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COHN: Remember the start of a very bright future

Golden State Warriors David Lee and Stephen Curry hug as Curry leaves the game near the end of the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs during Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals in Oakland on Thursday, May 16, 2013. The Spurs defeated the Warriors 94-82.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat
Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 11:49 a.m.

OAKLAND -- With 37 seconds left, coach Mark Jackson took Stephen Curry out of the game. It was fitting. The Warriors weren't going to beat the Spurs and force a seventh game in their semifinal series, and now the crowd could cheer their great star and he could wave. And they cheered and he waved.

When it ended, the score 94-82, Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich and Jackson hugged at courtside, two worthy opponents, two men with deep mutual respect. Curry and Andrew Bogut embraced the Spurs' Manu Ginobili, his face red and sweaty from all-out effort. The players on both teams lingered at midcourt, co-conspirators in a wonderful playoff series.

I am going to write something critical now. Well not critical. Call it a realistic appraisal. You would have hoped for more from the Warriors. If you take away the euphoria and the emotion and think about what actually happened, you hoped the Warriors would have shown more fight the final two games. And there definitely was euphoria. Afterward, Mark Jackson said, “I could go on and win championships, but I couldn't be prouder of any group that I coached.”

But the Warriors were two games away from going to the conference finals, and they folded. Forgive me for writing that. “Folded” is wrong. They lost. They just lost.

You would have expected them, the younger team, to gut it out at the end, to have more energy than San Antonio. But the older team had more in the final two games as it dismissed the Warriors.

The Spurs — give them credit — figured out the formula to beat the Warriors. Go big. Give Bogut, hobbled to begin with, two big men to handle. Take Curry and especially Klay Thompson out of the offense with impossible defensive matchups. Double-team them.

The Warriors are as talented, maybe more talented than the Spurs. But the Spurs played better chess on the court, figured out the Warriors better than the Warriors figured them out. And the Spurs, as they should, understood playoff ball more fully than the Warriors. Experience counts.

Enough of that.

This is what you will remember from the Warriors' season.

You remember this team was nowhere last season, has been nowhere forever except for a blip a few years ago. “Nowhere” was where they lived.

You remember a new ownership took over and brought in a new general manager and a new coach who had been an announcer and is a preacher and, before that, a player. You remember how fresh and new and unexpected everything was this season.

And you remember three rookies played big minutes, important minutes.

And you remember last season the Warriors traded away Monta Ellis, their most popular player, for Bogut. They took a chance on this Australian center with a bum ankle and a bum elbow. And it paid off. And you understand why Bogut was ineffective the final two games. He was hurt, hurt more than he said. He went back to the locker room in the second quarter to get his ankle re-taped. When he finally returned, his face seemed pained.

“He got to a point where he couldn't move,” Jackson said. Bogut didn't play in the fourth quarter.

And you remember the Warriors put their trust in Curry who turned into an All Star, even though he's never been an All Star. But he will be for sure and for a long time.

And you remember you knew almost nothing about Jarrett Jack before this season, and he became the spirit of the Warriors — fearless, insistent, the one who takes the big shots at the big moments. He craves the big moment. And he delivers.

And you remember Jackson reintroduced defense to Warriors' ball, what a quaint concept. The Don Nelson teams had been run and shoot and they were fun, but the formula was flawed. And these Warriors play defense and that is something to build on.

Before the game, Popovich talked about the Warriors' defense. “Mark and his staff have done a great job installing a system those guys believe in, and the system begins with tough defense. They're physical, they take pride in it. And it's not just one or two guys that are doing it. It's team defense. Everyone thinks of them as shooting 3s. They're good at that, but they wouldn't be where they are today if they didn't play defense like they do.”

And you remember that Harrison Barnes will be a star. He got banged on the head and needed stitches and finally left the game with a headache. And that surely hurt the Warriors.

And you remember Curry and Klay Thompson sometimes go off, just go off — balls fling through the basket from faraway ZIP codes. And that is thrilling. And that is new.

And you remember the Warriors brought the fun back to basketball. It had been such an ordeal around here, a niche sport for the devoted, played so poorly for so long. And now a Warriors' game is an event because it means something.

And you say goodbye to this season, applauding the Warriors for finishing sixth in the West, a significant accomplishment, and for beating the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, another significant accomplishment, and for extending the Spurs to six games in their semifinal series mostly without David Lee, their only All Star. It was a serious accomplishment, a calling card for things to come. The Warriors have served notice on the league. And the league has taken notice.

And you take pride that Oakland — what is it with Golden State? — is a city free agents no longer avoid. Good players will play for these new Warriors, flock to these Warriors. And you tell yourself the Warriors' trajectory is upward, way upward.

All this you remember.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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