If this was the Warriors dynasty’s end, let’s all appreciate a game-changing run

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If this was the Warriors dynasty’s end, let’s all appreciate a game-changing run

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It certainly looked like the end. The way the Golden State Warriors’ best shot bounced feebly off the Sacramento Kings’ breastplate as if it were Teflon.

It certainly feels like the end, the way Sacramento’s plan to suffocate their foes with aggression worked so well, squeezing the life out of Golden State. The way the will of the Warriors’ champions, once mighty enough to bend time and space in their favor, petered under the pressure of the Kings’ youth and energy and athleticism, a 118-94 defeat Tuesday ending their season.

“We just couldn’t stay with them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They dominated us physically. … It was total domination. They deserved it.”

For the first time, a Warriors squad featuring a healthy trio of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will not be in the playoffs. Since drafting Thompson in 2011 and Green in 2012, adding them to a team spearheaded by Curry, the Warriors have been staples on the postseason stage. They built their legacy on six trips to the NBA Finals, four championships and several other monster series bolstering their lore. The only years they didn’t make the postseason, in 2020 and 2021, they weren’t whole, as Thompson was injured. Even last year, when they spent much of the year looking vulnerable, they mustered up a first-round upset and fell two wins shy of the Western Conference Finals.

This time, though, the anchoring trio was together. They’d rallied the second half of the season and came into this must-win game envisioning a late-season run. And they were summarily beaten, cementing the Warriors as the 10th-best team in the Western Conference.

How spent they look. How few answers they’ve had in their last two critical games. How great the distance seems between their current state and the grandeur of their brand. Yeah, this seems like the end. The proud Warriors dynasty, its final exhale of greatness spent in the Play-In Tournament, finished by the piercing of a purple laser.

It certainly sounds like the end, the way the Warriors’ demise is being cheered. A burial long prognosticated now being celebrated. No doubt, the gravedancing has begun. The inevitable conclusion of their tenure, falsely announced in the past, has seemingly arrived. Humbly for Dub Nation. Finally for all else.

The Warriors’ invincibility has long faded. Their viability now appears convincingly neutered by a league infused with Golden State antibodies. Their dynastic era is being funeralized in 4K. A basketball nation Electric Slidin’ on the Dubs’ still-fresh plot.

“They’ve been waiting for the chance,” Kevon Looney said with a grin while fastening the gold bracelet onto his wrist. “But, hey, we weren’t nice guys on top. We’ve got thick skin. We can handle whatever.”

If this is the end, let it be known, they were the epitome of impressive.

If this is the end, let it be remembered their peak was seismic enough to reframe history and reconfigure landscapes. They were quality for any era, capable heroes and worthy villains. During their reign, the NBA salary cap doubled and team valuations tripled.

They certainly believe their chances of a fifth championship are done. The Warriors’ Big Three will likely stay together. They are convinced they’re good enough to be core members of a winning team. But what’s unmistakable is they need more around them than ever before. They need to become at least a little less for the whole to be more.

“I just wanna win,” Curry said. “Whatever that means, I just wanna win.”

How is the difficult part. Surrounding this core, which will be even deeper into their 30s, becomes harder to do while keeping them together. Their 27-12 stretch over the second half of the season serves as evidence their bones still have meat. But the league is only stronger, what they have around them is clearly not enough, and the prices of this bunch — which wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs — make this even more of a struggle to remedy.

General manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. has some magic to work. If there is magic to be worked.

If this is the end, let it be recorded how their contributions extended beyond their own glories. They altered the geometry of basketball and adjusted the formula for success. They brought the best out of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden. They forced a league to adjust, raise its level, and even had a hand in pushing the defending champion Denver Nuggets, and possibly the Boston Celtics, to new heights. They shifted the focus from size to skill, and forced size to be skilled, paving the way for the engineering of a new generation of stars. Do an ancestry test on Nikola Jokić and Luka Dončić and you’ll find traces of the Warriors dynasty in their DNA.

If this is the end, this is a much more respectable demise than what seemed imminent. Though impotent on this night in Golden 1 Center, their valiance was present. They didn’t implode. They weren’t eroded from within by drama. They weren’t carted off the court with an injury. They got beat, like they’ve beaten so many others, and took it on the chin.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Green’s gravelly voice uttered somberly. “Incredible highs. Some sh—y lows. But the common denominator through both of ’em is that we’ve gone through each scenario together.”

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson went 0-for-10 from the field Tuesday’s loss to the Kings, in what might go down as the unofficial end of the Warriors dynasty. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

It’s actually quite fitting they were bounced by the Kings, a team they’ve groomed. Sacramento, already infused with Golden State culture, was clearly motivated by the postseason series they lost to the Warriors last year. De’Aaron Fox. Keegan Murray. Domantas Sabonis. Mike Brown. They remembered. Their resolve was steeled. Fittingly, whatever happens next with the Kings begins with conquering the Warriors.

The Kings essentially mocked the depth of the Warriors, exposed their glaring weakness at the most imperfect of times. Thompson, coaxed into poor shots early, got way off track and never recovered. His 0-for-10 shooting night is the most eye-popping of Warriors failures in this Play-In dud. But he wasn’t alone.

Andrew Wiggins was nearly as rough: 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting, missing open 3s and too many layups, while not being as smothering on defense as he’s been. Thompson’s and Wiggins’ bricks imprisoned Curry as the Kings were acquitted for their relentless approach to him. They shadowed him with 24-year-old Keon Ellis, a hyper athlete with a 6-foot-8 wingspan who can run all day, and supported him with traps. When it wasn’t Ellis, it was Fox. Even Sabonis freely gravitated towards Curry as a third defender. The Kings bet they could pressure Curry out of any kind of rhythm and still recover in time on his teammates.

It paid off, as it has often this season. Curry had six turnovers and only took 16 shots. No other Warriors scored more than 16. They couldn’t crack 100 for the game.

If this is the end, basketball as a community shouldn’t be content with just dancing on the Warriors’ grave. Sure, fun must be had at Golden State’s expense. They’ve earned that, too. But, at some point, a nation of dancing pallbearers would be more appropriate. They should be honored by lovers of the game, respected for what they’ve accomplished.

That’s what Kerr was thinking about during Sacramento’s second-half surge that ended the Warriors. Witnessing the intensity of the game, the way the Golden 1 Center crashed down on the Warriors, reminded Kerr how many times they’ve been through this. How many times they’ve pulled through. How many times they’ve endured defeat, only to come right back and pull through again.

“You think about how difficult and physical this game was,” Kerr said. “These guys have had, our core group, six Finals runs where you have 24 of these games in one playoff run. That’s what I was thinking about down the stretch of that game as it was clear we were losing. Sacramento dominated, but our guys have been fighting for so long. They’re incredible warriors and competitors.”

If this is the end, it was indeed an epic run.



What’s Klay Thompson’s future after his 0-for-10 clunker?

(Top photo of Stephen Curry leaving the floor after Tuesday’s loss: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)