June 3, 2023

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Thompson: The Warriors met defeat with challenge. And here comes the deception part

LOS ANGELES — When it turned out it was over, and when all that was left to do was watch their season come to an end, Draymond Green went up to Andrew Wiggins on the bench and thanked him. Wiggins was supposed to be out over a month to allow his injury to heal. But he endured the pain, LeBron James’ subsequent labels, and the frustration of not being himself.

“The man has broken ribs,” Green said. “He could barely move, and he did everything he could to play. Just grateful for his strength and willingness to come out and fight with us.”

Then, in the visiting locker room at the Crypto.com Arena, after they walked off the field and out of the playoffs, the three future Hall of Famers – Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – were left to contemplate the final they faced this evening. It had been nine years, to be exact, since they had felt that way. identical. Lower. exhausted.

They’ve known heartbreak before. They are used to defeat. This time, however, there are no extenuating circumstances assuaging their disappointment.

For the first time in all seasons together, they have started and lost every game in a playoff series. For the first time in 29 series, they’ve found a place on the road that they just can’t beat. For the first time since losing to the Clippers in the first round in 2014, they are out of the post-season before making it to the NBA Finals stage.

But even as that reality sank after a 122-101 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, where they dealt with throwback emotions, it wasn’t just frustration that dominated the moment. It wasn’t anger. But another overwhelming feeling prevailed. It was unmistakable and unwavering.

the challenge.

“As awful as it feels now,” Carey said, “we feel like we could go back.”

One might expect more reflection after getting rid of it. This series concluded a decade of greatness. From upsetting Denver and battling San Antonio in 2013, to upsetting Sacramento and battling the Lakers in 2023. Between them were four championships, six Finals appearances and earned a reputation as legends.

The fact that so many expected them to go above and beyond was testament to the reputation they had built. Nothing this season suggested they even have to be. It was loud and inconsistent. They got many injuries. They only won 11 road matches. Their youthful talent, for a myriad of reasons, never blossomed. The trio themselves had their own issues and contributions to this season’s mediocrity.

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But in the end their greatness, all that was left of it, was enough to bring them here, just past where it seemed they would be a couple of months ago.

“Steve, Draymond, and Clay,” said LeBron James. “These are the guys I’ve had the most fights with, these are the guys I’ve been at war with. Nothing but respect for them.”

This felt like a moment to reflect on what they’ve accomplished. Instead, losing made them brazen. A decade later, with gray hair and strings needing a little more stretching, they still have the same energy we’re not done with. They were reminded how much they don’t like this.

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Part of it is knowing they can beat these Lakers even if they don’t deserve it. Make no mistake, this was a harsh the match. The Lakers’ strengths were the Warriors’ weaknesses. L.A.’s size, games, and depth upset the Warriors. Golden State should be near perfect and it wasn’t. However, the Warriors are convinced they had to win Games 1 and 4. They gave life to the Lakers. They could go to the Western Conference Finals if Some things turned out differently. If they make more open 3s. If Lonnie Walker IV doesn’t turn in Kobe Bryant for a quarter. If they eliminate the kings sooner. If Wiggins hadn’t hacked into the biggest game of the year. If they get a little bench.

It looks delusional and it might prove it. But then you remember that they built all this on delusion. At their core is the audacity that fuels them. Maybe this will refill their well. Certainly, a longer displacement period should be beneficial to the aging core. They’ve had three months off for the last 20. Now they’ll get four months off before camp.

This is enough time to do some necessary work in their games. If they were serious about getting back to the top, they couldn’t count on past glory. Green and Thompson need to add to their repertoire the way Curry has done it over the years. Green needs more consistent offensive production and Thompson should diversify his offense rather than just throw it away. Even Curry can improve his game at midrange and hitting the free throw line.

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“Everybody will say we’re done and all that,” Green said. “But they said that last year, too.”

The hard part will be how. An explosive salary cap limits their flexibility. Their determination to win has now sacrificed the development of the young players who were supposed to be their support. But they know they are close.

In many ways, the Lakers gave life to their challenge. Even with James and Anthony Davis, Los Angeles was struggling to get into the championship game. But with a series of roster adjustments at the trade deadline, the Lakers immediately turned into a contender. I watched the old heads of James warriors revitalize.

Why can’t warriors do that? Add some players. Modify some things. Be awesome again.

“As long as we get him, we have a chance,” said Kevon Looney, pointing to Curry’s locker. “As long as we have Superman himself, we’re in the mix.”

It must be different now. They have long relied on their talent, will and experience to make this day happen. For 10 years, it has worked. But it’s clear after this postseason that they can’t ride for the bulk of the season and then expect to have the legs to make the title. They need others, and they need to be part of preparing their supporting cast. They may need lighter loads so they can get enough in the tank to do their runs. Because in this series, the Legends are the ones who didn’t get it done.

Game 6, this entire series against the Lakers, was a snapshot of the reality of how they alone just aren’t enough anymore.

Thompson scored 8 points on 19 shots on Friday. After scoring 30 points in Game 2, hitting 8-of-11 3s, he went 10-for-36 in 3 over the next three games. He missed a handful of open shots in Game 6, including some early shots that could have set a different tone.

and green? The Warriors had a better Friday with Green walking off the field. For the first time in his nine seasons, the Warriors were surpassed in minutes on the court over the course of the playoffs.

And Curry couldn’t make enough of his 3 seconds on the road in Los Angeles. With the Lakers defense packing paint while overplaying hard plays on the perimeter, the Warriors’ mobile action couldn’t quite generate the natural volume of good looks—especially against LeBron, who probably knows the Warriors offense better than most Warriors players. This left Carey to do all the creation. It was the only hope against a vaunted defense. With not enough offense around him to soften up the Lakers’ defense, his 26.7 points per game in the series was far less efficient. He shot just 34.3 percent from 3 after shooting 10-for-39 from depth over the past three games.

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He did it all—creating shots for teammates, taking shots, battling through double teams and continually pressing, rebounding, defending, and fielding—but it wasn’t enough.

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But Curry’s continued elitesing is part of the challenge. His belief that he is as good as everyone else in the league is the seed of their confidence. He carried them to the title last year, getting stellar performances from Wiggins and timely performances from the players. He looked quite capable this year but got a bit of a boost.

What happens if they properly retool around Curry? At 35, he’s still a championship-level star.

“We go as he goes,” Green said. “Knowing he’s still playing at the top of his game is motivation for all of us to make sure we continue to play at the top.”

It blocked the possibility of nostalgia. The reason for looking back was instead an incentive to look forward. They were reminded how much they don’t like this.

At times during the regular season, they felt like making the playoffs wasn’t an option. But the Warriors weathered the turmoil by riding their stars, getting enough assist and finding enough consistency to get back into the dance.

When they entered the playoffs, they felt the switch internally. Expectations have changed. Focus shift.

In the end, the same warts that put them at risk in the regular season will come back to wipe them out. But they forgot what it was like to go into match mode and then go out in May.

“What are we supposed to do now?” Green said.

“I have to understand Mother’s Day now,” Carey said.

Normally, when they go into match mode, they don’t finish until June. Their days are counted, routines set in, energy expended, and commitments discontinued. Now they have time. And they remember how much they didn’t like it.

(Photo by Stephen Curry: Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)