The NBA often catches heat for being “too predictable” and, in short, the 2016-2017 NBA season was not a great argument for those who defend against that notion. The Golden State Warriors entered the campaign as prohibitive favorites to claim ultimate glory and, after 82 regular season games and 17 playoff contests, they were able to do just that.
How did we get here? What happened during their run? How did it end? Well, let’s run through it.
One year ago, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. This is an event that took place. In the ensuing weeks, Golden State had a few roster decisions to navigate. Because of the salary cap spike, Bob Myers and company had the opportunity to add a max-level player to the mix if so desired, but the team had to decide on the future of Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and others in order to make it happen.
Barnes’ rights were relinquished and, later, the talented forward signed a lucrative deal with the Dallas Mavericks. From there, the Warriors had to flip Bogut’s salary, but they managed to find a partner (also the Mavericks) and that was the end of that.
Even with the salary cap cleared in ideal fashion, the Warriors had to lure Kevin Durant to Oakland and they did just that. Reporting now indicates that Draymond Green was on the phone with Durant shortly after the epic loss in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals and it is clear that the Warriors planned to add the dynamic scorer to the mix. Durant took (seemingly endless) meetings in early July and could have rationally landed with the Boston Celtics or stayed with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the end, he pulled the trigger.
A Breezy Start
When the Miami Heat came together with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, there were growing pains. In fact, the team started 9-8 and it was a daily story (THE HEAT INDEX™) that bordered on full-scale panic. Let’s just say that the Warriors had no such problems.
Golden State compiled a crazy 27-4 record before Christmas and, even after a blown lead in a loss to the Cavs, the Warriors raced to a 43-7 mark. The pieces fit almost perfectly, Durant played at a high level and Stephen Curry found his footing. The result? Tremendous basketball that would make any NBA die-hard salivate on a daily basis.
KD Goes Down
In late February, Durant went down with an ugly knee injury and that ailment placed Golden State’s run in peril. There was plenty of speculation as to whether the Warriors could function at the same level without him but, in short order, positive word broke and things were looking up again for the soon-to-be champs.
Durant missed the next 19 games but, on cue, returned for the final three contests of the season. There was little in the way of rust and/or comfort issues for both player and team and, with a clean bill of health, the run was set to begin.
The Golden State Warriors did not have the most difficult path through the NBA Playoffs and that should be noted. The team’s first round series came against a mediocre Portland Trail Blazers team that did not feature Jusuf Nurkic as a result of injury. In round two, the Utah Jazz were banged up and Golden State kept things going to the tune of a second consecutive sweep.
From there, the one hiccup of the Western Conference run arrived. Zaza Pachulia stepped under Kawhi Leonard with the Warriors trailing by a wide margin to the San Antonio Spurs and that action very likely saved Golden State from, at least, a Game 1 loss. The remainder of the series was, frankly, a breeze for the favorites, as they cruised past an undermanned opponent for the third consecutive series.
In the NBA Finals, things looked to (still) be quite easy in the early going. Golden State annihilated Cleveland at home in Games 1 and 2 before prevailing with a comeback win in a nailbiting Game 3. At that point, 16-0 seemed to be a real possibility but the basketball gods couldn’t allow that to take place.
Nearly everyone in the NBA world believed the Warriors were predestined to claim Game 4, simply because the Cavaliers would be defeated and at a talent disadvantage. Charles Barkley even went as far as to say that Cleveland would need divine intervention to claim victory. It turned out that the Cavs would simply need LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and absurd shooting.
James was out-of-this-world good in Game 4 and the Cavaliers put together an offensive performance for the ages. Cleveland’s 49 points in the first quarter speak for themselves and the home team set an NBA Finals record with 24 three-pointers converted over a 48-minute game. Sadly for the underdogs, that was the end of that.
The inevitable happened. The best team in the league won the championship.
Kevin Durant finished Game 5, also known as the clincher, with 39 points and earned MVP honors, and Stephen Curry added 34 points and 10 assists in fitting fashion. In the end, it was the team that employed two of the five best players in the universe and four of the best 20 players in the league. There were hiccups, including rotational challenges and the scorched earth play of both James and Kyrie Irving. The end result, though, was the “right” one in that the team that was supposed to win actually did just that.