The Warriors’ Boogeyman II: Return of ‘The Claw’

Most experts are saying the reigning/repeat NBA champions don’t have much to fear in their eastern conference opponent, the Toronto Raptors. Perhaps that’s only because they’re not standing in their shoes?

A good boogeyman is one that is motivated. Probably the greatest example of this is Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame.

Poor Jason was the victim of negligent camp counselors who were all too busy doing drugs and having sex to notice that one of their campers was drowning in Crystal Lake. When no one was held accountable, his mother decided to dish out a little justice of her own, killing the negligent counselors, before meeting the same fate as her son. Then, through some miracle (Hollywood), Jason was resurrected, grew to about the size of J.J. Watt, and began seeking some payback on those responsible for the murder of his mother (why TV doesn’t play a marathon of these movies during Mother’s Day is anyone’s guess).

Sometimes a boogeyman is already a killer, but is suddenly given a motive that drives them. Such is the case with Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Freddy was arrested for killing and torturing children. When he was brought to justice, he got off on a technicality (don’t you just love lawyers?), and was set free. This didn’t sit well with the victims’ parents, obviously, who promptly burned Freddy to death in a boiler room on Elm Street; However, just because Freddy was killed, doesn’t mean he was banished for good (it doesn’t?). Through some miracle (guess who again?), Freddy is able to kill and torture the children of Elm Street where their parents can’t protect them: In their dreams.

All of this brings us to our boogeyman of the hour: Kawhi Leonard.

It’s Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals. The San Antonio Spurs have a sizable advantage over the Golden State Warriors, embarrassing them at Oracle, 76-55, with a little under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. Kawhi Leonard is dominant, leading the way with 24 points on 7-13 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal.

He has the ball again, and uses a screen to create a mismatch, forcing center Zaza Pachulia to come out and defend him on the perimeter. Leonard uses his speed and agility to step-back and fade away from Pachulia, placing space between himself and the Warriors center-by-virtue-of-being-seven-feet-tall.

Pachulia isn’t the most sure-footed player in the league – not even by his position – so, there was no real way for him to defend against Leonard once matched up against him.

Unless, of course, he went full-blown goon and elected to hurt him (Pachulia’s goon antics had been well documented)With no real skill to combat with, Pachulia decided instead to blatantly walk under Leonard – denying him his area to land safely – in an effort to further damage his injured ankle (People forget that this was not simply an injury, but, in fact, a re-injury).

Leonard would leave the game, and the Warriors would rally back from 20+ points to defeat the Spurs. Without Leonard, the Spurs would fail to win a single game, resulting in a Warriors sweep. This single turn of events (or, an ankle, at least) shifted the tide from the Warriors entering San Antonio for Game 3 tied 1-1 at best – as this was honestly looking like a sweep the other way – to entering the arena with a commanding 2-0 lead, and no hope in sight for the Spurs and their fans.

Time would pass, the Warriors would avenge their defeat from a season ago against LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers, and we all thought we’d see Leonard come back to the Spurs and challenge the Warriors for their crown; However, the injury proved to still be bothering him into the 2017-18 season, so we were all left waiting. Then he did come back, but injured his hamstring, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

When Leonard was traded away from the Spurs to the Raptors last July, I personally felt like the Warriors had unfairly dodged a bullet. There was seemingly no way for him to get his revenge on Golden State from Toronto, and that’s when I really began to damn the name Zaza Pachulia. Who knows what would have happened if that numb nuts didn’t purposely injure perhaps the greatest player in the NBA today? Sure, it came at the expense of a hated rival in the Spurs – as I am a Lakers fan – but Leonard was quietly becoming one of my favorite players to watch. And, the Warriors success was beginning to eclipse everything that the Spurs had already accomplished anyways.

What’s really started to piss me off is that their success, so far, has not been met with any real adversity. Rarely has this team rematched with a rival who had a real ax to grind while also knowing how to swing it. Save one time, in 2016, when the Cleveland Cavaliers exacted sweet revenge, causing the Warriors 73-9 record-breaking season to be all for naught.

Other than this single time, rivalries with the Rockets, the Thunder, and especially the Clippers, have all been a joke.

Until this Thursday, that is.

Because the Warriors have recently been dealt a little karmic justice for Zaza’s goonery: Kevin Durant, who has won the last two NBA Finals MVP’s, is unlikely to participate. Which means if the Warriors plan to hoist up the Larry O’Brien trophy again, it will be on the shoulders of their leader, Steph Curry.

Only the last time Curry was asked to lead the Warriors to a championship (2015 and 2016), he needed the other team to lose their star point guard (Kyrie Irving) to injury in Game 1, and also needed an unlikely hero to be awarded the 2015 Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala. The next season, he and his 73-9 Warriors would be unable to close out a Cleveland Cavaliers team down 3-1, and blow the series.

Now, he’s being asked to do it again. This time – and for the first time in their five straight seasons of reaching the Finals – they’ll have to do it without home court advantage. And, through some miracle, the other team has a highly motivated killer in Kawhi Leonard.

A killer?

Yes, a killer! Here’s the dagger to end their series with the Philadelphia 76ers:

And here he is bodying MVP hopeful Giannis Antetokounmpo:

Should we really be surprised that Leonard is a killer? The signs have always been there. Leonard is a strange dude. Nobody seems to know much about him, and he shows very little to no emotion ever. That sounds like the beginning of every single famous killer’s origin already.

Now this killer has his motivation, and the target will be right in front of him. All because somehow, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP and champion, was able to hack and slash his way back to where he was two years ago, when this road to revenge started:

Back to the Warriors.

Back to a Game 1.

Back to a best of seven.

So, don’t count me as shocked if Leonard comes out of this victorious, securing his revenge in the form of a second championship and a second Finals MVP trophy. I can almost see him now, clutching the trophies in his giant, Pumpkinhead-like hands, knowing the Warriors are in their locker rooms crying and listening to him and his team celebrating. Having finally bested Golden State, and receiving the microphone from commissioner Adam Silver for his Finals MVP acceptance speech, he awkwardly thinks of what to say. But all that comes out is laughter.

Creepy, evil, laughter.

And what’s any boogeyman without a creepy laugh? The Predator, Chucky, Freddy Krueger, even zombie Michael Jackson, all share the same characteristic, in that they each have a distinct and haunting laugh.

But Leonard’s might be the creepiest of all:

Did you hear that? That’s the laugh of a cold-blooded killer.

Trust me, I’ve watched a lot of scary movies.

Follow me on Twitter, for more of my horror movie knowledge, as well as a few takes from this year’s NBA Finals.

Now, I understand what happened to Leonard was wrong, but after all that shit Bruce Bowen pulled back when he played, can we all agree that the Spurs had that one coming? My initial thought when it happened is that it was the basketball gods collecting on an outstanding karmic debt, and Leonard being traded was the interest. You just can’t have Bowen injuring star players like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Vince Carter, and think all of those championships he helped you win would come without a price.

Believe me, my Lakers are still paying for that WCF Game 6 against the Kings. Sometimes you just gotta bend over and take it.

Author: Commissioner Dan

Unofficial-next-commissioner of the NBA. Covering all things pro basketball (mostly Lakers), even if it's not like it was in the '90's.

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