Fo’, Fo’, Fo’ equals three
SAN ANTONIO — The Golden State Warriors accomplished something on Monday that no other team in NBA history has ever done. They swept their first three best-of-seven series of the playoffs to reach the Finals.
The team that has been all things to the league — a ratings boon so good, many fans outside the Bay Area have deemed them unfair — reached the championship round for the third-straight season, a first for the franchise.
The most recent step for the Warriors, a 129-115 win, came at the expense of the shorthanded San Antonio Spurs.
Game 4 took the form of every other game in the series since Kawhi Leonard went down with an ankle injury: The Dubs took an early, significant lead; the Spurs didn’t have the offensive ability to erase their deficit.
“It’s like going to war with a bat. You can swing, swing, swing, maybe you’ll hit somebody, but it isn’t fair,” said skilled metaphorist and Spurs guard Manu Ginobili. “They were so much better than us. So much stronger.”
The encapsulating moment came in the third quarter, when the Spurs tightened the contest to an 11-point game. The home crowd was rocking, believing against all odds like only fanbases of small-market teams can.
Then, Stephen Curry hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key moments before Kevin Durant crossed over his defender to drill a midrange jumper.
What could Gregg Popovich possibly do to overcome that kind of scoring power?
He was facing the reigning unanimous MVP, who scored 36 points, running with Durant — a player so uniquely talented, he’s averaged 28 points on under 16 shots per game in the series. He had 29 with 12 rebounds in the clincher.
The Warriors have been all but unstoppable since May 11, when head coach Steve Kerr staged a quasi-protest of the league scheduling a brutal road trip that concluded with a primetime game in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back.
Their record since that game at the AT&T Center: 27-1. Their point differential: Plus-423.
“They’re really talented, but that’s not the whole equation,” a relatively effusive Popovich said after the game. “That’s not everything that describes them. This is, you know, maybe the best defensive team in the league on top of everything.”
That kind of combination leads to the first group to ever realize Moses Malone’s famous prediction that his team would go “Fo’, fo’, fo’” to get to the Finals.
But, don’t expect these Warriors to care all that much about that accomplishment. Rather, they viewed it as procedural. Their attitudes after the win best described as subdued.
“We may not be jumping up and down and screaming at the top of our lungs and doing all that nonsense, but we need to understand the privilege we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship,” Curry said. “… I think we can appreciate it without having a bunch of hoopla going on.”
On Monday, there was more celebration for Ginobli than the Warriors.
Toward the end of Game 4, the San Antonio fans lingered in the arena to honor the 39-year-old who may have played in his final game of a hall-of-fame career.
As another symbol of the Spurs’ reign atop the Western Conference walked off the floor with 2:25 remaining — his once dynastic organization trailing by 16 — Curry paused to allow Ginobli an extra moment to soak in the appreciation of the adoring crowd.
Proving the Warriors are the undisputed champions of the West hasn’t been a debate for years. All that remains is vindication against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
And now they’ll have at least nine days to prepare for the next fight that lays ahead, the one they’ve been focusing on and working toward since the Cavs drank champagne openly in the bowels of Oracle Arena last June.
“No one remembers second place,” Draymond Green reminded on Monday. “No one cares who lost in the Finals. It’s about winning them.”
And in San Antonio, the Warriors earned the right for another shot.