May 29, 2024
The once-great champions were punked by the Sacramento Kings, bringing to an end a decade of brilliance.

SACRAMENTO — Steph Curry, master of focus, sipped a beer with a 10,000-yard stare.

The loquacious Draymond Green seemed to be at a loss for words.

The ever-positive Klay Thompson was downright despondent.

The Warriors’ season ended Tuesday night at the hot hands of the Sacramento Kings, and the bout left the once-great champions dazed.

The question was plastered across each of the greats’ faces before the final buzzer sounded and well after as well:

What just happened?

Let me tell you:

The No. 10 seed in the Western Conference—the worst team in the Western Conference postseason—was jumped from the opening tip-off Tuesday. They were pushed around and beaten up, and they provided little to no resistance to the Kings‘ ever-present force.

The Warriors were punked.

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And it left the once-mighty Warriors — with a core that has played for and won everything —  looking like a team over its head in a lowly play-in tournament game.

Sacramento is hardly a team of destiny—a future champion on the rise. The Kings stink, too. This squad entered this No. 9 vs. No. 10 game as underdogs, carrying lousy form and bad vibes.

Yet they dispatched the Warriors with ease.

Where does that leave the Dubs in the NBA hierarchy they once headed?

The Warriors’ dynasty might have ended years ago. Perhaps 2022’s title run was something different than dynastic. Or maybe that run of excellence extended that started in 2014-15 and lasted all the way until Tuesday night’s game.

But whatever the Warriors were, they are no longer.

The 118-94 beatdown in a made-for-TV single-elimination game between two non-contenders is a clear line of demarcation.

Having seen the Warriors play — and win — at the highest level, seeing them in Tuesday’s game felt incongruent with that legacy. This felt beneath the Warriors — the capital W version of such lore.

To see them lose so severely only hammered home the point.

But the truth is that great champions rarely end on top. So many of the best hold on well past their excellence’s expiration date. It’s a hard racket to quit. As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said following Tuesday’s loss, there’s nothing like the highs of elite professional sports — anyone who has experienced them becomes addicted.

That’s why Muhammed Ali’s last fight was a loss to Trevor Berbick. Or why Michael Jordan played for the Wizards. Babe Ruth hit .181 for the Boston Braves at age 40.

Given the linage of sad exits for greats, perhaps Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center was a fitting venue for this ending.

And the loss to the Kings certainly felt like the end.

Reactionary? Maybe.

But what else would you call Tuesday?

Curry tried to singlehandedly lift the Warriors to a win—the way he did in the same building last April, when he scored 50 points in Game 7 of these teams’ first-round playoff series. Against a steady diet of double- and triple-teams, he came nowhere close. Keon Ellis (I’ll wait for a moment so you can look him up) had the greatest point guard of all time in jail. And with Curry’s legs weary from a regular season of dragging this team, he stood no chance of repeating last year’s heroics. He scored 22 points and had six turnovers.

Green put in a yeoman’s effort on the defensive end, but he was often the only Warrior defending. One vs. five is a bad ratio. While his early offensive spark should have been a catalyst for the rest of the team, his teammates never ramped up their games.

And then there’s Thompson, who had found his best game in years coming into this postseason. He turned in the single worst performance of his career, going 0-of-10 from the floor Tuesday in what might be his final game as a Warrior.

You really don’t need a big-picture column on the state of the Warriors — you just need Thompson’s box score line from Tuesday. It says it all.

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Curry, Green, and Thompson made the Warriors — of all teams, the Warriors — arguably the greatest professional basketball team ever assembled.

But Golden State has strayed so far from that of excellence it once blazed. Age has played its part. Front-office failures have, too. This pitiful performance might have been shocking, but it was neither surprising nor sudden. This team, the most expensive in NBA history, had to scrap and claw to make the play-in tournament. This team had just four wins over the six Western Conference playoff teams this season.

How could the Warriors’ front office possibly return to that path of greatness in one offseason?

How could they put this car back on the road with Curry, Green, Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins (4-of-11 from the floor Tuesday), when at least two of those tires are totally bare and the other two could explode at any moment?

This team has put in some hard miles over the years. This team raised four title banners, but six runs to the NBA Finals will do some damage.

And while the toll of those was apparent well before Tuesday, it’s inescapable and undeniable now.

There will be ample time — decades, in fact — to celebrate this team’s ever-distancing highs. The greatness of this Warriors core is indelible, and this ending will eventually be forgotten.

But now big, sweeping changes are necessary — from both a fiscal and basketball sense — this upcoming, long offseason.

Is this organization content with selling nostalgia at a premium price and winning just enough to remain relevant, at least for one game past the regular season? That’s what “running it back” would tell us.

Or are the Warriors in this to win titles, costs be damned? If that’s indeed true, the best moves might be the most extreme — to move forward, this team might have to move back or even consider the once unthinkable.

Yes, everything is on the table for the Warriors this offseason.

And that’s because the 2023-24 Warriors brought so little to it.

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