It happened in an instant, and yet, how much did it change anything at all? On Mother’s Day I did what every good son does, I called my Mom who was getting on a plane to fly off to a beach locale, something every Mom deserves. Then I prepped some BBQ ribs and potatoes and set the DVR for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Kawhi Leonard standing in the way of a repeat finals.
When Kevin Durant signed up to create the new NBA standard, a “Big 4,” I like most NBA fans thought, well there goes any chance of competition. The season didn’t really change my mind, sure the Spurs would make things interesting but, who really stood a chance against that team?
From the Beginning
So, especially considering the lack of competition in these playoffs, when I sat down to watch Game 1, I had pretty low expectations. Then, by the end of the 1st quarter something interesting happened; Kawhi Leonard made a case for being the 2nd best player on the court behind one Kevin Durant. Curry looked human, as he’s looked in the playoffs many times before, Klay Thompson looked like he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to shoot the ball, and Draymond, well Draymond looked unhinged as he often does.
When the whistle blew for halftime, I sat befuddled looking at the score, 62 Spurs – 42 Warriors. Not only had the Spurs put a complete beat down on the Warriors, but the Warriors looked as if they weren’t sure what they could do. The small ball that made them who they are wasn’t working as David Lee and Kawhi continued to pile up offensive rebounds and easy buckets and as 3 ball after 3 ball careened off the rim and into a Spurs fast break.
As the talking heads tried to play off the shock during the half time show I sat there wondering, could this whole season have been much ado about nothing? Could we get down to the finals and see the Spurs versus Cleveland? Could this be the year that the 3’s stop falling for Golden State and the lack of interior presence finally catches up with them?
The 3rd quarter started and of course Golden State started to run, but it didn’t seem like it would be enough. Kawhi was getting to the free throw line at will, Mike Brown was filing a Missing Person’s report for Klay Thompson, Draymond was getting technical’s for being Draymond and Kevin Durant was looking around wondering, I left Russell for this?
Kawhi Goes Down
Then it happened. Kawhi raised up for a jumper, landing awkwardly on his already tender ankle and then going down immediately. He played it off, after a quick time out, he got back on defense and looked like maybe he would be alright, he’d get them through the 3rd quarter, keep the 20-point lead, then let some backups stave off any 4th quarter runs by the Warriors. That was not to be.
On the very next possession Kawhi again, behind the arc, raised up for a shot and Za Za Pachulia, in a move I don’t want to call dirty, pressed himself into Kawhi’s landing space and when he came down, he turned the ankle again, and when he went down everyone knew.
— Alex (@Alxnoir) May 14, 2017
That was it. It wasn’t just the quarter, it was the game, and it wasn’t just the game, it was the series. If San Antonio had any chance it was there, stealing Game 1 while the Warriors were already looking forward to the Finals.
There’s no convincing me Zaza Pachulia wasn’t trying to injure Kawhi Leonard. Dirty play. pic.twitter.com/O2vn3SSfKd
— Dan Molloy (@DanMolloyTV) May 14, 2017
I sat there watching Kawhi squirm in pain, hit his free throws then walk off the court toward the locker room. Everyone knew what was going to happen next. The Warriors would start running, Curry’s shot started falling, Kevin Durant looking like some more athletic version of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his lanky frame making floaters in the lane that nobody his size is supposed to be able to make.
I wondered to myself was LeBron James watching the game on a large TV hanging from a wall in his personal gym at home, cursing Durant and Curry between pull-ups and jump rope conditioning.
What Do We Want to See?
The truth is the Finals we all want is one game closer to happening, come June we will watch the King, a one-man dynasty, take on the era’s first Big 4. This time with the script flipped in a way nobody would have expected when he took his “talents to South Beach.” This time around we will all be cheering him on, the era’s undisputed greatest, playing for his home team, climbing toward being the greatest of all time.