Golden State Warriors hear the sound of inevitability

The Fall of the Warriors: A Slow Burn to Extinction

When Rome was burning, there wasn’t a definitive moment when it all collapsed. A definitive “BOOM” where everyone can say, “Well, that’s it for the Romans. Good run.” Had there been, it might have sounded like this:

The Warriors blew an 18-point lead to the defending champs, who didn’t really look like they got out of third gear to ingest that lead. The Nuggets are the new model, the one that supersedes that came before, armed with a different weapon that no one has an answer for. Steph Curry may still be near or at the height of his powers, but he no longer warps the league the way that Nikola Jokic does. Things change, things evolve, things get left behind.

The Hollywood story is that the old hero can regroup, come back with some new ideas or techniques, and overcome those who look to replace him one more time before riding off to a tropical island. In real life, Drago beats the crap out of Rocky and everyone goes on with their lives.

In the midst of it, there is a lot of noise and speculation about what the last “era team” can do to hang on for just a little longer and bemoaning why they missed the chance to extend their era just a little longer. But it’s never smooth, chances are, that team gorges on what got it there until it harms them. Victory defeats them, as Bane would say. The Warriors never kept Draymond’s unhinged streak in check, even when it cost the 73-win team the capstone championship, and then it got out of their control. They told Klay Thompson he would always have Klay Thompson’s role, even though he’d missed two years with leg injuries and wasn’t going to hold on for very much longer. Now he’s just a chucker who is also a defensive liability, too. A lot of it came at the expense of fostering younger contributors who could have extended this all, because they never had to before. And now the Dubs don’t have a bottom.

But this is always how it goes. Perhaps people remember how the ‘90s Bulls came to an end while forgetting the rancor and bitterness that came with it. Phil Jackson wouldn’t work with Jerry Krause anymore and vice versa. Scottie Pippen wouldn’t take Jerry Reinsdorf’s money anymore (even though Reinsdorf, in perhaps his last act of kindness, signed Pippen to a max deal before trading him to Houston). Michael Jordan didn’t want to stitch it all together one more time and retired. They were champs, and then they were gone, that’s all anyone remembers. No one had to watch the slow decline and think how close it was to what had just come before, like Joe Pesci being unable to knock a guy down at the end of Casino.

This is normal. The guys we know wearing the jerseys and numbers we know and getting to the same spots we know, but unable to do what we know now. The Lakers of the early 2000s complained and moaned at each other until Shaq had to be traded. Then Kobe got old after reaching the mountaintop again. Eventually, Tim Duncan retired and the Spurs haven’t really been heard from since. It’s a slow burn.

At least the Warriors got a clear vision on Thursday of the fall. No decisions on what they’ll do this season and beyond will be, or should be, based on one shot in one game in January. But they won’t be able to get past that feeling in the pit of their stomach when that net rippled. It will color everything from here on out just a tad. It’s when one too many buildings crumbled in the inferno to think that it could all be rebuilt to what it was.

And perhaps a glimpse of what awaits the Nuggets or whoever’s after them in the not-too-distant future.

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