With seconds left in regulation Sunday, Warriors staff raced into the locker room to rip down plastic sheeting that covered players’ belongings, erasing any signs of a Game 7 victory celebration that never came.
Before Warriors players could retreat, and television cameras could swarm, Golden State’s record-setting regular season was set ablaze, torched to embers and ash by a blow torch of Cavaliers heroics.
After a 73-win regular season, the Warriors were outpunched by James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, losing their chance to any claim as the best group of 15 men to play an NBA season.
Just one week ago, the Warriors seemed en route to the greatest single season of all time, up 3-1 in the NBA Finals after one adverse event after another.
They won, a lot, during the regular season, so much so that former NBA greats were chiming in with unsolicited commentary about the Warriors not being the best ever.
The haters now have their silver bullet.
The Warriors are not the 2015-’16 NBA Champions, regardless of any role officiating, injury, or a suspension to a key player may have played.
No reasoning — flimsy or otherwise — can deny the Dubs were poised to claim to more entries in the history books — and then fell flat. There is a reason, after all, that only four teams have won back-to-back NBA titles. It’s hard, even with a record number of regular season wins, and a weaker opponent headed by an inferior coaching staff.
The Warriors were not outmatched. They were not out-maneuvered. They were not outgunned. They are victims of two superstars — James and Irving — serving up the best ball of their lives at exactly the right time.
There’s no shame in that, but try telling that to a group of teary-eyed men a few plays away from realizing dreams and history, just minutes after the three millimeter plastic that was covering their lockers removed at a pace worthy of Olympic competition.
A bitter pill to now swallow is the departure of assistant coach — and interim head coach through the first 43 games — Luke Walton, who will now assume the role of head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
At the helm for Golden State’s 27-game win streak, the largest ever to open a season, Walton sparked players like Draymond Green — letting him play his game — unlike most candidates to fill his void could.
The Warriors also have key players hitting free agency: Marreese Speights, Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa. Coming back and emerging stronger from this will be much easier discussed than delivered.
If any team can, it’s these Warriors, under the proven sharp eye of GM Bob Myers, and the unflappable, strategic style of Steve Kerr.
With time, the sorrow will wane and the tears will dry. The pain, though, will endure, and what Golden State does with it will ultimately determine the future.
Like the television trucks and national media, the misery will slowly drain from Oracle Arena. And like those same trucks and media members, hope will begin to swell again in October.