre­ci­ate this op­por­tu­nity. Play­ing in this league, you can’t take any­thing for granted. Thirty teams suit up ev­ery year try­ing to get to this point and only two teams do, so you have to ap­pre­ci­ate it. We might not be jump­ing up and down and scream­ing at the top of our lungs and do­ing all that nonsense, but we need to un­der­stand the priv­i­lege that we have and the op­por­tu­nity that we have to play in the fi­nals again, to have the op­por­tu­nity to win a cham­pi­onship.”

Pre­sum­ing the Cavs ad­vance, this is the matchup every­one who fol­lows the NBA has been wait­ing for since last year’s fi­nal ended. Two years ago, the Cavs en­tered the fi­nal with­out Kevin Love be­cause of a shoul­der in­jury, and lost Kyrie Irv­ing af­ter Game 1. Last year, the War­riors had Stephen Curry at less than 100 per cent, had Dray­mond Green sus­pended for Game 5 and lost An­drew Bogut to in­jury for the re­main­der of the se­ries in that game.

This year should of­fer a rub­ber match with both teams op­er­at­ing at full strength and, if Cleve­land wins Thurs­day night, en­ter­ing the fi­nal with a stag­ger­ing com­bined record in th­ese play­offs of 24-1, show­ing just how far ahead of the rest of the league both of th­ese teams re­main.

BAY AREA NEWS GROUP FILE PHOTO

Golden State’s Kevin Du­rant pre­pares to hug his mother, Wanda, af­ter the War­riors moved on to the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion fi­nal Mon­day.

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