Death of a Dynasty: The Kings crushed the Warriors' playoff hopes, marking the end of an era

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Stephen Curry finally got an open look, finally rolled around the screen to unleash one of those moonshots that grab momentum and quiet crowds at night.

The beleaguered look on his exhausted face was no symbol of the shot's outcome, as it went into the goal, but the referee's whistle halted any notion that Curry's moment could turn into action.

It was an offensive foul on Warriors rookie Brandin Podzemski that kept it open.

This is what the death of the breed looks like. New faces are unable to capture the rhythm of the crime completely and with precise timing. Old faces are unable to capture the image of heroism that has created the images tattooed in our minds over the past decade.

The Golden State Warriors wore the jerseys of champions, and at times this season could conjure a streak of optimism, but the end was fair, quick and decisive at the hands of the bloodthirsty Sacramento Kings.

Night, night.

The Warriors needed two road wins to advance to the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but they didn't come close to meeting the first requirement, as their season ended at Golden 1 Center on Tuesday night, 118-94.

If the ending is ugly, and it certainly is a comedy of errors, crashes and slow motions, the offseason could match their playing efforts. There's a clarity to this that wasn't there when they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals last May.

The specter of the Draymond Green-Jordan Paul incident loomed over the heads and souls of the then-defending champions throughout last season, and a resolution wasn't scheduled to be reached until the summer when Paul was traded.

There is no such excuse this time, and no way to justify what many teams are content to do after being kicked out of the competition earlier than expected. It was a deep team, with promising signs. Somewhere within the mix of seniors and juniors, there was a good team, but it was impossible for the coach to locate it – which was what was needed to pull the Warriors out of the mire and back to prominence and perfection, even for multiple-time champions. , Unreal.

Balancing the emergence of Podzemski, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Modi and others with the needs of veterans is an impossible task.

The emotions of the night were raw, but they didn't obscure what we all saw, what they all felt. All principles were agreed upon.

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“We took it physical,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They dominated us physically, they dominated us completely, they deserved it tonight. Give them credit.

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 16: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings is guarded by Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the second half during championship play at Golden 1 Center on April 16, 2024 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading or using this image, user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Stephen Curry and Co. were eliminated from the play-in tournament on Tuesday by the Sacramento Kings. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

For years, the Warriors didn't have to be bigger than any other team — they were quicker on the ball, quicker to react, and ready when the turning points came to shift momentum or snatch hope.

Curry could see that for himself, noting that the Kings had every ball 50-50. It's almost a cliche statement at this point, with teams losing out saying the margin between that final score and getting to the other side is slim. But on this night, it symbolized everything the Warriors no longer had, and everything other teams had discovered by watching.

With each Warriors tournament run, teams were picking up on the signs. Remnants of championship DNA were left on the floors of defeated competitors, and other franchises plucked key personnel from the Bay Area to divulge secrets.

You can see it in the hug Curry gave after the final buzzer, as he embraced former teammate Leandro Barbosa, a member of the Kings' coaching staff. Veteran Kings forward Harrison Barnes won the Warriors' championship in 2015, then left when Kevin Durant was headed there. Kings coach Mike Brown had been a trusted assistant to Curry for years before he took the Kings job a year ago, and after watching Curry explode for that 50th ball in Game 7 last year, a game plan was put in place to prevent the same outcome.

Curry was facing a pass rush, and couldn't find any lanes. If it wasn't one set of hands, it was another set. If it weren't for those Kings, there would be someone else, long-limbed and self-assured, desperate to take down the Kings of the NBA.

“Tonight was an extreme version,” Curry said. “They remember what happened last year.” “I know Mike B and the way he approaches the defensive end. It doesn't surprise me that there are bodies everywhere. Hats off to them. They took it to us the whole game, and there was no way around it.”

Curry insisted he is fresh, and will be ready for a playoff game if played on Friday, even if he has struggled the final two months of the year.

“I was built for this and I put in a lot of time. There's no sympathy, 'Oh, you had to carry that burden.' I've done everything I can to be available and perform at the level I expect of myself. Again, I just want to win and be at The best possible situation to achieve this.

