Warriors playoff recap: Second straight springtime heartbreak

Warriors playoff recap: Second straight springtime heartbreak
May 4, 2014, 5:30 pm
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The more seasons I have under my belt, the more playoff experience, it hurts even more, because you've tasted it before. You've tasted a little bit of success and you want more.
Stephen Curry

Mark Jackson steadily beat the drum of his message, beat it so hard that even the opposing coach danced to it.

The Clippers, Jackson said, were supposed to win this playoff series.

The Clippers had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two of the top 10 players in the world, Jackson reminded. They had Doc Rivers, a future Hall of Fame coach. They had home court advantage and the added burden of greater pressure.

"I'm good with that," Rivers finally said before Game 6. "Yeah, I mean, whatever. The pressure is on us every night, so I'm fine with that. Pressure is good. Yeah, it's good."

Jackson was accurate in his assessment, which few could argue. But his team applied more pressure than many might have imagined.

[RATTO: Despite loss, Warriors should feel good about performance]

The Warriors took this first-round Western Conference playoff series to the full seven games before losing in the final seconds of Game 7. They opened eyes around NBA nation. As fearless as they were relentless, they proved worthy on most every level.

The Clippers simply were a bigger pack with better wolves.

"Making the playoffs is a checkpoint in what we were trying to do this year," point guard Stephen Curry said. "And looking at the matchup, we felt like we had a chance to win this series, if we played like we were supposed to.

"It comes down to the last two minutes of a seven-game series, so it's hard to say it's a failure of a season. We had our eyes set on bigger goals, but we fought and we left it all on the floor."

And all the Warriors got for their effort was universal respect and a second straight springtime heartbreak.

[REWIND: Warriors did everything with zeal and purpose]

They initially couldn't match up with Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, and then they couldn't match up with center DeAndre Jordan. Insofar as the perimeter players matched up fairly well, the Los Angeles big men were the reason why previews of this series projected a Clippers victory.

It wasn't that complicated. The better team won. That's what tends to happen in May and in June.

The NBA playoffs are where champions are made. But those champs never, ever wear the crown without collecting scars along the way. The playoffs are where dreams go to die, only so they can be reincarnated a year later. It's scar tissue that forms year after year and becomes armor.

The Warriors are in Year 2, which under the best of circumstances is relative adolescence in the lifespan of an NBA contender.

"The more seasons I have under my belt, the more playoff experience, it hurts even more, because you've tasted it before," Curry said. "You've tasted a little bit of success and you want more."

That's the cruelty of it. Sixteen teams enter, only one comes out. The other 15 go home and regroup and, if they are legitimate, return a year later, demanding another chance at pushing through the brick wall required to win a championship.

"There are a lot of very good basketball tams that have gone home (over the weekend) and, unfortunately, we're one of those teams," power forward David Lee said. "But we can build on this and come back even better next year."

[RELATED: Curry makes another push for Jackson to stay]

That's how it's supposed to work. Miami added LeBron James and All-Star forward Chris Bosh and needed two seasons to reach the top. Dallas drafted Dirk Nowitzki and tumbled from the playoffs 10 consecutive times before reaching the top in Year 11. The Suns reached the playoffs 19 times in 22 seasons and only made it to the Finals once.

And surely many remember the Kings of Sacramento heartbreak, with eight playoff appearances in eight seasons, only once getting as far as the Wetsern Conference Finals.

The NBA is, and always will be, the domain of those who remain persistent and continue to develop scar tissue and, year after year, become more intolerant of it.

"Watching the playoffs has to eat at you. It really does," said Jermaine O'Neal, a veteran of 97 playoff games. "If it eats at you, then you know you're on the right track. If it doesn't eat at you, you've got to adjust your thinking."

[RELATED: Emotional O'Neal may call it quits after 18 seasons]

Going home the first week of May surely eats at the Warriors, some more than others. It most assuredly eats at Curry and at Draymond Green, the ultimate warrior. It eats at Klay Thompson, too. This much was apparent in their faces and voices.

Yes, the Warriors lost to the team that was favored, that was supposed to win the series. For now, the rawness of it is hard to bear.

In time, though, the heartiest of Warriors will recover and run back toward another round of torture, hoping they'll survive it and be crowned.

They are, after all, only beginning to realize how exceedingly difficult this is. And how much pain must first be tolerated.

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