Steph Curry

Warriors' three kings powerless against inevitable reality in loss

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SACRAMENTO – When the final horn sounded, with the Warriors defeated and their mystique extinguished, there was no anger, no flailing in protest, no rude dismissal of their conquerors.

There was, instead, a symbolic tip of the hat to the Sacramento Kings and a somber acceptance of inevitable reality that came in the form of a 118-94 thumping in a loser-goes-home NBA Play-In Tournament game Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center.

“We’ve been really blessed here with amazing players and multiple championships and Finals appearances,” coach Steve Kerr said. “The highest of highs.

“And this is the flip side. This is life. This is how it works. You don’t get the stay on top forever.”

Golden State’s fabled recent history was of no help against the younger, hungrier, friskier Kings in this play-in game. The Warriors were powerless as their past and present flashed before their eyes, which now close for the season.

The championship core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will miss the NBA playoffs for the first time in their 10 seasons as a healthy trio. They’ve never used their six hands to close the door to an NBA season in April.

“It’s a horrible feeling,” Curry said. “When you go out there and compete, leave it all out there, and it doesn’t go your way. We obviously understand that you can’t win it every year. But there was so much belief that we could make something of this season, keep our hopes alive and try to get a win and take it from there.

“Sacramento played unbelievable tonight.”

The Kings’ defense, with Keegan Murray leading the way, was chasing Curry as if he were trying to run off with their paychecks. Green’s trademark energy ebbed and flowed but never made the kind of impression he so often managed in the final weeks.

And Thompson, with the most tenuous future – he’ll be an unrestricted free agent – had the roughest night of all. His defense was consistently targeted, and his offense simply never made it inside the arena. He was scoreless, taking 10 shots and missing all of them.

Most everything that could betray the desires of these trusted veterans did. They bobbled passes. They lost dribbles. They threw errant passes. They inadvertently stepped out of bounds. Put simply, they gave Shaquille O’Neal considerable video for his laughable lowlights.

“We clearly weren’t good enough,” Kerr said of a team that finished 46-36 in the regular season.

The Kings were playing at a different speed, with unrelenting determination. They outrebounded the Warriors, who finished the regular season as the league’s top rebounding team. The Warriors were outscored 25-9 in second-chance points, 12-6 in fast break points and scored only 12 points off Sacramento’s eight turnovers while gifting the Kings with 20 points off 16 turnovers.

Not until Kerr, a believer until the final minutes, emptied the bench with 2:13 remaining in a show of surrender, did the Warriors accept their fate. They did it with a distinct show of resignation.

Indeed, after the final horn, Curry and Green and Thompson shared embraces with several Kings and staff members, some of whom were with the Warriors in the best of times.

There were signs all along that the Warriors had fallen, most notably their 4-19 record against the top six teams in the Western Conference – the teams that rose above the play-in tournament and snagged guaranteed playoff berths.

“The league has gotten better,” Green said. “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. I think the league has improved ... and it’s going to continue to get better.”

The bell tolls for all who ever tasted the champagne of triumph. It happens. It happened to the San Antonio Spurs and their great trio: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Happened to the Los Angeles Lakers when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon, and Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace were not enough. Happened to the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman.

The aging process for championship teams is somehow both gradual and sudden. You see it coming and take pains to deny its existence until it’s visible to the entire world.

“We obviously understand that the league has changed,” said Curry, who remains confident that these Warriors are not finished as an NBA power. “And we’re getting deep into our careers, and we have to evolve, make the necessary adjustments to win games.”

The last to see a fine NBA team’s decline are those on it. They’re caught up in the daily battle.

The first to see it are younger, quicker opponents. They were teenagers during Golden State’s peak and now they’re coming for the franchise that once dominated the league.

The Warriors, feeling it real time, should know they’re not going to stop.

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