LeBron James and Cleveland may have sunk the Splash Brothers.
But don’t be surprised if Golden State’s collapse in the NBA Finals sends ripples around the NBA.
And don’t be shocked if the stars don’t align when it comes to seeing your favorite visiting players when their teams come to Portland.
Golden State became the first team to lose the NBA Finals after being up 3-1 in the best of seven series.
You can credit the transcendent play of James and Kyrie Irving. You can blame the controversial suspension of Warriors difference-maker Draymond Green for Game 5.
But the main reason Golden State lost? Fatigue.
In the playoffs, Golden State wasn’t the same team that won a record 73 games in the regular season.
Injuries hobbled Green, Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut throughout the postseason.
A regular-season team that played at a dizzying rate of 99.2 possessions per 48 minutes saw its pace decline each playoff round. In the Finals, Golden State only averaged 92.0 possessions.
There were too many early jumpers. Too many careless fouls.
So it’s fair to ask whether Golden State should have rested its star players more during the regular season.
It’s a strategy used most notably by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
Giving key players games off hasn’t earned Popovich any friends in the league office. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is rightly concerned that the league’s product is diminished when the best players take rest days.
“I am concerned more from a fan standpoint,” Silver said in April. “I certainly get lots of emails and have discussions with fans, especially ones who may have a one-time opportunity or once-in-a-season opportunity to see a particular player and then that player rests. I don’t have an easy answer to that.”
Out of all professional sports seasons, the NBA’s might be the most brutal. A road trip that hits four cities in six nights is arguably more taxing than a long Major League Baseball road trip, which typically stops in three cities over 10 days.
And don’t expect calls to shorted the NBA’s 82-game regular season to get any traction. Fewer games means fewer dollars for the owners.
Granted, Golden State’s regular season was more taxing physically and mentally than any other team’s.
Following a short offseason after winning the 2015 Finals, the Warriors opened with a record 24-0 start. Immediately, players were being peppered with questions about making history.
That pressure continued throughout the year. Instead of coasting toward the playoffs, Golden State went after Chicago’s record of 72 wins.
The Warriors got the record, but joined the 2001 Seattle Mariners in showing that a successful regular season doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t get that championship ring.
And with Golden State’s playoff collapse fresh in mind, don’t be surprised if more teams err on the side of resting their stars.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @col_mrice.