Richard Jefferson wasn’t afraid to cop to what we all observed in parts of Golden State’s tumble from up 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors played championship-level ball in defeat, no team that comes within one shot of taking a championship can be characterized as lacking either effort or spirit. With three consecutive losses to end a season, though, and Draymond Green’s series-altering missteps still in hindsight clear as day, the tag is in place:
Golden State didn’t have its head together, at least not as much as it needed to, and Cleveland did. In an uneven series that came down to a matter of inches and a clock that had run out of time, every bit counted.
Losing an All-Star for all of Game 5 counted. As did Curry’s poorly-timed bits of grabbing and reacting in Game 6. Jefferson, now back for his fourth NBA Finals at age 36, doesn’t mind reminding anyone of the (non-LeBron) difference from last year:
Full Richard Jefferson quote on whether Draymond's trash talking will impact the NBA Finals pic.twitter.com/V1V93SpzkJ
Jefferson played 24 minutes a game in the 2016 Finals as the team’s mini-mini-Andre Iguodala of sorts, contributing solid minute-sopping at both forward positions, acting as a crucial part of various shifting lineups in Cleveland’s comeback championship.
Green seemed well on his way toward a place in the Finals MVP discussion, averaging 14.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists with seven steals and five blocks through the series’ first four games, but his collection of technical and flagrant foul points (earned through an infamous twirl with LeBron James) left him suspended for what could have been a clinching Game 5 at home for the then-defending champs.
Stephen Curry’s Game 6 meltdown was certainly smaller in rank, he fouled out of a 12-point game with 4 1/2 minutes to go, prior to being ejected from a game he already couldn’t re-enter because his thrown mouthpiece was seen hitting a sadly-identifiable fan. It is arguable that the six fouls Curry was caught with in Game 6 were due to a lack of poise, as he committed to defensive gambles throughout the contest, surrendering to temptations typically beneath him.
What’s inarguable is Jefferson’s point, even if he is using it to needle Mr. Green.
The 2016 Cavaliers, in a dumb contest such as this, would have to be credited as the headier team in comparison by way of its 3-1 return. Full mindfulness also encourages execution, as well as exploration, and the tempestuous Warriors could not stay out of their own way despite heading up three wins to one, and in concert with finishing 0-3.
This isn’t anything Golden State would admit to on record in direct response to Richard Jefferson’s thoughts, no way, but they know what’s up.
Stephen Curry, as any rational human would, still replays his turnover in Game 7 of the Finals in stunning detail during most available moments. Even if he still reminds us, and certainly Golden State Warrior fans, of that night far too often with some of his recent turnover work.
Draymond’s not even trying to defend his mid-period Finals work anymore, reminding the Washington Post that he’s “a firm believer in, ‘[stuff] happens.’”
He went on, to Adam Kilgore:
“I carried the lessons that I learned with me, but the actual incident — I mean, I put that behind me a long time ago,” Green said. “The things that it taught me, it’s put me in the position of where I am today. I feel better than I’ve ever felt emotionally, just having my emotions in place than I’ve ever felt.”
This is, perhaps, why Richard Jefferson is poking at things. What Jefferson relayed isn’t inaccurate, but in the wake of an so-so Eastern Conference playoff run so far (Jefferson has only at times reprised his role as a springy stretch forward), it’s never a bad idea to take a swipe at the other team’s All-Star.
Draymond Green doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot technical and flagrant points piled up, though, and he’s in a good place. The Warriors have only played 12 postseason games, all wins. If the Eastern and Western Conference finals feel like they took place a year ago, where does that leave last year’s Finals?
Richard Jefferson, and the rest of us, are about to find out just how far along the Golden State Warriors have come.
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