In 2015, British novelist David Mitchell published Slade House, a horrifying tale about a pair of supernatural beings who devour the souls of their innocent victims in a haunted house. In 2016, Slade House reads like a metaphor for the Golden State Warriors, with Oakland’s Oracle Arena as the house of horrors and Klay Thompson and Steph Curry as the resident supernatural soul eaters.
It’s not just that the Warriors racked up a record-setting 73 regular season wins and overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder to win Game 7 last night; it’s that they’re demoralizing the entire league. After their team collapsed in Saturday’s Game 6, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s slumped shoulders and mumbled remarks in the postgame press conference spoke volumes: Their souls were long gone, and they were marching to inevitable doom in Oakland. Unlike Jordan’s 1995–96 Bulls, who plowed through the NBA with the scorched-earth efficiency of a bulldozer, the Warriors’ playoff experience hasn’t been a coronation. But their small-ball “Death Lineup”—Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes—has been gradually stealing, then crushing, the spirits of their opponents.
In a season when Golden State has put up stats that seem like typos, one of the more remarkable is a 17–12 record (including the playoffs) in games that they trailed by double digits. Nothing puts that vacant, dead-eyed stare in opponents’ eyes like watching a double-digit lead disappear. Last night, the Warriors erased a 13-point deficit with a few flicks of the wrist. Back in November, I attended a game in Los Angeles in which the Warriors trailed by 10 with five minutes remaining. As Curry rained threes with the clock winding down, silencing the raucous Staples Center, an elderly Clippers fan turned to me, made a throat-slitting gesture and said, “Game over.” (The Warriors won that game 124-117.)
The throat-slitting moment in the Western Conference Finals wasn’t Game 7, but Thompson’s 41-point performance on the road in Game 6, including his playoff record 11 three-pointers. Thompson, now in his fifth NBA season, is often asked by fans to sign their Curry jerseys. At age 26, Thompson, the “Quiet Beatle” of the Death Lineup, is having his solo moment in the spotlight. While two-time MVP Curry wins more hardware, last night it was Thompson who accepted the conference championship trophy from Rick Barry.
In the first four games of the OKC-GSW series, the Thunder were writing their David vs. Goliath narrative with flair. They had the rare achievement of beating the Warriors at home in Game 1, and they obliterated them in Games 3 and 4. The Warriors looked destined to be remembered more for Draymond Green’s foot connecting with OKC center Steven Adams’ balls than for their 73-win regular season. But in Game 5, the Warriors hit the delete key on the Thunder’s efforts to insert themselves into the history books. Although Thompson was the series savior, Curry had 30+ points in the final three games, including the final-minute dagger three that closed the door on OKC last night.
Kevin Durant, still in the NBA’s top three players, played MVP-caliber ball for most of the series and will likely be remembered for the final five minutes of Game 6, when he all but disappeared from the court. In 2014, as Durant torched the NBA, fans on Reddit nicknamed him the Slim Reaper. Durant made it clear that he didn’t like the nickname. Going forward, Durant (a free agent at age 27) will need to start reaping souls in the closing minutes of games before he hoists the Larry O’Brien championship trophy.
Now Golden State faces the Cavs in a blockbuster NBA Finals that league commissioner Adam Silver promised yesterday wasn’t rigged to happen. On paper, LeBron James and the Cavs seem destined to bring Cleveland their first championship in more than 50 years. But in Game 1 on Thursday night, they’ll have enter, and survive, the Warriors’ house of horrors.