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