Warriors can regain composure by winning

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /

Game 6 was the worst of the Golden State Warriors. Once again, their game plan came apart at the seams — the defense was taking on water from the opening tip, Stephen Curry found himself in foul trouble, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green couldn’t hit from the outside, Curry and Klay Thompson shot like mortals. That beautiful system that has carried them so far just couldn’t arrange itself.

We also saw, the worst of the Warriors from an emotional standpoint. Curry picked up his sixth foul with just over four minutes left and the Warriors trailing by 13, with the game theoretically still in reach. Curry lost his cool at the call, hurling his mouthpiece towards the crowd, accidentally hitting a fan and earning himself a technical in the process. The game essentially ended right there but Steve Kerr made a point of defending his star (at the expense of the officials) in the post-game press conference, earning himself a $25,000 fine from the league.

The good news is that Curry will not be suspended for Game 7, instead paying a matching $25,000 fine. The bad news is that the Warriors appear to have lost something important.

Adversity comes in many different forms, the Warriors have had their share. As defending champions and record-chasers this season they were challenged nightly by every team’s best. For a third of the league, a game against the Warriors was the closest they were getting to the playoffs and they treated it as such. Golden State played a significant portion of the season without their head coach. They have struggled through the same nagging injuries and physical wear and tear as everyone else.

It wasn’t until these playoffs though that anyone has really challenged the Warriors on the court, in a physical and strategic sense, for an extended duration of time. The Warriors did lose nine games this season, and some of those were big losses. But they were over quickly, a single game, played and forgotten as the Warriors moved on to take their frustrations out on someone else.

The Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder was the first time this season that anyone has put Golden State’s back against the wall. Oklahoma City bullied the Warriors in the middle of the series and played a defensive scheme that disrupted Golden State’s offense in a way that no one else has really been able to. They didn’t just squeak out wins, they pounded the Warriors, and in doing so, made them look fallible.

Golden State survived the challenge and responded by thrashing the Cavaliers in the first two games of the NBA Finals. Since then, things have gotten rocky again. According to Inpredictable, the Warriors have trailed by double digits for 28.8 percent of the NBA Finals, 81 minutes and 28 seconds total. According to Nylon Calculus, they only trailed by double digits for about 5.2 percent of their regular season minutes. They’ve had a similar margin on the Cavs for a similar amount of time but the experience of being down big, a lot, is understandably unfamiliar.

Seeing Green continuing to flail, seeing Curry shouting and throwing things, Klay Thompson getting blunt, Steve Kerr taking fiery shots at the refs, it all feels a little un-Warriors-like. They were remarkable composed during the regular season, living inside their brusque and confident swagger, wearing it like armor against adversity. Seeing cracks in that swagger is new, and the lack of composure the Warriors have displayed in the last few games is just building off of what happened with the Thunder.

The thing is, composure is not a static quality. It is not an inherent trait that lives inside someone, or collectively within a team. Composure comes and goes, it is a product of action, conflict, and sometimes, dumb random luck. It’s easy to be composed when you’re up 20, or when you’re closing deficits under a barrage of three-pointers, or the league’s MVP is hitting 38-foot game-winners for you. Or, most importantly, when you know that taking the loss really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Knowing what’s on the line and trailing the Cavaliers by double-digits in the second half of Game 6 is a very different animal. Reaching back for that extra gear that you’ve relied on all season and, instead, running into the LeBron James Express tearing up the tracks is a different sort of mental hurdle.

Right now Golden State is tripping on that hurdle.

It’s a psychological Ouroboros, but the Warriors don’t win Game 7 by regaining their composure. They regain their composure by winning. By swallowing LeBron on defense, by harassing Kyrie Irving into turnovers and inefficiency, by boxing out Tristan Thompson, by moving the ball and making open three-pointers. By running the Cavaliers out of the building in transition. The Warriors will find composure when they get back to playing basketball the way they did during the regular season.

Or, I suppose, they won’t.

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