Hubris, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Playoffs

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball, by the nature of its construction, is a hard game to qualitatively summarize. In the rigid confines of a baseball game, it's much easier to find the fatal flaw that doomed a team's chances of winning the game; they even keep "errors" as an official stat. Could you imagine if basketball scorekeepers had to keep "errors" in a game? Not just turnovers, but failure to box out, or fight over the top of a screen, or a less-than-perfect screen that allowed a defender to contest, or lane violations, or missed layups--the game of basketball is entirely fluid, and thus impossible to holistically quantify on a sheet of paper.

Just like in real life, one decision opens up a new set of future choices to make while simultaneously ending the possibility to choose from a different set of choices--over the course of a game the collective choices made by a team compound on each other and if too many wrong doors are opened, that final mercurial door--victory--will ultimately be slammed shut.

Failure to Launch:

So why have the Warriors been left out in the cold these past two games, when so often, so easily this season the Warriors slammed through that entranceway, blasting it off its hinges no matter the manner in which it was barricaded?

I wrote before that I don't believe this team actually has a singular Achilles Heel. If the team plays its regular season NBA-best defense (it is truly heartbreaking I now have to qualify our best play as "regular season"), Klay Thompson and Steph Curry hit their open 3s at their normal rate, yet we happen to have 16 or 18 or 20 turnovers, I'd expect us to win that ball game.

Likewise, if everything went right, but the Splash Bros (Digression Alert: I turned to my buddy during the game when Klay went to the line and said "Klay is the shittiest good free throw shooter I've ever seen." He replied "If he misses one of these I won't recognize him as a Splash Brother". Sorry, Klay.) happen to have an off-game, well, I wouldn't be thrown into an advanced state of euphoria just because we happened to win.

This is a long-winded, roundabout way of saying that this team is good enough that you can't win a game by exploiting one weakness, nor will the team lose if one aspect of their game is off on that certain night. You just don't become a 67-win juggernaut if there is one thing that, when it goes wrong, is simply insurmountable to recover from.

Okay, so, with that said, how the hell did we lose these two games? Well, we can't really advance really further without first addressing something that has slowly boiled to the surface of my consciousness since last night: the Warriors, like the Hawks, haven't played a full 48 minutes of optimal-level basketball since perhaps early April. The 8th seeded Pelicans were a few lucky bounces that Memphis had last night (read: bank-in long 2s at the end of the shot clock) from stealing homecourt away from the Warriors in Game 2, and one Steph Curry highlight that has yet to emerge in this round away from a 2-1 lead after Game 3.

This all leads back to what went wrong in the past two games, and, just like in a game of basketball, the mistakes started compounding: what we're seeing on the court is the result of a failure to launch. Other factors in-game that I will touch upon later certainly factor in, but this team never actually emotionally and physically braced itself for the playoffs. Aside from the euphoria of the Game 3 miracle, this team has never been emotionally charged. For a team that claimed they were amped for the playoffs since late March, they certainly have not shown that they are capable of matching the emotional tone of their competitors.

Baffling Mistakes:

So, since Game 1 of Round 1, we've seen an emotionally underwhelmed Warriors team that did not seem to appreciate the magnitude or importance of every Game. Compounded upon that are now baffling mistakes. Steve Kerr and co. have had a record-setting, set-the-world-on-fire first year together. This makes their admittance to not planning for Mike Conley Jr.'s reinsertion into the lineup frustrating and confounding. There's no further analysis to be conducted here--the coaching staff was caught with its pants down, and they were embarrassed and out-classed.

But, why are these mistakes happening here, now? Could it possibly be hubris?

From the top down, this is a historically confident bunch: from Joe Lacob being the keynote speaker for all-time great Warrior Chris Mullin's jersey retirement ceremony, all the way down to Klay Thompson shooting one-footed 28 footers, this is a group of men and women who have a certain intrinsic confidence of belonging. Kerr and the players are also operating fresh off of a vindicating season: everything went right, the Warriors dominated. The Warriors don't lose at home--surely they will just rest Conley, since there's no sense in wasting him in a game the Grizzlies have already lost, right? I scored 37 points in a quarter, all I have to do is hit one shot and I can ignite this crowd and win this game, right?

Hubristic? Perhaps. Mind-bogglingly, however, I think it's a mixture of arrogance, over-thinking, and complacency. Complacency is perhaps the weirdest to explain: Winning the MVP award may have doomed the Warriors' title hopes. Here's why: announcing your goals makes you less driven to accomplish them. People have known since 1933 that "announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you're less motivated to do the hard work needed."

The MVP ceremony should have been held after the Western Conference Finals. Hell, it should be held after the NBA FInals. It allowed the entire team a temporary, isolated reprieve from the continued pressures and emotions of the Playoffs to bask in their accomplishments. It was that "aaahhh" moment of exhalation, where everyone had a cheesy smile as Steph looked back on the year in review, where the Warriors totally, irrevocably, lost what subpar mental edge they had gained from the Pelicans series. That "aaahhh" moment should come after you closed out the opposition in the Finals--when LeBron or Timmy or Shaq or Jordan is dancing in his chair while the Commissioner hands him the Trophy. Instead, this team's "aaahhh" moment came with three rounds and 11 wins still unplayed and incomplete.

We exhaled too soon.

Another baffling mistake.

A Conclusion, But Not a Requiem:

What does this all lead to? A lot prettier picture than we deserve: a 1-2 deficit against a team that hasn't capitalized on our continued subpar play. Notice how not once in the equation did I factor in the Grizzlies actual play. The Warriors played possibly their worst game since they were in San Antonio, and the Grizzlies still needed two (2) buzzerbeating long range 2s from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, plus a nigh unforced turnover from Draymond, plus the Warriors missing heaps of FTs. If Curry shot his regular percentage from 3 in Game 2, he would have hit 5 3-pointers instead of 2 and the Warriors would have won and they'd be up 3-0 on them.

The point I'm making is it's entirely up to the Warriors if they decide they want to get emotionally involved--if the coaches want to game plan effectively, if the players want to re-buy into the system on offense instead of watching Klay "Spontaneous Inferiority Complex Against Good Defenders" Thompson vs. the World. That's perhaps why this series is more frustrating than anything: the Warriors are good enough to play themselves out of any hole, whether in a series or in a game. This is a really good team that is either hubristic or lazy or just air-headed.

So this is not the bitter requiem to this dream. Not even close. Because, no matter how you analyze the situation, or why the situation came about, at the end of your investigation you're still faced with an ultimatum: is this team, at it's core, fundamentally good? Is it a team of guys who want to compete, to win a championship?

I think so.

It was easy to Believe when there was nothing at stake to believe in back in 2007. It's easy to be enthusiastic when there's nothing to lose for it. It's a lot harder to become invested in something that can rip your heart out. But that's sort of the point of being a fan of a sports team, right?

This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!