Thompson The Warriors defied defeat Now comes the tricky part

Thompson: The Warriors defied defeat. Now comes the tricky part – The Athletic

LOS ANGELES — When it became clear it was over and they just had to watch their season wind down, Draymond Green went to Andrew Wiggins on the bench and thanked him. Wiggins should have been out for more than a month to heal from his injury. But he endured the pain, the post-ups from LeBron James, and the frustration of not being himself.

“The man had a broken rib,” Green said. “Could barely move and did his best to play. I’m just grateful for his tenacity and his willingness to fight with us.”

Then, in the guest locker room at Arena, after being kicked off the field and out of the playoffs, the Warriors’ three future Hall of Famers — Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — had to contemplate the finality they face tonight stood. It had been a long time, nine years to be precise, since they had felt that. Overachieved. Inferior. Exhausted.

You’ve experienced heartbreak before. You know failure. This time, however, no mitigating circumstances can mitigate their disappointment.

For the first time in all their seasons together, they started and lost every game in a playoff series. For the first time in 29 series, they found a venue they couldn’t conquer. For the first time since losing to the Clippers in the first round in 2014, they exit the postseason before reaching the NBA Finals.

But even as that reality became clear after the 122-101 loss in Game 6 of those Western Conference semifinals, it wasn’t frustration that dominated the moment as they processed the feelings of rebounding. It wasn’t anger. But another overwhelming feeling took over. It was unmistakable and unshakeable.


“As awful as the feeling is right now,” Curry said, “we feel like we can come back.”

One could have expected more thoughtfulness after leaving. This series ended a decade of greatness. From the upset against Denver and beating San Antonio in 2013 to the upset against Sacramento and beating the Lakers in 2023. There have been four championships, six finals and reputations as legends in between.

The fact that so many of them expected to go above and beyond was a testament to the reputation they had built. Nothing about this season indicated that they should be ready. It was turbulent and inconsistent. They suffered numerous injuries. They only won 11 away games. Her young talent did not thrive for a variety of reasons. The trio themselves had their own issues, adding to the season’s mediocrity.

But in the end their size, whatever is left of it, was enough to get them here, well beyond where they seemed to be just two months ago.

“Steph, Draymond and Klay,” LeBron James said. “These are the guys I fought with the most, these are the guys I fought. Nothing but respect for them.”

This felt like a moment to reflect on what they have accomplished. Instead, defeat triggered their insolence. A decade later, with graying hair and ribbons in need of an extra stretch, they still had the same we-not-done-yet energy. They were reminded how much they didn’t like it.


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Part of it has to do with knowing that they could beat these Lakers even if they didn’t deserve it. Make no mistake, that was a tough duel. The Lakers’ strengths were the Warriors’ weaknesses. LA’s size, athleticism and depth bothered the Warriors. Golden State had to be close to perfect, but it wasn’t. Still, the Warriors believe they should have won Games 1 and 4. You breathed life into the Lakers. They could reach the Western Conference Finals if a few things went differently. If they would do more open 3s. If Lonnie Walker IV didn’t morph into Kobe Bryant for a quarter. If they would finish off the kings sooner. If Wiggins wasn’t in jeopardy in the biggest game of the year. If only they would take a little more from the bank.

That sounds like delusions and could turn out to be delusions. But then you remember that the whole thing is delusional. At her core is a boldness that drives her. Maybe that will refill their well. Certainly, the longer off-season should be beneficial for their aging core. In the last 20 years they have had three months off. Now they get four months before camp.

That’s enough time to do some necessary work on your games. If they are serious about getting back to the top, they cannot rely on past glory. Green and Thompson need to expand their repertoire as Curry has done over the years. Green needs more consistent offensive production and Thompson needs to diversify his attack instead of just throwing away. Even Curry can improve his middle-distance game and get to the free-throw line.

“Everyone will say we’re done and stuff like that,” Green said. “But that’s what they said last year, too.”

The hard part will be the how. The skyrocketing salary cap limits their flexibility. Their will to win now sacrificed the development of the young players they were supposed to support. But they know they are close.

In many ways, the Lakers bring their defiance to life. Even with James and Anthony Davis, LA struggled to make the play-in tournament. But with a series of roster changes by the close of trade, the Lakers immediately emerged as a contender. The old heads of the Warriors watched as James was resuscitated.

Why couldn’t the Warriors do that? Add a few players. Optimize some things. Be impressive again.

“As long as we have him, we have a chance,” Kevon Looney said, pointing to Curry’s locker. “As long as we have Superman himself, we’re in the game.”

However, it must be different now. They’ve relied on their talent, will, and experience to win for so long. It has been working for 10 years. But it’s clear that after this postseason, they can’t be ridden most of a season and then expected to have the legs for a title run. They need others and have to help prepare their supporting actors. They may need lighter loads so they have enough in the tank to run. Because in this series, it’s the legends that didn’t make it.

Game 6, that whole series against the Lakers, was a snapshot of the reality that they alone aren’t enough anymore.

Thompson scored 8 points on 19 shots on Friday. After scoring 30 points in Game 2 and hitting 8 of 11 threes, he went on to record 10 of 36 from 3 points in the next three games. In Game 6 he missed a lot of free throws, including some early ones that could have set a different tone.

And green? The Warriors were better on Friday with Green not on the field. For the first time in his nine postseasons, the Warriors surpassed his minutes on the court during the playoffs.

And Curry couldn’t do enough 3s en route in Los Angeles. With the Lakers’ defense grabbing the ball while aggressively overplaying on the perimeter, the Warriors’ offensive movement couldn’t produce their normal level of good looks — especially against LeBron, who probably knows Warriors offense better than most Warriors players. That left Curry to do all the designing. He was the only hope against a vaunted defense. Because he didn’t have enough offense around to loosen up the Lakers’ defense, his 26.7 points per game in the series was far less efficient. He shot just 34.3 percent from long range, having played 10 of 39 from long range in the last three games.

He did everything – setting up shots for his teammates, taking shots, fighting his way through double teams and constant pressure, rebounding, defending, playing – but it wasn’t enough.


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But Curry’s continued elite is part of the defiance. His own belief that he’s as good as anyone else in the league is the seed of their confidence. He guided them to a title last year, scoring outstanding performances from Wiggins and timely performances from role-players. He seemed just as capable this year but got less support.

What happens when they properly retool curry? At 35, he’s still a championship-level superstar.

“We go as he goes,” Green said. “Knowing he’s still playing at his best motivates us all to make sure we continue to play at our best.”

The possibility prevented nostalgia. Instead, a reason to look back was a catalyst to look forward. They were reminded how much they didn’t like it.

At times during the regular season, they felt that making the playoffs wasn’t even an option. But the Warriors weathered the tumult by riding their stars, getting just enough help, and finding just enough consistency to get back into the dance.

When they got to the playoffs, they felt the change inside. The expectations changed. The focus shifted.

In the end, the same mistakes that put them in jeopardy during the regular season would return and fail them. But they had forgotten what it was like to go to the playoffs and then be eliminated in May.

“What should we do now?” said Green.

“I have to figure out Mother’s Day now,” Curry said.

When they go into playoff mode, they usually aren’t done until June. Your days are being reckoned, routines set, energy expended, commitments halted. Now they have time. And they remember how much they don’t like it.

(Photo by Stephen Curry: Keith Birmingham / MediaNews Group / Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)