The photo above says it all. David West came out of the shower, toting the trophy looking like a man who wasn’t in shock like so many other first-time NBA champions. He knew exactly how wonderful he should feel, and he soaked in every hug, handshake and drop of champagne in his general vicinity.
While many will debate the merits of this title, and whether the Warriors pulled off some nefarious heist (because they drafted an elite young core, took advantage of a cap spike, and convinced Kevin Durant to make the smartest basketball decision of his life), let’s take a step back and recognize what the Warriors have accomplished.
16-1 is amazing in and of itself, but defeating the final boss was the more impressive feat. With LeBron James at the peak of his powers, with athleticism that’s still overpowering and his already brilliant basketball mind boosted by an obscene amount of experience for someone his age, the once-lowly Warriors were somehow able to create a team that was demonstrably better than his over a three-year span.
Think about that. Forget the temptation to look into the future. Yes, this team has the look of a six-year dynasty. Who knows, maybe they’ll reign even longer than that. But what they did this year, winning their second title in three years with their 129-120 Game 5 victory in front of a thunderous Oracle crowd, proves they belong among the all-time great teams — regardless of what happens next.
Imagine if we went back to 2014, and someone told you that LeBron James would be healthy for the next three seasons, and not only would he be healthy, but he’d be a more lethal scorer than ever before. You’d probably expect the Cavs to win three championships. Two, minimum.
Teams in the Eastern Conference have been treading water for years, waiting for LeBron James to fade. Still waiting. The Western Conference has provided a much more difficult test for a decade-plus. And the Warriors, the franchise that didn’t want to pay for superstars, drafted stiff after stiff, missed the playoffs for well over a decade and had an All-Star drought that was just as long, figured out a way to create a team that will always be mentioned among the greatest teams to play in the NBA.
They have the talent to perhaps put themselves at the very top of that list, but we’ll have plenty of time for that discussion in the years ahead.
The important thing now is they found a way to beat James, who was amazing once again on Monday night. And that’s the thing that got lost when 16-0 was seen as an inevitability: their defense wasn’t great, but their offensive capabilities alone made the Cavs a really, really good team. Their last stand — when they outplayed the Warriors in the third quarter — showed why there was no shame in dropping a game in Cleveland. And even in the fourth quarter, the Warriors never quite pulled away because James kept getting whatever he wanted on the low block.
They did win, though. When faced with their last challenge, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry led the Warriors to victory.
Durant scored 39, making 14-of-20. The Warriors were like the Cavs in Game 4, as every time Cleveland got within four or five, the Warriors hit a three. Durant had a huge one from well beyond the top of the key with a few minutes to go in the third quarter to push Golden State’s lead back to seven. He assisted on Andre Iguodala’s three that gave the Warriors an eight-point cushion.
While David West seemed insane on the court tonight, and looked about as amped and joyous in the locker room as any athlete in the history of human existence, Iguodala wasn’t far behind. He jumped on the scorer’s table after the final buzzer. He wouldn’t win another Finals MVP — Durant was the obvious choice there — but one of the main quandaries after Game 4 was why Iguodala played barely over 20 minutes.
That changed tonight, as Iguodala scored 20 points in 38 minutes. Steve Kerr seized the moment, after coaching pretty much by the book in Cleveland. Whether you call it the Hamptons 5, the Life After Death lineup, or Megadeath, Kerr knew that with the Cavs hanging around for the entire game, there was no time left to mess around.
If it felt like Kerr was saving a long stretch for his best lineup — Durant and the guys who recruited him — for the last possible moment … well, it seemed to work in the end. And that’s all that matters. Just like it doesn’t matter if people thought Durant took the easy path. All that matters is they had what it took to defeat a team led by a healthy and rested LeBron James, and they seized their opportunity.
And it was so sweet, both for the new guys who won their first rings, and the Warriors who experienced the greatest highs against this Cavs team followed by what Curry termed “basketball hell” after their collapse a year ago.
— It didn’t seem all that likely that pools of champagne would form on the floor of the Warriors locker room in a matter of hours after the first quarter, when the Cavs were crushing the Warriors inside and Golden State’s offense — everything about their team, actually — was so tight. Cleveland only attempted a few threes in the quarter after making 24-of-45 in Game 4, but they really didn’t need to shoot jumpers because they got whatever they wanted at the rim. Then the Warriors went on a 22-2 run in the second quarter that made everybody remember that the team we’ve been watching over the last several weeks is still excellent.
— It’s hard to explain what it felt like in the building when Durant made the steal that led to Iguodala’s soaring dunk on the other end. The crowd started off hyped, but LeBron produced tension in the arena that made everyone start wondering what Game 7 would look like.
