Long after the Golden State Warriors were presented with their third NBA Finals trophy in the past four years on Friday night, the game operations crew at Quicken Loans Arena had a few unenviable final tasks to get through.
Because these Finals were so short, and the last game so noncompetitive, the flame-blowing machines affixed to the jumbo screen high above the court had to burn off extra fuel in their tanks before the arena and the NBA season turned over to a long, uncertain summer.
As the Warriors players and coaches celebrated in their locker room, fire sprang forth from the scoreboard toward their families and friends on the court. One last angry, empty lament from the Cavaliers and every other franchise that’s tried and failed to dethrone these Warriors over the past four seasons.
“Wow, that felt like that last scene in ‘Game of Thrones,'” Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s wife, Margot, said, referencing the iconic battle scene in Season 7 of the hit HBO show, when the presumptive ruler of the Iron Throne, Daenerys Targaryen, flies in on her fire-breathing dragon to destroy the superior Lannister army. A great analogy, except the dragon was far more effective.
These flames, like the flames 29 other teams in the NBA hurled at Golden State this season, never really touched them.
Yes, the Cavaliers had a chance to win two of the four Finals games. But that was only due to the brilliance of LeBron James. And even then, there was never a time when the Warriors genuinely felt threatened in this series.
The Houston Rockets took them to seven games in the Western Conference finals and may have prevailed if point guard Chris Paul hadn’t injured his hamstring at the end of Game 5. Of course, the Warriors might’ve won that series in five games if former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala hadn’t missed most of it with a leg injury. And even when the Warriors faced elimination, it always felt like they should win, if they simply played up to their capabilities.
Golden State had more talent, more depth, more swagger and more experience than any team in the league — maybe ever. That’s been the case since the Warriors added two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant to a team that won an NBA-record 73 games two years ago.
“We’re loaded, and I’m not afraid to say that,” Steve Kerr said.
Kerr’s challenge this year hasn’t been harnessing that talent or figuring out what to do with it. The challenge this time came from within. The Warriors’ toughest opponent this year was themselves. Could they stay motivated through the slog of the regular season? Could Kerr remind them to be grateful for the chance at history, rather than bored or resentful at the obligations of greatness?
“Probably the hardest road we have had,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “A lot went into this year, mentally and physically, to get to the finish line.”
High-class problems, to be sure. But nothing compared to the problem Golden State has created for the rest of the league.