There's a school of thought that the Golden State Warriors somehow aren't worthy NBA champions. Everyone respects the hard work they've done, but skeptics love to shout that they benefited from forces beyond their control to reach the summit.
Those skeptics like to ask lots of questions, as skeptics do. Would they have won the title if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love played in the Finals? Would they have won if the two next-best West teams didn't have to play each other in the first round? Would they have won if Oklahoma City wasn't reduced to a manic Russell Westbrook and nobody else? Would they have won if they weren't the only top contender to avoid critical injuries?
The answer to those questions is besides the point. Every NBA champion wins through a combination of amazing play, good health and luck. The last two Heat champions benefited from Derrick Rose's injury. Suns fans still think the Spurs' 2007 title is tainted by Phoenix's controversial suspensions. Michael Jordan's Bulls won their first title against a Lakers team falling apart with injuries and they never had to play Hakeem's Rockets. The 80s Lakers and Celtics played against JV opposition in their conferences compared to today's champions. The 60s Celtics didn't even have actual opposition until the Finals. We can play this game forever.
Besides, this year, the answer to all the skeptics' questions was yes. That's how good the Warriors were.
Golden State's Greatness
Golden State's Greatness
Golden State won 67 regular-season games and had one of the eight-best point differentials of all time. They lost just seven times with their full roster healthy in the regular season, an amazing accomplishment in an era where talent is spread so evenly through the league. They had the league's MVP in Stephen Curry and reasonably could also have won Defensive Player of the Year (Draymond Green), Coach of the Year (Steve Kerr), Most Improved (Klay Thompson) and Sixth Man of the Year (Andre Iguodala).
They then blew through the playoffs, going 16-5 with a net point differential matched only by three other champions since 1997. They never faced elimination, something LeBron's Heat, the Big 3 Celtics, last year's amazing Spurs and four of Kobe Bryant's five champion Lakers clubs can't say. When the Warriors twice faced 2-1 deficits, they made bold adjustments that led to three straight comfortable victories.
Those skeptics are just making excuses for not seeing these Warriors coming. With two notable exceptions, no credible voices predicted the Warriors would win the title before the season began. They made no major roster changes from a team that lost in the first round. A new coaching staff came aboard, but since when has a new coaching staff ever turned a good team into a historic one in one season?
Since 2015, apparently. Steve Kerr and his staff designed a new offensive system that activated the unique talents of Curry, Thompson and Green while elevating the already-stout defense even higher in the rankings. Kerr expertly navigated egos, moving proud veteran Andre Iguodala and former All-Star David Lee to the bench without incident. Then, he elevated Iguodala again in the Finals and sent Andrew Bogut, once the foundation of Golden State's defense, to DNP-CD land. Iguodala rewarded Kerr's faith by winning the NBA Finals MVP award. Every button Kerr pushed worked.
A coaching staff isn't supposed to make this big a difference so quickly. The Warriors' did.
Then, there's how the Warriors won. They are not the first champion to spread the floor and shoot threes, but they did it without a Big 3 like Miami, a legendary big man like Tim Duncan or a collection of experienced veterans like Dallas. Their star shot 30-footers and then countered with drives to set up three-footers. They pushed the ball for threes and accepted twos when those were taken away. They played fast and still shut teams down defensively. They turned down a trade for a top-10 player because they thought he couldn't help them win as much as a guard that hadn't sniffed an All-Star team prior to this year.
Maybe that's why skeptics exist. It's unreasonable to expect any team can transform this much in one year. It's unreasonable to believe any team can win in a way that flips the middle finger at the right way to win a title. It must be a historical blip, and historical blips quickly correct themselves.
Yet this actually makes the Warriors' title more impressive. It's one thing to win. It's another thing to win and innovate. The Warriors walked that daring path successfully, and in turn, they will inspire a generation of copycats around the league. That is the truest mark of a historic team.
The Warriors challenged everything we thought we knew about this game and won in dominant fashion when other basketball revolutionaries couldn't. You can choose to appreciate that, or you can keep appealing to the court of basketball conventional wisdom on the basis of procedural technicalities.
Your choice. Not that the Warriors care.
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