The Warriors Will Always Have Blown A 3-1 Lead In The NBA Finals

The Golden State Warriors are historically great. But they've already made a different type of history, and everyone else that cares about the NBA is already richer for it.
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On June 9, The Cleveland Cavaliers rode a historic shooting night to finally taking a game off the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals. This came after two lopsided defeats and a devastating gut-punch collapse in Game 3. Once again, the basketball gods had seen fit to give the Warriors a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

You might, at the moment, have remembered where you were around that same time last year, when all parties involved were in a similar situation. This was, of course, just before LeBron James’ world-historical Series of Unfortunate Events derailed the Warriors in the most excruciating way possible just as they were about to write the championship denouement to their storybook 73-win season. James’ dominant brilliance, Draymond Green’s nutshot suspension and some late Game 7 heroics from Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving all intersected at the exact right moments and finally delivered a championship to Cleveland; the Warriors went home to think things over. Not only did they have to endure the humiliation and frustration of such inglorious defeat, but their failure becoming a movement that united people from across sports and pop culture and from nations all over the world. All these people, from their various different perspectives and circumstances, came together to proclaim as one, loud and proud, that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

A year later, the Cavs were unable to pull off a second miracle. The Warriors were just too good. Replacing Harrison Barnes with an incandescent generational superstar was a savvy offseason move as it turns out. Cleveland may have had a chance, but a late-game implosion and Kevin Durant’s stab-you-in-the-heart-with-an-icicle pull up triple to seal Game 3 proved to be the difference maker in the series; the Cavs won another game, but they were never really in it after that. And now that the Warriors have shaken that particular monkey off their collective backs, we have a question to answer: should the Warriors Blew A 3-1 Lead In The Finals meme die?

The answer, ultimately, is contingent on some other questions. If Golden State can keep this core together for a few years, how many championships are in reach? Three? Four? More that that? Nothing seems to be off the table as far as the team’s upper limits. They’re a genuine dynasty in the making. Surely, if they manage to fulfill even a small amount of this potential, we will finally forget that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Right?

Eh. Wrong.

You see, there are 30 teams in the NBA. Over the last three decades, only 10 of these teams have managed to win an NBA championship, a list that includes the Lakers, Bulls and Spurs, who won seven, six and five titles respectively over that period. If you’re a fan of any team outside of those precious few, these last 30 years have been filled with varying degrees of disappointment, regret, and outright misery. For much of that time there have essentially been impregnable firewalls blocking any ascendant franchise from reaching the NBA summit—Jordan in the 1990’s, then the smug glossy certainty of the Shaq and Kobe years, and then into some combination of Tim Duncan and LeBron James  through most of the modern era. There have always been elites, and they have generally stuck around.

With the rise of the superteam and the new-look Warriors obliterating league records and essentially reshaping the game of basketball in their image, it’s unlikely that the vast majority of NBA fans following their regional franchise will ever know what it feels like to cheer for a team like that. It was never really all that likely to begin with. For us pro basketball plebeians, at least when it comes to championships, schadenfreude is all we have.. And if we must constantly choke on the bitter ashes of botched draft picks, bad trades, overreactions and underreactions and abortive playoff runs and bleak stretches of prolonged awfulness, we can also at least savor the sensation of other, better franchise’s spectacular failures. And, historically, this game has not yet given us a failure more spectacular than the 73-win Warriors squandering a seemingly insurmountable lead on the biggest possible stage, and so duffing what might very well may have cemented them as the best team ever. What they did, instead, was create something that will endure far longer. It is the lump of coal that any sufficiently dedicated and petty fan can fashion into a diamond through the power of bitterness. The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals. It really happened, and it belongs to everyone, now.

The Los Angeles Clippers assembled a superteam before it was cool, snagging Chris Paul in 2011 after his trade to the Lakers was infamously denied by the commissioner for basketball reasons. At the time, it seemed impossible to not imagine the team as regular Finals contenders, and as having finally supplanted their flashier, Kobe-afflicted LA counterparts as the hottest ticket in town. But six years later, the Clips have still never managed to make it out of the second round. They’ve suffered terrible injuries at the worst possible times, and melted down in spectacular fashion in the biggest moments of the season. Their much-hyped signing of Coach/GM Doc Rivers has not yielded better results than were achieved under the maligned reign of Vinny Del Negro. All true, and yet: the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

The Toronto Raptors have endured years of mediocrity—much of the time not even of the Process-esque variety that can be tut-tutted away with the promise of draft picks, prospects, cap space, and the future. Mostly it was an excruciating averageness: never really bad, never that good, and mostly trapped in a middle-of-the-pack Groundhog Day that doesn’t truly allow for hope of future improvement. The past four years have seen the team transform itself, seemingly by magic, into a perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse. That renaissance has been left incomplete after four years of heartbreaking playoff exits. None more so than this year, when the new look squad that was designed specifically to compete with the Cavs were dismantled in humiliating fashion, with James essentially playing like a living embodiment of the final panel of that brain-expanding meme. Now Toronto’s future is uncertain, with Kyle Lowry, the heart and soul of the franchise, possibly skipping town. Even if he sticks around, the team’s almost-certain reward for another year of sweat and sacrifice is a high-stakes sonning from one of the greatest basketball players of all time. But still, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

The Indiana Pacers were cruising to a surefire deep playoff run during Reggie Miller’s final campaign when their season was destroyed by an airborne beer that landed on Ron Artest as he lay on the scoring table, touching off the now-legendary Malice at the Palace. This in turn led to several years of gray mediocrity, the dim fog of which started to burn off under the the heat of Paul George’s star power. But he suffered a gruesome injury just as they were poised to take the East by storm, the team never recovered, and now they’ve lost GM Larry Bird and George is on his way out. But still, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

The Kings got screwed out of a Finals berth and likely championship by WWE-level crooked reffing and haven’t been remotely relevant in the decade-plus since. The Thunder fumbled away their incredible opportunity to keep Durant together with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, lost to James in their one Finals appearance, and now look like perennial first-round outs. The Nets traded away so many draft picks in exchange for a flashy Brooklyn debut that they’ll likely be terrible for a decade. The Knicks are the Knicks. The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

The pressure of keeping their superstar core together is going to change the team, possibly dramatically; there are a number of other teams that could pay bench unit cornerstone and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala in free agency this offseason, for starters. Whatever changes come, though, the Warriors will begin next season as the overwhelming favorites to win a third NBA title in four years. They’ll probably be the favorites the year after that, too, and into the foreseeable future for what looks like it could well be a historically significant period. No hyperbole seems too outrageous to describe the potential of this franchise to make history. And they will make, no doubt. But they can’t re-write it, even if they never lose another game again.

Every team has a story, and most are characterized by heartbreak. The vast majority of NBA fans will find every season end with dashed hopes and lowered expectations. But no matter how bleak things get for every single one of these tortured, tormented curmudgeons, there is something to sustain them, something that is theirs and cannot be taken. Something pure. Because the Warriors still blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals. For every other loss, there is also that.


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