— I tweeted a lot of photos and videos from the end of the game and the stuff in the locker room, way too much to include in this story.
— No Ian Clark or JaVale McGee tonight. With Patrick McCaw playing several (good) minutes and Clark likely to get a decent payday, we might have seen the last of Clark. But will another team think they can make it work with McGee like the Warriors did? I feel like he’ll be back.
— If David West doesn’t retire, he’s definitely returning. He was a freaking maniac in the locker room afterward. He made Hunter Pence seem like Buster Posey. I know most people like to win, but holy hell…
— It was fitting that Curry had a phenomenal game (34/10/6 with 3 steals). He’s the true leader of this team, and deserves enormous credit — certainly more than he’ll get. Not only did he help recruit Durant instead of pulling some selfish “this is STEPH CURRY’S TEAM” business (and I do mean business, considering the shoe company ramifications), but he was both unselfish enough to suppress his own offense because he thought it was the right way to help Durant assimilate and strong enough to listen after Christmas when his coach and teammates exhorted him to be more aggressive on offense.
— My view of Curry’s last shot:
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) June 13, 2017
— This game had it all: Draymond Green and Iguodala making threes, Curry grabbing ludicrous offensive rebounds, West getting into it with Tristan Thompson in a way that looked almost like kissing. There was no way the Warriors were losing this game.
— Transcript time! I totally screwed up the second part of my question, but that’s fine because Green gave the best answer to any question I’ve ever asked an athlete. I’m not taking any credit for this, I was just amazed as I sat there as he gave this monologue. His whole press conference was incredible, actually. I filmed the last part of it as he answered my question(s).
ME: Draymond, saw you actually helping up a few Cavaliers today off the floor. Not really any sort of arguing with the referees. Was there kind of a different mentality that you came into tonight’s game? And also —
DRAYMOND GREEN: Man.
ME: Do you owe Klay one for saving his life on that one play?
DRAYMOND GREEN: He owes me one.
KLAY THOMPSON: He’s been in the weight room.
DRAYMOND GREEN: I caught him. No, he definitely owed me something. I’ll take a watch like Steph got.
KLAY THOMPSON: A toaster?
DRAYMOND GREEN: No, but I talked to my dad, my grandmother, every person I saw walking down the street, my mom, everybody’s like keep your cool, keep your cool. Don’t argue with the refs. I had to ask myself, is it that bad? Like does it look that bad that everyone I see — I’m in a grocery store, guy’s like, keep your cool. I’m like, Jesus Christ, this must be bad.
And so I had to have a real seminar with myself, like I must be out there looking bad. So, I just told myself, like I’m not going to worry about the officials. I’m just going to play the game.
Obviously as far as helping those guys up, like I respect them. There’s a mutual respect. They’re champions, we’re champions. Like I said, that goes along the same lines of me saying like — I’m telling you, I had this whole document ready. I was ready to bash everybody. But I just — I have too much respect for them. The things that they bring to the floor, a great leader in LeBron and Kyrie, that’s where the help comes.
Because at the end of the day, it’s basketball. I think that so many times we let outside things make it more than that. It’s basketball. I think that like why wouldn’t I help a guy up off the floor? Like owners have drinks together at halftime. Like while we’re battling, they’re having drinks together at halftime, and yet I’m supposed to see a guy fall and look at him like, no, I’m not helping you up. No, I’m just going to try to punish you on the floor. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
So I think that you feel that at times during the game where you’re like, all right, I can’t help him up, it’s too heated, no, but for the most part, like everyone wants us to hate each other. Hate this, but it shouldn’t be that. Are we going to compete, absolutely we’re going to compete to the highest level, but to like, oh, man, I hate this guy and I’m supposed to hate that guy. Like everyone else doesn’t do it so why should we? That’s the way I look at it.
— Do you owe Klay one? What was I thinking? (Probably: Don’t look stupid on camera while you ask this question, you nincompoop.)
— It’s really sick to think about what this team could do, especially if all of the major players come back (and there’s nothing that would indicate otherwise). Now that they’ve cleared numerous mental hurdles (Durant never winning before, whose team is it anyway, Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, etc.), and with the Cavs having so little flexibility (maybe they can trade Kevin Love, but it would probably be a lateral move to do so), what’s to stop them other than injuries? Because if this Warriors season taught us anything, it’s that their greatest strength other than pure talent is their ability to work, really work, together.
Actually, much like the photo at the top of this story, West says it better than I can.
Super talent NO EGOS
— David West (@D_West30) June 13, 2017
— We’ve got brand new exclusive championship gear!
Here’s a shirt that captures Green’s legendary E-40 impression during the 2015 parade:
And we all know what went into this season and this title: