Now we get to look forward to eight days later. That’s when we’ll see the start of what looks to be a fascinating, star-studded NBA Finals between one team that’s never won a title and another that followed its only championship since moving to the Bay Area with a four-decade stretch that was nothing short of wretched.
I’m rounding up in terms of years, since the last couple seasons before this one haven’t been too shabby. Still, the playoff runs in 2013 and 2014 (the latter only lasted one round, so “run” is probably too generous a descriptor) didn’t seem like a prelude to this. The Warriors are going to the NBA Finals after winning Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals by a score of 104-90 over the Rockets, and there’s nothing fluky about any of it.
The Warriors are as versatile as they are great, and after a winning percentage of .817 (67-15) during the regular season and .800 (12-3) during the playoffs, they’re plenty great.
“A very Warriors-like performance”
The Warriors were shooting 37.7% from the floor through the first three quarters. Stephen Curry was shooting slightly worse than that. The Rockets had attempted 19 more free throws than the Warriors, and Golden State had committed 15 turnovers. Yet the Warriors were up 74-68, poised to earn their way into the Finals with just one more quarter of doing what they do best.
“We were the No. 1-ranked defense in the league this year,” said Steve Kerr. “I would say this was in many ways a very Warriors-like performance.”
The Warriors have two All-Defensive team members, but it was Andre Iguodala who showed why he was chosen for the All-Defensive First Team a year earlier. It seemed clear almost from Game 1 of this series that Iguodala was probably the best man to guard James Harden, but the Warriors — after giving Klay Thompson the bulk of what is a very difficult responsibility — went with multiple looks against Harden in Games 3 and 4. In Game 3, Harden was simply off in multiple ways (shooting, energy) and his teammates followed suit. In Game 4, it didn’t really matter who was defending Harden; he was in a ridiculous rhythm and Golden State’s team defense was lousy.
In Game 5, Iguodala saw a lot of Harden, and Harden saw a lot of his passes and dribbles end up in the hands of Warriors. Lil B, a rapper best known as The Based God, supposedly placed a curse on Harden for stealing his signature “cooking” dance, which isn’t really a dance but whatever. Harden, who earlier in this series flirted with triple-doubles and scored 40-plus, had 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting and 13 TURNOVERS in Game 5.
“Andre Iguodala might have had the greatest six-point game I’ve ever seen in my life. We put him on James a lot tonight. We felt like that was ultimately the best matchup,” said Kerr. “I thought Andre’s defense on James was absolutely brilliant, and really the key to the whole game.”
The one statistical advantage that the Warriors held as a team throughout the night came in a category that doesn’t receive much coverage when Golden State is the subject. The Warriors had 19 offensive rebounds while the Rockets finished with 10, and the Warriors collected 40 defensive rebounds to Houston’s 29.
The rebounding came from everybody. Draymond Green had 13. Andrew Bogut had 14 rebounds in just 19 minutes. Festus Ezeli had his best game of the year, and he finished with nine boards. Stephen Curry had eight rebounds, and Harrison Barnes chipped in with seven.
“We’ve been winning a lot of rebounding battles,” Green said. “That’s just what they say about us (that the Warriors are a jump-shooting team) … People pick out and pick and choose what they want to talk about. They look at it and see what they want to see. If you’re getting out-rebounded every game, you don’t win 67 games.”
The Warriors outscored the Rockets 30-22 in the fourth quarter, proving they can prevail in games where they don’t hit 15 threes (they went 9-for-29) while committing a few too many turnovers (they ended up with 18). Golden State can win in a variety of ways, and the team’s reward was a trophy presentation where nearly all of Curry’s postgame words were drowned out by Oracle cheers.
“Coach said at halftime, ‘It’s ugly, but I like our team better in the ugly game than theirs,'” Green said.
That’s something you never would’ve heard or read about a Warriors team in the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s.
The Warriors are led by Curry, one half of the Splash Brothers. Green gets a lot of attention for his defensive skills and serving as the team’s “heartbeat.” Curry didn’t shoot all that well in Game 5, Thompson was kept out of the game by foul trouble before a Trevor Ariza knee to the head finished the job, and Green was 3-for-15.
