With 1:50 left in the 4th quarter on Thursday, Klay Thompson pulled up for 3 pointer, hoping to bring the Warriors back to within one possession.
585 times this season,Thompson had pulled up from downtown.
236 of them had ended with the soft swishing of ball on net.
It was a shot that the second year guard had practiced thousands and thousands of times growing up, in preparation for a moment like this one – tired legs and heavy minutes be damned.
And in the half second after the ball left Thompson’s hand, hope still lived in Oracle Arena. Hope, that the Warriors could win this do-or-die Game 6, and force a trip back to Texas. Hope, that the underdogs from Oakland could actually have a fighting chance at upsetting the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs.
His aim was true, his shot right on target – but there would not be a 237th meeting. The ball went halfway down the basket, before rattling out harmlessly. Still, the Warriors managed to corral the rebound, passing it back out to their point guard – and star of the 2013 playoffs – Stephen Curry.
So, with 1:35 left in the 4th quarter on Thursday, Curry pulled up for a 3 pointer of his own. Over the last month, he had dazzled America with his sharpshooting prowess, raining down treys with video game precision. If there was any Warrior fit to take a crucial 3 pointer, it would be him, owner of the single season record for triples.
But he too, suffered the same fate as Thompson, cruelly denied on a shot that rimmed out. This time, the ball ended up in the hands of the silver and black Spurs, who pushed back up court to take their possession, where Tony Parker stood patiently in the corner, set to take a three of his own.
And what Thompson and Curry could not do, the veteran Frenchman did, putting San Antonio up nine with a minute to go, and turning the next 60 seconds into mere formality, We Belong into We Belonged.
There should be no head-hanging from any Warriors fans, even though they could have very easily won this series. [For your sanity, I won’t say anything more than these two words: Game 1.] Still, the fact that they came so goddamn close is a testament to how successful the 2012-2013 season went.
Our boys arrived on the national stage earlier than anyone could have expected, upsetting the Denver Nuggets in the first round, and hung fearlessly with the Spurs. They won 47 games without Andrew Bogut, clinched a 6 seed despite playing 3 rookies in the rotation. Any expectations placed upon them, the Warriors exceeded – and while nothing is guaranteed going forward, there is every reason to think that improvement will come.
Klay Thompson is 23.
Harrison Barnes is 20.
Stephen Curry is 25.
Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli are 23.
Those five make up the future of Golden State basketball – and none are old enough to have had a mid-life crisis yet.
In Curry, the Warriors have an exceptional talent, a gifted passer, and, quite possibly, the greatest shooter who ever lived, when it is all said and done. Barnes and Thompson have shown to be capable sidekicks, each able to complement Curry’s scoring, each long and lengthy enough to handle the defensive assignments that he cannot. And while Green and Ezeli may never be impact starters themselves, they look to be the kinds of role players that all successful teams will need.
To this core, throw in a – hopefully – healthy Andrew Bogut, a returning Brandon Rush, whoever it is that the Warriors end up drafting in 2013, plus anything they might be able to score for Andris Biedrins’ and Richard Jefferson’s expiring contracts, and you suddenly have a team that could be poised for serious contention in the future. Bogut will be a big part of that – the Nuggets saw first hand how his defensive presence can alter games, although his play fell off when his ankle began to act up late in the Spurs series.
In short, though, this second round exit is not the end for these Warriors, and short of some disastrous trade decision by Myers and Lacob, or Stephen Curry’s ankles spontaneously combusting, they will be around for a while. They belong. Sports fans often live in yesteryear, or the ones to come; rarely the present. But, for the first time since 07, the Warriors have plenty to enjoy right now. The present is Golden.
The future could be.