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Kings, Inevitable Passing Of Time End The Warriors

Klay Thompson reacts after missing a shot
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It must have dawned on Harrison Barnes at some point in the final few minutes of Sacramento's clinical beatdown of Golden State, as he was guarding the shell of Klay Thompson, that he'd been in this place before. And he had—three times. Barnes owned the three worst shooting nights in recorded Warriors playoff history going back to 1968: an 0-for-9 against Houston in the 2015 Western Conference Final and two 0-for-8s in the 2015 and 2016 Finals against Cleveland. He became defined by many Warrior fans for those three events, even though it is generally agreed his overall service there was more laudatory.

But we say "owned" because Barnes was now looking at the new king. Thompson missed all 10 of his shots in a display that veered from pitiful to pitiable just by the tone of Brian Anderson's mouth. While it is technically true that if he had made all those shots and nothing else about last night's game changed the Warriors would have won 120-118 rather than losing 118-94, Thompson was only a symptom of what ailed the Warriors in their exit interview.

They were old. They looked old. They played old. Their decade-old reputation as the team that always figured out a way to scare an opponent through sheer firepower had been shredded by a younger, faster and no longer fearful Sacramento team. The final score was indicative as hell of the events on the floor, which is why today's internet is chockablock with obituaries for the Golden State Decade.

We won't be quite that cavalier, but we'll come close because there isn't much of a case for a counterargument today. The Kings guarded Stephen Curry into one of his most strenuous 22-point nights ever, and nobody, Thompson to be sure but not him alone, alleviated his strain. The right team won for the right reasons, and it was no closer with the eye than with the numbers. This was the sixth-most mathematically profound non-regular season loss in the Steve Kerr era (138 playoff and play-in games), and it showed.

Thompson, though, is where the pity (or schadenfreude, if you so choose) landed hardest. His night began a minute in with a missed 15-foot fadeaway (Barnes gathering the rebound and setting up the first three of Keegan Murray's game-best 32 points) and essentially ended with six minutes left on a missed distant three that Barnes eventually turned into a distant three at the other end. Thompson also fouled Barnes twice after that in an extended exchange that turned a probably-over 16-point deficit to a very-definitely-over 23-point lead.

In fact, the Barnes-Thompson ships-passing-in-the-night theme could have been extended to the whole Kings-Warriors dynamic. They were both impressively inconsistent teams in the most competitive conference race ever (all 10 teams with at least 46 wins, that itself a record), and the Kings also had the well-earned rep of not being mentally strong enough to handle the Warriors' collective resume. Last year's 20-point Game 7 loss in the first round of the playoffs, after taking a 2-0 series lead, was used as more proof of the Kings' not-fit-for-prime-time status, and even with last night's win, what they've earned so far is a trip to New Orleans to face a Pelicans team that may or may not have Zion Williamson—all for the right to face the spectacularly more precocious Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

In short, whatever bones the Kings may think they made last night seem less remarkable if you believe, as many do, that this was the final thud of a toppled monarch. The Warriors have been wildly off center since stealing the 2022 championship out from under Boston's startled nose, and that an outsized portion of that analysis will fall on Thompson is largely an accident of timing. It's never a good night to go 0-for-10, but on national television in a show-or-go game against a team 90 miles away that you have either owned or been allowed to ignore for 40 years—well, the narratives become too easy to construct. A rivalry that never was may be one now, and Thompson's worst shooting performance ever will be connected to that, rightly and wrongly.

Thompson's future in San Francisco has been an electric topic all year, as his career deeds and present status clash with his contract parameters and desperate desire to regain the two-and-a-half years he played for Team Rehab. He is still of more objective value than not, and his service to the franchise is not even remotely in dispute. But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sweepstakes—and if this is indeed the Warriors' last game as a contender to be respected and feared—he chose a lousy time to be 34 years old and unable to make a shot.

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