For the Golden State Warriors, last year’s NBA championship was the one that got away. That’s a historical fact, as noted late Monday by an older, wiser, characteristically candid Draymond Green.
If he isn’t suspended for Game 5 of last season’s rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors probably don’t collapse, probably win a second consecutive title and open the season as defending champs, and then who knows? Maybe their trio of stars – Green, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson – get together and do it all over again.
That’s not what happened, of course. The Warriors crumbled a year ago after taking a 3-1 lead, walked out of Oracle Arena bruised, wounded and devastated after a Game 7 defeat, agonizingly unaware that something much more than a silver lining awaited. If they only knew, the tears would have dried up a lot quicker: Kevin Durant stands 6-foot-9, weighs 240 pounds, has the length of a high rise, the skills of a future Hall of Famer and the basketball maturity and IQ of a champion.
“I had a letdown last year,” Green said. “But like I told everyone before, if Kevin Durant was the consolation prize, thanks for that loss.”
That long-limbed consolation prize left Oklahoma City for free agency and Golden State because he admired the way the Warriors performed and because he envisioned the celebrated trio morphing into basketball’s version of the Fab Four. These Warriors don’t play basketball, they play music. They shoot from deep, pass from all angles and end with a communal commitment.
During the regular season, they led the league in points, field-goal percentage and assists. Defensively, they were first in steals, blocks and opponents’ field-goal percentage.
They entered the postseason favored to capture their second championship in three seasons and, to some extent, atone for last season. Seldom did they disappoint. Once or twice during the season Green was seen barking at Durant for breaking plays or reverting to one-on-one style and yet, to the surprise of many, the former Thunder superstar’s transition to the Golden State way was almost as smooth as his feathery high-arching jumper. He proved to be a better defender, shot blocker and passer than many predicted and, as importantly, a fast learner.
“I had my lows in the season where I was beating myself up, where I was struggling,” Durant admitted. “But the great part about it is I’ll get a tap on my head from Steph or Draymond. To have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that’s we all need in life. And it was just amazing to just see that all year and, right now, just to be here with these guys is amazing.”
Though they failed to achieve that perfect mark, finishing these playoffs 16-1 because of a brief hiccup against the Cavaliers in Game 4, this is a pick-your-poison team. Curry, who was slowed by a sore knee throughout most of last year’s playoffs, returned to his daring, delightful MVP form. General manager Bob Myers compensated for Andrew Bogut’s departure with players who accepted their roles and did them well. Coach Steve Kerr, who has suffered from migraines for much of these past two seasons, turned the team over to lead assistant Mike Brown two games into the playoffs, then came back for the Finals and finished the job.
“Call us a super team,” Durant continued, “but it’s been a lot of super teams that hasn’t worked. And we came together and we continued to just believe in each other, and we’re champions now.”
The Bay Area hasn’t held a championship party on its homecourt/homefield since 1974, when the A’s defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers and danced in their white shoes next door in the Coliseum.
It was the third of Oakland’s three consecutive World Series, and that team featuring Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Rollie Fingers and the late Catfish Hunter wasn’t short on talent or charisma, either.
In the celebration that rocked Oracle late into the evening, Curry swayed with his daughter in his arms, exhorting the crowd to join in. Kerr choked up while embracing his wife, Margot, and was emotionally exhausted during the media session. Durant and his mother, Wanda, embraced once, twice, then clung together some more. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue led a procession of players and coaches who congratulated the Warriors, the team that with the addition of Durant, figures to be back in the Finals in the future.
“Pretty much all their big-name guys are in their 20s, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down,” Cleveland forward LeBron James said. “So there’s going to be a lot of teams trying to figure out ways to put personnel together to try and match that.”
As Kerr observed a few minutes later, kindly neglecting to mention that the Warriors won the series 4-1, “Incredible basketball, incredible high-level basketball out there. There were times I was just stunned, looking at the talent on the floor, on both teams. It was phenomenal to be a part of.”
James was his usual dominant self, leading the Cavs with 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. With his will, with his drive, with his overpowering presence. Kyrie Irving contributed 26 points, JR Smith tossed in 25 points (on 9-of-11 shooting) and Tristan Thompson emerged from his Finals funk with 15 points and eight rebounds.
But the Warriors have too much talent, too many pieces, too many parts that fit. Think of a smoothie, rolling past Portland, Utah and San Antonio. Running, dunking, defending, passing, pleasing to the eye with the promise of more to come.
“We felt Kevin could come in and help us, and like I said, make it all complete,” Green said. “And he showed that. Finals MVP, 4-1, world champions. Doesn’t get much better than that.”