It feels like I’ve been punched in the gut. Like there’s a knot of pain in the core of my body pulsating, growing sharper and more forceful with each breath. As fans, we tell ourselves sports shouldn’t mean this much, that it’s just a game with no bearing on real life. It’s not the loss of a job or the death of a relationship: the things that can do irreparable harm and drive a person to tears. This loss, this Game 7 loss after a record-breaking, dreamlike season, it’s just … it’s just sports. It doesn’t mean anything. We shouldn’t feel physical discomfort because it really doesn’t matter.
But we do. And it does.
The pain is all too real when you so deeply invest yourself with a team. You dive in wholeheartedly and unconditionally, offering a kind of affection usually reserved for family, close friends and the occasional pet. Is it silly? Is it a little absurd to be so committed to a group of guys you’ve never met, playing a sport you’ve never excelled at? Sure. It’s silly. Ludicrous even. But trying to convince yourself of that doesn’t dull the pain any. Not now anyway.
It feels like I’ve been punched in the gut.
Here are 10 final thoughts on the season and the title that wasn’t:
1. I was at work when the Warriors lost Game 7. I was sitting in front of my office-loaned computer when Lebron went on a one-man 6-point run in the the fourth quarter. My boss was only a few feet away when King James swooped out of nowhere to block Andre Iguodala’s layup attempt and steal the air out of Oracle Arena. I still had five hours of work to get through when Kyrie Irving’s jumper rained through the net for a Cavs’ lead the Warriors would never overcome. There’s not much worse than watching your favorite team in your favorite sport lose a series they were favored in — a series they had in the bag before a reckless arm fling and a dubious suspension — but having to drudge through another half-day at the job while your mind is fogged by “woulda, coulda, shouldas” made it infinitely worse. My plus-minus for the rest of the work day must’ve been Festus Ezeli-Anderson Varejao bad. (Minus-18 combined, by the way.)
2. Let’s stop the choke narrative before it gets out of hand. The Warriors didn’t choke a 3-1 series lead. Lebron freakin’ James took the championship from them. He straight grabbed it with his hands and stole it from the Dubs like a schoolyard bully menacing children. How else can you describe his last three games? Back-to-back 41-point efforts and a triple-double on the road in a Game 7. That vicious out-of-nowhere block on Iguodala. An all-time great dunk that was thiiiiiiiis close in the final seconds of the game. This wasn’t a Warriors choke job. This was Lebron asserting his unparalleled dominance against a historically great Warriors team. No shame in losing to that man. (Huge props to Dray for fouling Lebron on the aforementioned dunk attempt. If that one had gone down, ESPN would’ve replayed it for the rest of time and we fans would have had to suffer the ignominious memory of this lost title on loop for the rest of our lives. It’d be like a tiny bird pecking away at our basketball souls until we die.)
3. Festus Ezeli giving up 6 points to James in 32 seconds was bad, and the second-half Anderson Varejao minutes weren’t great either. And Harrison Barnes had a measly 2 rebounds and shot 3-of-10. But given all that blahness, the Warriors had their opportunities. Draymond kept the team afloat. The three-point shot gave them a chance, but the more I think about it, the more apparent it becomes that Steph and Klay just couldn’t give the team enough. The Splash Brothers came up dry when the franchise needed those wet jumpers most. The prolific backcourt, the Dubs’ strength all season, connected on only 12 shots on 36 attempts. It turns out the Warriors didn’t need the pair to be great to pull out Game 7, they just needed them to shoot at their average clip. They didn’t get it.
4. I don’t believe the title swung on the the Draymond ball-tap suspension or the Bogut knee injury, it swung when Steph slipped on Donatas Motiejunas’ butt sweat. The MVP was never the same after that.
5. A small part of me can find solace in Cleveland’s joy. 52 years is a long time for a city to not taste a single sip of championship bubbly. As a fan of all things Bay Area, I remember the days when the Warriors and Giants were afterthoughts and a title seemed light years away. Every long-suffering fanbase deserves a moment to shine. Congrats to the ‘land.
6. The run that killed the Warriors: 5:37 left, Dubs up 4. Festus fouls Lebron on a three-point attempt. Steph throws ill-advised behind-the-back pass to fans in the front row. Lebron swishes a three over Ezeli.
7. As noted by @cdespinoza, through 335 minutes and 6 seconds, these two teams were dead even on the series score board with 699 points a piece. Kyrie’s three-pointer and Lebron’s free throw in the final 54 seconds was the four-point difference in the seven-game series. (Assuming Lebron stays in Cleveland, both squads are going to bring back their key guys next season. I want the rubber match. No injuries, no MCLs, no suspensions this time.)
8. My buddy from Boston sent me a text after the game. He said he still remembers David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” from Super Bowl 42 and how stunned he and the rest of the Pats’ fans were. Said he’s never gotten over it but that the memory stings less with time.
9. Gotta imagine it’d be a tough sell in the locker room next season if HB were the highest paid guy on the team after looking completely shook and no-showing Games 5, 6 and 7.
10. After the Warriors won a championship last year, I said to myself that anything could happen for the rest of my fandom-life and it’d be fine because the Dubs finally got one. The Dubs. The franchise that used to trot out players like Jason Caffey and Bobby Sura on the regular. A team that traded away my childhood favorite Tim Hardaway and said “Naw, we got BJ Armstrong at point. We’re good.” So even though it’s a tough pill to swallow now, it’s important to keep in perspective what a joyous moment in time it is to be a Warriors fan. Stephen Curry magic, Klay Thompson 37-point quarters, Draymond Green redefining the power forward position, Iguodala, Livingston, even Bogut’s illegal screens and Steve Kerr’s quirky coaching staff: this team has given us fans a wonderful two-year run and there’s plenty more ahead. We should try to focus on what could be instead of what might’ve been. Because what might’ve been feels like a punch to the gut (or a hit to the groin).