The astute Athens radio personality Jeff Dantzler noted before the NBA finals that if the Golden State Warriors lost — and he picked Cleveland to win — they’d essentially be the 1996 Atlanta Braves. Now, in the light of the Warriors actually losing, that’s one of those observations I wish I’d made myself … because it’s pretty much dead on.
— Like the Warriors, the Braves were going for a second consecutive championship.
— Like the Warriors, the Braves led their final series — I believe in baseball it’s known as the World Series — by two games.
— Like the Warriors, the Braves were seen as the class of their sport. (The Warriors had gone 140-24 over the past two regular seasons. The Braves were gracing their fourth World Series in six years, and there’d been no Series in 1994.)
— Like the Warriors, the Braves rallied from a 3-1 deficit in their conference/league final.
— Like the Warriors, the Braves were seen as invincible after the second game after the finals/Series. (The Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 48 points in Games 1 and 2. The Braves outscored the Yankees 16-1 in Games 1 and 2 — and, counting the final three games of the NLCS, had outscored the opposition 48-2 over five games.)
— Like the Warriors, the Braves were undone by an unforeseen occurrence in Game 4. (The Warriors saw Draymond Green get entangled with LeBron James late in a game the Warriors had under control, which led to Green’s suspension for Game 5, which turned the series. The Braves led the Yankees 6-0 and were poised to take a 3-1 Series lead when Denny Neagle gave back three runs, Jim Leyritz hit Mark Wohlers’ slider for a tying homer and Steve Avery walked Wade Boggs with the bases loaded in the 10th inning.)
— Biggest moment in the Warriors’ series: Kyrie Irving’s 3-point shot over Stephen Curry. Biggest moment in the Braves’ Series: Leyritz’s three-run homer over the left-field wall. (Which Andruw Jones sought to scale, in vain.)
— Like the Warriors, the Braves were eliminated on a night when their best player wasn’t quite up to snuff. (For the Warriors, it was two-time MVP Curry. For the Braves, it was four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, who yielded three runs in a messy third inning in Game 6.)
— Like the Warriors, the Braves were subjected to much second-guessing. (Why did Steve Kerr stay so long with Harrison Barnes — and why play Festus Ezeli/Anderson Varejao at all? Why did Bobby Cox summon closer Mark Wohlers to start the eighth inning of Game 4 with a three-run lead when Mike Bielecki had struck out four Yankees in the sixth and seventh?)
— Like the Warriors, the Braves had to field the question: Did the other team really win — or did you guys just blow it?
One difference: The Braves didn’t lose to a team from Cleveland. (Actually, they’d beaten a team from Cleveland in the 1995 World Series.)
One final similarity: I thought these NBA finals were essentially over after Game 4; I figured the 1996 World Series was essentially over after Game 2.