Steph Curry dribbled across half court with his left hand. Andre Iguodala, with Channing Frye in tow, set a screen on Kyrie Irving. Curry hit Iguodala with a bounce pass, Iguodala whipped it back to an open Curry 30 feet from the hoop — a tough shot. Frye blew past Curry on a pump fake, and the MVP stepped in to a wide-open 27-footer, a layup for the best shooter on the planet.
That three put the Warriors up 10 with under 3.5 minutes to play. Game 4, and the NBA Finals, was in a stranglehold.
Through that entire sequence, LeBron James stood between the paint and Draymond Green, who had spread out to the corner. The closest he ever got to the ball was when it splashed through the nylon. He put his hands out and looked around as if pleading for someone to stop the Warriors’ onslaught.
Only there isn’t anyone to do it, because the Warriors are too good.
The NBA does such a good job of promoting individual players that the prevalent conversation revolving around professional basketball is all about the individual. Conversation about LeBron’s legacy if he falls to 2-5 in Finals appearances has dominated the news cycle in regard to this series.
There are a multitude of issues with approaching a series in that respect. One of those reasons was already covered on this site. The other is that despite our obsession with individuals and individual performances, basketball is still a team game, and the Warriors are on the brink of capping off the single greatest season of all time as a team.
All year as they chased 73 wins, the phrase “it don’t mean a thing without the ring” kept popping up over and over. People pontificated about whether they should chase the wins record and how the pursuit of 73 would in some way doom their championship hopes. Now they’re a win away from putting all of that to bed forever. They would stand alone in NBA history: 73 wins, a slew of other records and, most importantly, an NBA championship.
Much of this season felt like a formality after the Warriors opened their championship defense with 24 consecutive wins. But reflecting back on it, their record-breaking season was far from a cakewalk.
Following a fortunate run of health in the 2014-15 campaign that culminated in a championship, the Warriors were without Iguodala for 17 games in the regular season. They were also without Festus Ezeli for close to half the season. Losing two rotation players would slow most teams. The Warriors stuck to their “strength in numbers” mantra and powered through it.
Then the playoffs came, and the worst possible thing happened — Golden State lost its MVP to injury. Twice. Beating Houston without Curry wasn’t exactly surprising. I could grab 11 people from Twitter and hang with the 2015-16 Rockets in a seven-game series. But to beat Houston and then fend off a good Portland team long enough for Curry to come back and help close it out is a testament to how sound the Warriors are up and down the roster.
Just when it looked like Golden State would be able to breathe a little with Curry back, Oklahoma City came in and immediately put the Warriors back in a choke hold. The Thunder did the unthinkable and beat Golden State in Oracle in Game 1. Then after the Warriors evened up the series, the Thunder went to work putting the dream season in jeopardy.
The 73- win season was one loss away from being all for naught. Alas, this is the best team of all time we’re talking about, and the Dubs proved it.
It was almost like being pushed to the brink of elimination flipped a switch that said, “OK… let’s start trying now.”
There were some brilliant displays of defense on two of the game’s premier scorers in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. On the offensive end, the Warriors took and made approximately all of the three-pointers. Three games later, confetti rained down in Oracle Arena. Golden State was headed back to the Finals.
It seemed like the entire season was a crash course to this matchup. Mike Breen called it “one of the most anticipated NBA Finals ever.” For some, it may have been that. For others, this looked like Golden State’s championship to lose. It had battled so hard to get to 73 wins and then came so close to having the run derailed in each of the first three playoff series, there was no way Golden State was losing this series.
The Warriors won Game 1 behind 20 points from Shaun Livingston. LeBron James got ripped for his performance.
The Warriors won Game 2 behind a 28-point, seven-rebound, five-assist game from Draymond Green. LeBron got ripped again.
The Cavs won Game 3 in a rout. Richard Jefferson got the shine.
The Warriors won Game 4 behind an MVP performance from Curry in which he poured in 38 points and seven threes. LeBron, if you can imagine, got ripped again.
No matter what, the story of these Finals has revolved around what LeBron is or is not doing.
But the image of LeBron standing under the basket wondering how Curry got so open after the MVP’s Game 4 dagger is a perfect description of how this series has gone and was destined to go: the Warriors overwhelming the less-talented Cavaliers while LeBron stands by, mostly helpless.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWDv5sTXgNM]
We’ll look back on the 2015-16 NBA Finals as the one Golden State won when its set the gold standard for wins in an NBA season. We will not look back on them as the Finals LeBron James lost in.
Forget LeBron James and his legacy for now. The Golden State Warriors are about to cement themselves as the best team ever.
The fictional matchups between past teams are irrelevant. The rules of the game now versus 20 years ago are irrelevant. What Oscar Robertson, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson or anyone else has to say is irrelevant.
If believing a team from the past could beat this team is what makes you feel good, go for it. Believing in the outcome of those hypothetical games is your right as a sports fan.
In reality, there is no argument against wins. There is no argument against a championship.
Following the 2014-15 season, the Warriors were called “lucky.” Their championship was called a fluke. They took those words to heart and backed up their championship with authority. No single player, past or present, can stop that from happening. The Warriors are the ultimate team, and that’s the real story here.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.