Barnes filled the offensive gap with 24 points. Iguodala defended Harden like a player who had done an enormous amount of video study on the NBA’s craftiest offensive force prior to Wednesday night’s game. And Ezeli was just amazing. The Warriors kept throwing lobs to Ezeli, which never resulted in anything successful, but he still managed to score 12 points in a season-high 28 minutes, the most he’s played in a game since April 15, 2013. Even better, his defense gave Dwight Howard fits.
“He was great. But he’s a guy who continues to work, has the utmost confidence in himself,” Green said of Ezeli. Brandon Rush overheard the last part Green said, and both players started laughing.
“It showed tonight, and it was great for him.”
The postgame scene was sort of in line with what I touched on in the previous two sections.
The Warriors are a team that can play beautiful and win ugly. They’re known for superstars, but rely heavily on their depth in nearly every win. And while they were happy on the floor right after winning Game 5, and Warriors owner Joe Lacob was drinking a cola-based beverage out of a glass in the locker room, expressing how joyful he was at the team’s latest accomplishment, the celebration was pretty muted.
There was no champagne, no beer. A few of the players were eating at their lockers when the media was allowed inside, and music was playing on one side of the locker room, but that was it.
“We wanted to appreciate the moment, not take it for granted, because it was something that we’ve been waiting for and wanted to close out tonight,” said Curry.
“But you kind of take it for what it is because you have four more wins and you don’t want to get too ahead of yourself.”
That has to come from Kerr’s influence on this team. When the Warriors finished as the sixth seed last year, Mark Jackson made it very clear that he wanted his players to celebrate what they had achieved. And when one looked back at where the Warriors were before (usually at or near the bottom of the Pacific Division), Jackson’s way made some sense. However, even though simply making the Finals is a historic achievement for Golden State, they aren’t even close to satisfied.
“Enjoy the moment,” Green said. “But we ain’t finished yet.”
— Here’s the trophy.
— Thompson apparently didn’t exhibit concussion symptoms during the game, but he threw up and showed symptoms after the game. As a result, he’ll have to pass the concussion protocol before he can play again.
— Howard, who along with Bogut was called for a double-technical foul and probably should’ve been levied with another flagrant for the way he drilled Iguodala in the collarbone on a screen, had two great quotes.
“I want to continue to push myself to the limit and remember that no matter how the season ends, I’m still a champion. I won’t let anybody tell me anything different.” (Nice sentiment, but “champion”?)
Q: Could you share with us what Kevin had to say to you guys in the locker room afterward?
“To be honest with you, I was zoned out, boss. I mean, all I heard was great job this season.”
— Riley Curry made another press conference appearance, and she did not disappoint (unless you’re a traditional press conference fetishist, someone who believes that little Riley breaks all the unwritten rules of postgame press conferences that keep this world sane). I’ve got all the video you could ever need, including Riley handing a very patient Raymond Ridder her gum, Riley telling her daddy to “be quiet,” and Bob Myers saving the evening (for guys like Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd).
— More Green: “We’re a jump-shooting team that didn’t shoot well. We’re actually pretty good on the defensive end, too.”
— I also asked Green about the team’s sustained excellence in the playoffs, record-wise: “It just shows that we’re serious and we’re a force to be reckoned with, but we still can get a lot better and we’re going to continue to work. We’ve got one more mountain to climb and it’s a huge mountain, but we’re ready for it.”
— The Warriors are going to the NBA Finals. It’s probably the greatest example of “I can’t believe it … well, I can believe it, but it’s still hard to believe” that I’ve seen since I started writing regularly about this stuff. By the numbers, this team is great. They can play different styles. Their injury luck — aside from Thompson’s unfortunate head injury in Game 5 — has been phenomenal.
Still, these are the Warriors. They share the same name with the “Great Time out” Warriors who tried to convince the Bay Area that signing Derek Fisher and Adonal Foyle to big contracts during the offseason was enough to turn the whole thing around. Well, Curry and the rest DID turn it around, although to a man they all still believe that they need four more wins before they can brag about resurrecting the franchise and giving the Bay Area what it’s been missing for four decades.
“I’m pretty proud of everybody that’s a part of this journey, and it’s going to be a special journey to ride these next two weeks, two or three weeks, to finish off the job,” Curry said.
“Six years is a long time to wait. Obviously, the Bay Area has been waiting 40-plus years. I think it’s time.”