Duncan Greive describes the scene as the Golden State Warriors complete the greatest start in NBA history.
It started, as most basketball games do, at tip off. Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ lumbering, physically fragile centre, out-jumped Roy Hibbert, the Lakers’ lumbering, mentally fragile centre. The ball fell to Draymond Green, the physical embodiment of all that is remarkable about this Warriors team.
He’s barrel-chested, incredibly physical, emotionally violent, maniacally committed. He dribbled the ball up court, veering right, before passing back to Bogut, stationed just inside the three-point line.
Steph Curry, the real life magician who plays point for this team, was darting through traffic, trying to lose Jordan Clarkson, the latest in an endless string of freak athletes whose unfortunate task it is to attempt an answer this unsolvable human riddle. He failed. They all do.
Curry circled past Bogut, who handed off to Curry as he accelerated to a near-sprint in a heartbeat. Curry was a full step ahead of Clarkson already, and headed straight for the hoop. The way he’s been finishing this season, some sort of acrobatic, physically contorted yet perfectly-formed layup was a near certainty.
Yet that would have resulted in just two points, and to his left waited Green, the man who had set this whole play in motion, ready to deliver three. Curry speared out a one-handed pass from directly under the hoop, splitting a pack of frozen, mesmerised Lakers defenders. They had converged in Curry’s general vicinity, with the vague intention of trying to stop whatever it was he had planned.
Green caught the ball, compressed into his heavy gauge spring of a shooting motion. Thunk. Three. The Warriors were off and rolling.
I won’t continue this laboured style of description for the Lakers’ subsequent possession. It will surprise no one to learn that it ended with a heavily contested two point jump shot from the team’s nearly dead star, Kobe Bryant. Nor that the shot clanged hard into the back of the rim and bounced up for an easy Warriors rebound.
The next few minutes were a muddle, a mess. Curry did some dribbling so fancy that Clarkson nearly fell over trying to stay near it, eventually staggering out of the camera’s view while his opponent danced away down the court. Curry missed a step back three seconds later, which was a legitimately bad shot, though one he’s been making all season. It also exemplified the first half dozen minutes, in which the Warriors tried a little too hard and generally didn’t quite click.
This was the last time in the game that the scores were close, three points the margin, and so it was technically fair for Grant Hill to say of Bryant “if he gets some shots falling it gives the Lakers a chance.”
It was absolutely not true. He and we both knew it. But the commentator’s job is, at times, to convince the audience to stay on and watch a game whose result was well-known in advance. He said the words with a sense of duty, perhaps out of force of habit.
Because right now, you don’t watch the Warriors to see who wins. You watch to see how the winning is done.
Yesterday it was done, as it has been often this season, in a series of sublime surges. This one began with a play during which two panicked Lakers’ players stayed with Curry while he easily found Green rolling hard to the hoop for the most perfunctory of layups. The next possession saw Curry glide down the court and scythe through a gathered but not yet set defence for one of his exquisite finger rolls. Then threes and steals and it’s 23-7 and the game is already gone.
At the beginning of the second quarter Lakers’ coach Byron Scott was interviewed, and said “we’ve got to do a better job of running our offence and making shots”. On some level that might have been true, but the Lakers offence appeared to consist of its players taking turns to pound the ball into a paste before turning and tossing up an ugly contested clanger of a jump-shot. There simply isn’t a better way of running that, just a luckier one.
This was what the game truly had to give. The last remnants of one stylistic era facing the surging frontrunners of the next. It was the late 20th century, in thrall to Jordan’s solo heroics, fighting a losing battle against space, pace and boundless creativity of the Spurs and now Warriors. Wal-mart versus Amazon. A very unfair fight.
The game was both fascinating for its themes and horrible to watch. Bryant, a once transcendent competitor, ended three straight possessions with long, pitifully dumb jump shots. One went in, perfectly matching his season-average field goal percentage. But each one must have been hellish to witness for the hopeful young men playing alongside him in this joyless farewell tour of a season.
At the other end, a glorified training run for the Warriors. Green threw three beautiful lobs, all converted with ease and little panache by Bogut or his backup, the brilliantly-named Festus Ezeli. They were having fun, but seemed a little bored by the lack of opposition.
Soon it was 44-67. Then 59-93. The starters never returned by the fourth quarter, which was mostly contested by the very ends of the team’s benches. There was a shaggy-haired, vagrant looking white man playing for the Lakers who may well have been a hotdog sales person who snuck onto the court, for all Scott cared. The Warriors played young, hungry guys yearning to get minutes, soaking in the majesty of this team and its style.
The game ended, the final score a lot to not many. The Warriors were now 16-0, off to the best start in NBA history, but scarcely seemed to notice. Their eye is on the other end of the season. The rest of us can pay attention to moments like this. This one was shabby and often empty but still often showed flashes of the miracle ball they’ve been playing all November. They will lose eventually, inevitably, but it will take a supreme effort by a very good team to do it.
Then the old-timers will be able to more confidently assert that this team isn’t quite ready to join the ’70s Knicks, the ’80s Lakers, the ’90s Bulls – as tonight’s commentators did – in the conversation about historically excellent teams. When anyone with eyes knows they’re already there.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.