Columnists, Sports

Coast to Coast: Examining the possibility of a Warriors takedown

James Harden in a November 7th, 2016 game against the Washingon Wizards. Harden leads the NBA in both points per game and overall points. COURTESY OF KEITH ALLISON

The Golden State Warriors’ run of excellence has to end at some point, right?

For the past three years at the start of the postseason, I have asked myself the same question: Can this please be the year the run ends? I hope and I pray, but every year it’s the same story — the Warriors have done it again.

It’s 2016, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals against Golden State. The Warriors are done, it seems, and now we get LeBron James versus Kevin Durant in the NBA Finals once again. Nice. Except the Warriors came back and won again.

Oh, it’s 2017, and the San Antonio Spurs are up by 30 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals? Maybe they can win this. This is payback for adding Durant to the greatest regular season team of all time. But no, Kawhi Leonard hurts his ankle, and LeBron and Durant do meet in the Finals, but for all the wrong reasons. The Warriors win again — yippee.

Then this season, Durant and teammate Draymond Green get into a fight early in the season. Rumors are swirling that Durant already has his bags packed for New York. Surely, this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the thing that destroys the Warriors from within. I swear this is the one. Everybody get ready, because this is not a drill.

Then, the Warriors blow a 31-point lead in the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers, who tied the series at one. Here we go — the end is the near. Except it never is. Golden State won the next two games in LA and are now up 3-1 in the series and in position to advance to the second round.

So really, am I doing this again? Should I get my hopes up that this is the year of prophecy? Are the Golden Arches going to come crumbling down? I hope so, I really hope so. And if — no, when — it does, it will be for one of these reasons:

James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo

After the Houston Rockets beat the Utah Jazz to go up 3-0 — even with James Harden missing his first 15 shots — I’m going to declare that series over. In the next round, we’ll get a rematch of the 2018 Western Conference Finals: Houston versus Golden State. This year, the Warriors will have home court and not quite all of the marbles will be on the table.

Still, this series again has a chance to determine who will win the title this year. Houston has perhaps the best chance at defeating Golden State. No team is hungrier or better-crafted to beat the Warriors. Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey literally constructed his team just to conquer them.

A big and bushy reason for that is Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer and arguably its most unstoppable offensive player. He has a counter for every defense and every defensive assignment. And if the Rockets, or any team, is going to beat the Warriors, then they have to have the best player in the series. Have to.

A candidate who can oppose the Western Conference champion for the title is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis was the best player in the league this season and can be the best player in a series against any team. If the Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks meet in the Finals, then an alpha performance from Giannis could give Milwaukee their first championship since 1971.

I don’t see anyone else realistically taking the series single-handedly against either the Warriors or Rockets. Maybe Kawhi, probably not Damian Lillard, same with Kyrie Irving. Joel Embiid, maybe, but he doesn’t appear healthy enough to rip through teams in a seven-game series.

However, some teams can definitely be ready to take advantage if the Warriors or Rockets beat themselves.

Chemistry issues

While it hasn’t seemed to surface on the court in a long time, Durant’s free agency has to be somewhere in the mind of not only Durant, but also of his teammates, coaches and fans.

If KD is the reason for a loss, or if he has a game like Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals against his future team, everyone has a justifiable reason to turn on him. Plenty of justifiable reasons. If the Warriors think he doesn’t care and is just biding his time until the summer, then things could get ugly.

While the New York Knicks appear to be waiting with loving arms on July 1, the Warriors still have a chance at a three-peat here. At any hint of disintegration, which there hasn’t been since way back in November when Draymond and Durant had a 15-round heavyweight screaming match, there are a couple teams ready to pounce.

The first is the Portland Trail Blazers, just for the fact that they have the best chemistry in the league. If the two meet in the Western Conference Finals and Durant isn’t on speaking terms with his teammates, then a team led by the best culture setter and locker room leader in the NBA today, could take advantage and out-harmonize Golden State.

The Bucks and the Rockets are candidates here, too, being two teams where everyone knows their roles and who their best player is. The Toronto Raptors should be mentioned, too. Kawhi is whatever the opposite of a drama queen is, at least when it comes to playing basketball on the court.

He is reminding us all of his run in the 2017 playoffs, where he should have had a chance to battle the Warriors before Zaza Pachulia took care of his ankle. Maybe he gets a second chance this year in the NBA Finals with an opportunity to shred through a team with locker room drama.

The Celtics

Please allow me to put my green goggles, leprechaun socks and 17-banner underoos for a second here and state some Celtics-related facts:

  1. The Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season right now. In the playoffs. Where the games matter most.
  2. Before the season, the Celtics were the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
  3. Gordon Hayward is as close to Utah Gordon Hayward as he’s been all season.
  4. The Celtics are 4-4 against the Warriors in the last four seasons, better than a lot of teams can say.

Boston still has to get through some combination of Giannis, Kawhi and Joel Embiid, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. The opening night starting lineup, which was terrible in the first few weeks, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens scrapped, is coming back with a vengeance.

The Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals the last two seasons and aren’t going to be satisfied with anything but, at the very least, an NBA Finals appearance. The Bucks are going to be satisfied with winning just one playoff series, the Raptors never win anything and the Celtics get the 76ers in a stranglehold every time the two teams play.

Please, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

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