All season long, we believed.
We believed, because we had won it all less than a year ago when no one gave us a chance. We believed even when there was no rational evidence that we should. We hung in there, we weathered storms and were rewarded with bursts of wins at home. We believed when we fell 0-2 to the Sacramento Kings in Round 1, but still won in seven. And when the Warriors advanced into Round 2, despite everything that we had seen all season, we believed that the Dubs could still do it. And they could have — but they didn't.
All good things must come to an end. Fortunately, all bad things, like the Golden State Warriors' 2022-23 season, must come to an end, too.
The Dubs are out of the playoffs after losing Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals 122-101 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. There is some heavy sighing and contemplative reflection to be done, followed by taking stock in how lucky, or rather, privileged we are, to be Warriors' fans. There are rings to be counted and glory days to be heralded.
And there is a future to consider, and a million questions to be answered, but none as pressing as this: Was Friday's game the last time that we'll see Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on the same team?
Sorry to put the cart before the horse's still-warm corpse.
A reporter asked head coach Steve Kerr what went wrong this season. He said he'd rather focus on what went right.
"It's been a long and difficult season," Kerr said. "It felt like we were swimming upstream from the beginning, but our guys hung in there. We were barely in the playoff picture for most of the year. To be here, to have a chance in the conference semis when, for much of the season, we were kind of adrift, it shows the character of our group and how they stuck together. To give the Lakers a fight in this series, that puts us among the top eight teams in the league, and that's probably where we should be. This is not a championship team. If we were, we'd be moving on."
Kerr capitulated, "Losing sucks. It just does."
The Warriors could not buy a bucket to start Game 6. Steph and Klay had numerous high-quality looks that did not fall. The Lakers were up by as much as 16 in the first quarter and the game was trending toward an early blowout. But a late push by the Dubs — they went on something like a 16-2 run to end the first quarter at 31-26 — narrowed their deficit to just five. It like a small victory and maybe, just maybe, something to build on.
Stops were hard to come by. LeBron James powered his way through the paint with impunity, and the Warriors had few answers to his drives. James scored a series-high 30 points on Friday. Offense was hard to come by for the Warriors, too. Klay Thompson had an astonishingly anemic eight points; though Steph managed 32 points on the night, he was 4-14 from three.
In the second half, the Laker lead went back up to 15, then 20, and even with an entire fourth quarter left to play, it was clear that the Dubs were done. For all the times that the Warriors' obituary seemed written this season, the ink had finally set. "We felt it in the fourth quarter with about seven minutes left," admitted Stephen Curry after the game, knowing that the season was over.
Golden State's extraordinary streak of road wins in 28 consecutive playoff series came skidding to a halt among the celebrity-lined stands stands in L.A.
That thing, that mojo, that magic, that je ne sais quoi the Warriors have had on demand for nearly a decade just wasn't there on Friday, and certainly wasn't there this season, begging the question, is it over? Has the well run dry? It's a strange thing to be a fan of a team that has won so much for so long that one can't help but wonder how and when it will end.
Social media, with all its enduring veracity, reported in the last few days that Andre Iguodala had announced his retirement. But then Iguodala tweeted, simply and head-scratchingly, "No." So have fun with that one, everybody. The Warriors' veteran and de facto bench coach's retirement has been teetering on the inevitable (he's 39) for about a year now, but Iguodala was kind of brilliant in his incredibly brief return for the Warriors in early March, before he suffered a fractured wrist.
Let's not dilly dally, though. What about Draymond? (And what about Warriors general manager Bob Myers?)
"As I've told you guys for years, I want to be a Warrior for the rest of my life," Draymond Green said at the Game 6 postgame press conference. "I want to ride out with the same dudes I rode in with. I think we've put the work in to make that happen. Here we are with our worst season as a whole since 2014, and yet, we had a chance to make another run."
Can the Warriors put together another championship season? Sure, they're a little older, and sure, some of the magic seems to have fizzled, at least this season. (Is the magic more potent when it's unexpected, such as last year, and not weighted down with the pressure of defending a championship?) in 2022-23, Stephen Curry showed his brilliance and unparalleled fitness, Klay Thompson had career-best statistics, and Draymond Green continued to show his essentialness to the Warriors' lineup. Sure, the clock is ticking, but yes, the Warriors could do it again.
"We all have an expiration date; the clock is ticking on all of us," said Draymond. "The clock is on us just because we've been so successful for so long. Overall... we're not done yet. We lost this year... we'll be back next year."
For fans, winning is easy — just jump on the bandwagon and be that obnoxious person that Kings', Rockets', and Cavaliers' fans can't stand. Losing, on the other hand, requires dedication, endurance and sacrifice. Losing requires grace, humility, and a cathartic shrugging of the shoulders, as opposed to the inevitable gloating and air of superiority that comes with the easy work of cheering on a dynasty.
If the Dubs had been peaking and were upset by a lower seed, that would be hard to swallow. Instead, they've been struggling all year and could never figure out what was ailing them — though they were still too good to miss the playoffs, or to go out in the first round. Getting eliminated sucks, but I'm kind of happy that this weird, wildly vacillating season is finally over. It feels like a weight has been lifted. Let's take a deep breath and get a fresh start.
Somebody hit the reset button already.
Here's my favorite quote of the year about being a Warriors' fan: "Once we start expecting greatness, we become the entitled freaks everyone already thinks we are. Let’s never be that, or at least, let’s rarely be that. Instead, how about we stop searching too hard for answers and just admit that things went a bit sideways this year... and take it on the chin."
Top Image: Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images