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It's been an incredibly difficult journey, as the Warriors changed basketball forever. Dancing on their graves only exists because of the broken hearts and damaged psyches along the way.

In an era where dynasties are not supposed to exist in professional sports, this era has endured longer than expected. This Warriors team has gone through various iterations of itself, with players going from youthful and thriving to old and atrophying, even having to endure literal death in the unexpected departure of assistant coach Dejan Milojevic in January.

Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown, left, talks with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry after an NBA championship game Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Sacramento, Calif.  The Kings won 118-94.  (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown, left, talks with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry after an NBA championship game Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Sacramento, Calif.  The Kings won 118-94.  (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)

Kings coach Mike Brown consoles Stephen Curry after Tuesday's championship game. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)

It all takes its toll, the memories of the great moments are still very rich, and the pain that comes from the back of the sweat is still very fresh.

“We've been through a lot of amazing highs. Some amazing lows,” Draymond Green said. “But the common denominator is we've been through every scenario together.”

Green was referring to teammate Klay Thompson, who faces unrestricted free agency in July. Thompson remained grounded, taking in the scene after the disappointing loss knowing full well that this could be his last game in a Warriors uniform.

If so, it would be difficult to replace the taste for someone so proud and resilient. The man who came back from back-to-back ACL and Achilles tendon injuries, the 34-year-old who took a post-All-Star break (18.9 points, 45 percent shooting, 41 percent from 3) couldn't buy a basket when the Warriors needed some relief. For curry. Thompson missed all 10 of his shots, including six from three-point range, in 32 minutes.

However, there was recognition from Carey, Green and Kerr that Thompson was needed. This was the first time the trio was together and healthy enough to not qualify for the NBA playoffs.

“I don't think there is any scenario for Klay to leave, and this is the best decision for this team and this organization,” Green said. “They showed nothing but respect, loyalty and trust. They did right by me. They did right by Steve, and they did right by all of us. Klay tore his ACL (in the 2019 NBA Finals). They paid him $160 million.”

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“We need Klay back,” Kerr said. “I know he had a tough night tonight but what he represents for us is separation. He still has good years ahead of him. I know I speak for everyone, we want him back.”

“I could never see myself without those two guys,” Carey said. “I understand the league changes and you're not going to play forever. But they want to win, and I want to win. That's all I'm worried about.”

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 16: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after missing a shot against the Sacramento Kings in the second half during the Play-In Championship at Golden 1 Center on April 16, 2024 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading or using this image, user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 16: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after missing a shot against the Sacramento Kings in the second half during the Play-In Championship at Golden 1 Center on April 16, 2024 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading or using this image, user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Did Klay Thompson play his last game with a Warriors jersey? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The reality of the NBA is looming, as salary cap restrictions loom large. Yes, the Warriors have deep pockets and an endless reservoir of resources, but players get more expensive as they get older, and veteran guard Chris Paul has a $30 million non-guaranteed option that the team has to decide on — which may be a relief to the team. Books, but keep them away from controversy.

They're one of two restricted luxury tax caps, but that's without Thompson or draft picks.

Then there is the other reality linked to the financials, where parity is mentioned loudly – and Green admitted as much in his post-match press conference.

Kerr said 46 wins would have been enough, in a normal year, to be in the middle of the playoff picture.

But this is no ordinary year — not in the NBA and certainly not in the Western Conference. And for a team like the Warriors, next year doesn't look very attractive – it seems like this might signify them being closer to the bottom than they already are, sitting in 10th place out of 15 teams.

“I see it as the league gets better. It either gets better or it gets worse, and I think the league has gotten better,” Green said. “I don’t necessarily see it as, next year if we get a 46 seed, we’re going to be a four seed or a six seed. We have to find out.”

Green snaps his fingers and says he can count six wins his team has had — and frankly, it's probably more than that. Green's suspension at the start of the season, then a sabbatical due to incidents on the floor, certainly didn't help, and it's unrealistic to expect him to turn into a model citizen over the next two years, regardless of the circumstances.

Curry has been Green's advocate through it all, and is expected to defend Thompson when the time comes. He keeps repeating the phrase, “I want to win,” and maintains that steely look, but it's hard to fight the natural, cyclical time that keeps developing while you're trying to play old songs.

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