After his side had been comprehensively beaten on Wednesday night, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this of his men, “They played really, really hard and gave it everything they had and just ran into a better team tonight.”
Do you recognize that?
You should. You’re Canadian.
That’s loser talk. That’s the sort of thing dead men say upon the commencement of walking.
“Gave it everything.”
“Ran into a better team/person/metaphoric phone pole.”
That right there is the Rosetta Stone of loser talk. “Hey, we tried. Hard, even. Love us anyway.”
Those niceties may slide in California, where everything always works out. They may even sound generous.
But Canadians – 25 years removed from looking at a real winner where and when it counts – know it’s the sort of thing you say just before you roll over and die. It’s not a regrouping statement. It’s an epitaph.
The terms of surrender are still a bit complicated. The Warriors sent out half a team on Wednesday. Less than half, really. Mainly just Steph Curry and a bunch of random stiffs, some of whom have rings.
Curry was otherworldly – 47 points on 31 shots.
Unfortunately for Golden State, everyone else was worldly. Not in the “let’s eat something other than McDonald’s” sense. But in the “this is why I am only just stockbroker-rich and I’m an NBA player” sense. Nine other Warriors combined had 62 points.
Without Klay Thompson (hamstring) and Kevin Durant (motivation), the Warriors are the Houston Rockets – one great player surrounded by several other guys who can bounce a basketball real good.
Groups with championship calibre have enormous self-belief and a patina of invulnerability. There were many points in Wednesday’s game when it felt like Golden State, despite their diminishment, might do it on reputation and a hard stare.
Instead, the Raptors cracked them like nuts. That Game 3 felt like a Game 7. It was a decisive contest. It was the rare instance in which the final score – 123-109 – captured the tone.
I’ve watched a lot of Toronto basketball over the last few years. That was the most complete team victory I’ve seen. Not in numbers spread around. But in the sense that the last guy with the ball was always going to score and everyone else believed that was going to happen.
The best player, pound for pound, was Danny Green. Green has been AWOL for most of the playoffs to this point. Golden State can’t game plan for him, because why would you?
Green planted a few daggers. Some games have one or two of those. This game was Caesar on the Senate floor. A half-dozen guys planted the killing blow.
Twenty-one encounters into the postseason, we finally saw the team Toronto thought it might be a couple of months ago.
No Raptors starter shot less than 50 per cent. Green hit as many threes as Curry, the best shooter of all time. Serge Ibaka had six blocks, twice as many as the Warriors had in total.
That Raptors team – that fully realized, complete team – is not beatable over a seven-game series.
Should they be able to string these games together with some regularity, that Raptors team isn’t just great. It’s dynastic. It’s what the Warriors used to be.
This sort of complete performance left the Warriors – who are used to pumping the tires of overmatched opponents – scrambling for neither-nor blandishments.
“You have to tip your cap to all the guys that made pivotal plays in the right times,” said Curry.
The guy scored 47. That’s a Michael Jordan number. But he’s making it sound like a lucky ball-scoop saved it at the end. It was a little more than that.
“We had a lot of opportunities tonight to win the game, but it didn’t go our way,” said Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins.
No. You didn’t. You had, by my amateur count, zero opportunities to win the game. You lost the game in the first quarter.
It was still a great spectacle, frenetic but organized. All the Warriors’ subsequent talk about it is silage – whatever nonsense is left after a historic loss to feed the herd.
For one night at least, the Warriors were the 2017 Toronto Raptors and the Raptors were the 2017 Golden State Warriors. It was the meeting of a team that knew it would win against a team that sort of thought it might, if it got lucky. It was a shifting of the tides.
The playoffs are now eight weeks old. For the duration of them, the Raptors have had hope. Some nights more than others.
You can list off a half-dozen games when the Raptors looked terrible or played bored or sleep-walked through a game Kawhi Leonard kept them in. A few others were lucky. A few others were unwatchable.
On Wednesday, hope turned to belief. You could see all the gears fitting into place.
By their nature, NBA games have a way of going wrong. Every time that seemed possible, in front of one of the great crowds in the league, Toronto cut off Golden State’s juice supply. They played like a team that wasn’t hoping to win, but believed that would happen.
It’s been at least a generation since any Canadian team in a major league played that way.
If you watched it on Wednesday, you felt the shift. Though you don’t want to overuse this word about sports, it was revelatory. The Raptors looked like a team that can’t lose.
It’s still a series. Like any championship team, Golden State will come out rampaging in Friday’s Game 4. They’re desperate now. Plus, they’ll get a couple of guys back (though who’s to say if they have any business being on the court). For the Raptors, there is always a danger of easing off.
But if it’s a contest between the guy who wants to think it’s possible and the one who knows it is, you should take the latter.
Canadian teams and cities have been on the receiving end of that logic for a very long time. It’s a good perspective for finally finding yourself on the puncher’s side.