LOS ANGELES — The Lakers got ’em on the ropes.
Got ’em where only two other teams have in 28 postseason series since 2013.
Got the Golden State Warriors in a 3-1 hole in their best-of-seven second-round Western Conference playoff series, without any margin for error, not a sliver.
With Monday’s 104-101 victory in Game 4 at Crypto.com Arena, the shovel is within arm’s reach, the Lakers having put themselves within one win of doing what no Western Conference team has done in the playoffs in eight seasons.
Consider it officially freakout time for the San Francisco fans who have been spoiled rotten by the Warriors’ success over the past eight years.
The Warriors’ four championships in that span have created unreasonably high expectations for many of their devotees, a Veruca Salty bunch who’d have you believe Coach Steve Kerr – with his all-time playoff coaching record of 98-40 – couldn’t coach a rec ball team.
Kerr knows ball, of course. Just like he knows the old adage is true, all dynastic things come to an end.
Even the most well-preserved and well-conditioned performers have an expiration date.
“I think history would suggest that based on age,” Kerr said earlier this season when queried about the expiration date on his team’s greatness, what with Steph Curry now 35, and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson both 33.
“But,” he added, “it could go on another three years.”
It still could.
Like Curry is a darn-near 50% shooter (47.5%) for his career, coming into this season, the Warriors were batting .500 in terms of championships. Four for their past eight seasons, they are.
And, for the record, they’re 1-1 when facing 3-1 playoff deficits too.
Remember, they rallied to beat the talented upstarts from Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals in 2016 – one series before LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers flipped the feat, becoming the first team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals.
Golden State also fell behind 3-1 in the NBA Finals in 2019, that ill-fated run that resulted in the Toronto Raptors’ first NBA title against the injury-depleted Warriors in what looked then like it might’ve meant the end of the Warriors’ reign.
Nope. Title No. 4 came last season. And once these playoffs began and the sixth-seeded Warriors proved capable of again winning on the road in their first-round matchup with the Sacramento Kings, it seemed like the defending champions had a shot – and not even an especially deep one, for them – at winning a fifth in a postseason proceeding without a clear favorite.
That seems less likely now. For all the history the Warriors have made, precedent holds that teams that take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-series showdown have a winning percentage of 95.2.
It seems unlikely that the Warriors will be able to do it for the 14th time in NBA history because of the way Anthony Davis is dominating.
The way he’s shutting down all routes to the rim and proving impactful on the other end too, filling up the bucket with 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting and filling the stat sheet with 15 rebounds and three steals.
And then facing up with Curry in the open court, flapping his giant wings with a 102-101 lead and the clock ticking down from 26 seconds, from 17 seconds … forcing the game’s greatest shooter into two monumentally tough misses.
Feels all the more unlikely if you can count on more guys to go sparking a rally and plugging leaks when James isn’t especially dominant, finishing with 27 points on 10-for-25 shooting and with a team-worst minus-8 in the box score. Like Dennis Schroder in a third quarter when he made all three of his shots, scored six points and had two assists and a sneaky steal.
Or Lonnie Walker IV with a 15-point explosion in the fourth, a turnabout that earned the reserve guard an emotional postgame embrace from James.
And then, if the Warriors aren’t able to win again this year, it’ll start to feel unlikely that these Warriors will be able to climb all the way to the mountaintop again.
And unlikely, perhaps, that we’ll ever see another run like theirs – or so long as the league’s new collective bargaining agreement stays in place, set to muzzle the league’s most liberal spenders.
As Draymond Green, Golden State’s rabble-rousing real talker said recently on his podcast: “Quite frankly with this new CBA, dynasties are over. There will not be a dynasty. So you all complained about the Golden State Warriors. ‘Oh man, KD came to the Warriors and blah, blah, blah.’ You don’t have to deal with that anymore. But you’ll also lose a huge part of the game, a huge part of sports, which is dynasties being built. So, hey, we the last dynasty.”
But if the Lakers can deliver a knockout blow at Chase Center on Wednesday, or if not then, on Friday here at home, that’ll be a worry for those Warriors’ fans who knew the sky was falling. Those folks who spoke it into existence – while the Lakers apparently were talking about ring sizes, intending, per TNT’s Chris Haynes, to “extend a championship ring to ALL players who were on the roster at any point during this season.”
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“They [Lakers] would extend a championship ring to ALL players who were on the roster at any point during this season.”
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 8, 2023