"It'll haunt me for a while" – Steph Curry on Game 7
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) June 20, 2016
(Editor’s note: Sports5.ph looks back at the top sports moments of 2016 with our Year in Review yearender series. The good, the bad, the ugly – it’s all here. Thanks for reading us and we hope you enjoyed our 2016 editorial content. Here’s to an exciting 2017!)
In the future when I reflect on 2016, I will remember one specific thing: the nut punch.
I mean that in the proverbial and literary way. This year brought so many painful moments, whether in the political, entertainment, or economic sector. There were so many low points throughout this year, and a quick glance on social media would see many people feeling the same way.
The same thing happened in the NBA: a nut punch of the highest degree. And with it changed the fortunes of the darling of the Association, the Golden State Warriors.
When you rewind the clock to the start of the year, it seems almost impossible that anything like this could happen to the Warriors. After all, they were in the midst of a march towards excellence. The fabled 72-10 record held by my favorite team, the ’96 Chicago Bulls seemed impenetrable, much like the plans for the Death Star on Scarif. There were just too many variables that allowed a feat of that nature to be untouchable: league expansion, a change in the rules, and of course the fact that the Bulls had Michael freaking Jordan, and no one else did it.
But the Warriors were doing it. And at the end of the regular season, with a win against the Memphis Grizzlies, they did it. They went 73-9 in the regular season, the best record in the history of the NBA.
As this was happening, a funny thing happened to the Warriors: they began to feel a bit of fan backlash. Whether it was because of the Steph Curry shimmies after taking 30-foot three-pointers, or the way that their General Manager Bob Myers described their team as “ light years ahead of the NBA,” eyes were beginning to roll up their heads.
And it’s to be expected. Unless your team is on top, fans will always turn on winners. Same thing happened to the Miami Heat when LeBron James arrived back in 2010. And if The King was the target of severe hate from fans, they had their sights set on one easy target on the ’16 Warriors: Draymond Green.
Yep, Green was the guy. The outspoken, fiery do it all forward for the Warriors was beginning to get on other people’s nerves. He was the classic “love him if he’s on your team, hate him if he’s not” guy. I should know that, because that’s who Joakim Noah was for me. The outbursts, screaming, talking all the time was generally annoying, but I loved it. Warriors fans loved Green to death, but those that were looking for reasons to dump the Warriors found one in Draymond Green.
So the Warriors proceed to the Playoffs, and struggle early on because of a knee injury to Steph Curry. Heck, Steph never really feels right this entire Playoffs. Except for that incredible overtime performance against Portland in the second round, you never get the feeling that Steph was able to weave his unique magic throughout the Playoffs. In the Western Conference Finals, they run into a determined Oklahoma City Thunder squad fresh from defeating the San Antonio Spurs (as well as a certain lanky former MVP that they will be very acquainted with in the future).
And it’s at this point that we get to the aforementioned nut punches. Because Draymond Greens kicks Thunder forward Steven Adams in the nuts.
It’s at this point that everyone watching the series began to really take notice of the “stuff” that Green was doing. To a certain degree, it’s the end of the age of innocence for the Golden State Warriors. They stopped becoming the plucky, happy go lucky team that chucked up three pointers anywhere on the court, and morphed into this balls kick yellow and white unit led by the evil Draymond Green.
And for the most part, they didn’t care. Green was remorseless when speaking to the media, denying that he went for Adams. But those that were growing tired of his act didn’t buy it one bit. In fact, it made them even more livid.
Green’s final Shoryuken below the belt happened in the Finals. Game 4 with the Warriors on their way to a 3-1 lead, Draymond Green gets tangled with LeBron James near halfcourt. And this happens:
Before that, Green was one flagrant foul away from suspension in the Playoffs. All the physicality, talking, and nut punches were coming back to haunt him. And in the midst of a game that was already in their hands, he gave in to LeBron’s dare, and went after him. Let it not be said that James comes away from this smelling like roses. People hate that he stepped over Green, shades of Allen Iverson doing that to his Coach Tyronn Lue.
But James knew what was at stake. They were down 2-1, and staring at a 10-point deficit with three minutes remaining. All’s fair in love and basketball, and he poked the bear.
The bear took the trap.
The result: a Game 5 suspension for Green. Cavs win that game on the road, then play an inspiring Game 6 against the Warriors with an out of sync Green back in the lineup.
That sets up Game 7, simply one of the most marvelous displays of basketball ever aired.
It was 48 minutes of basketball heaven. From the beginning up to the final Kyrie Irving shot, there were simply too many moments of brilliance to count, and individual performances to break down. But in the end, the Cavaliers found a way. Despite the 73-9 record and the unanimous MVP nod for Steph, the Warriors fell.
And the reaction was swift. Immediately “The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” was the biggest joke in the NBA in the offseason until now. The Dubs go from a potential dynasty to questions about whether this team and this brand of basketball could win in the Finals.
And they go out and get Kevin Durant, the biggest free agent coup of the season.
Perhaps it’s too much of a fallacy to say that Draymond Green’s nut punch on LeBron cost them the championship. But if they had their entire lineup for Game 5 at the freaking Oracle Arena up 3-1 with a chance to win it all, would you seriously bet against the Warriors? And if they lost that game, would the best road team that season be the underdogs against the Cavs?
I doubt it.
As we speak, the Warriors are back to their dominating ways. They have Kevin Durant. They are playing the type of basketball many thought they were capable of: death and destruction raining from the outside.
But things are a little bit different now. A little bit of the shine has worn off. Now, it’s become fashionable to make “3-1” jokes, and to judge the team for getting Durant when they already had three all-stars on their team. Now, people are on the Warriors to back up all their swagger.
2016 brought about the end of innocence for the Golden State Warriors. I hope 2017 brings about the end of nut punches as well.
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