After last night’s NBA Finals series-clinching 105-97 victory in Game 6, which delivered Golden State their first championship since 1975, I sat back to do a stream of consciousness exercise, asking myself, “What will you remember about this team?”
I jotted down the following notes:
Depth. Intelligence. Ball-movement. Spacing. Outstanding defense.
A speedy offense built around interchangeable parts and waves of multifaceted weapons, constructed on the inverse of the standard NBA philosophy of working the ball inside-out.
An MVP with a delectable offensive skill-set as a shooter-scorer-passer that hasn’t been seen since Pistol Pete Maravich.
A healthy, veteran bench of former All-Stars. A young nucleus of gifted novices surrounded by a corps of hungry, humbled, experienced pros.
Steve Kerr, a former General Manager in his first-year as head coach who learned from the modern day masters of the profession – Lute Olson at the University of Arizona, Lenny Wilkens in Cleveland, Phil Jackson in Chicago and Greg Popovich in San Antonio – and pushed every correct button throughout the year and during the playoffs.
Don Nelson’s, Chris Mullin’s, Jerry West's and Mark Jackson’s fingerprints.
Taking the 3-Ball to the next level.
The sacrifice and re-emergence of David Lee and Andre Iguodala.
The underappreciated, superfluous brilliance of Draymond Green.
One of the best teams, from start to finish, that I’ve seen in my lifetime.
I hope people appreciate what they witnessed in the 2015 Golden State Warriors. I’m not sure if many understand how rare and special that team really was.
A lot of folks were so seduced by the Splash Brothers narrative that they missed the grit, nuance, hunger and championship texture of this squad from the moment this season tipped off.
It was easy to lose sight of how exceptional they were because of LeBron James’ Herculean performances during the 2015 NBA Finals, as he somehow managed to keep the wounded carcass of the Cavs roster wheezing and panting, while surprisingly winning two games in a series that they actually had absolutely no business being in without Anderson Verajao, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
The Warriors went 67-15 during the regular season, a franchise record and phenomenal 82% winning percentage, and they bounced and splashed and screened and rolled through the playoffs with a stupendous run of 16 wins against only 5 losses.
There are not many teams in NBA history that can claim to be better or more dominant from start to finish. In my lifetime, I’ve only seen a few – the 1983 Philadelphia 76’ers, the 1985, 1987, 1988 and 2000 Los Angeles Lakers, the 1986 and 2008 Boston Celtics, the 1989 Detroit Pistons, the 1992, 1996 and 1997 Chicago Bulls, the 2013 Miami Heat and last year’s San Antonio Spurs.
What I loved about Golden State this year was their versatility. They could outrun any team in the league as they proved against Houston’s high-octane attack in the Western Conference Finals, and they could win down-and-dirty, as they did grinding out these defensive struggles against the Cavaliers in the Finals, and matching up with the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semi’s.
They were the first team in Western Conference history to go 39-2 at home during the regular season. The only team in NBA history with a better home record was the 1986 Celtics. Steve Kerr won more games than any other first-year NBA head coach in league history. They improved by a whopping 16 games over last year’s very good 51-win total.
No shooter in NBA history who walked around with a perpetual green light, not Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Chuck Person, Larry Bird, Drazen Petrovic, Dirk Nowitzki, Jamaal Crawford, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Steve Nash or anyone else you want to name had a better year shooting the deep ball than league MVP Steph Curry.
But one of the most remarkable one-year transformations you’ll ever see took place with them this year, where they went from being offensively entertaining yet defensively incompetent to a defensive powerhouse and NBA Champion.
They built the squad’s unanticipated prowess on the concept of position-less defenders, where a swarm of seemingly endless 6-foot-8 players could swap and switch assignments with no negative consequences. Harrison Barnes could muscle and disconcert a ball-handler on one side of the floor, smother a shooter on the other, and effectively guard a power forward a blink of an eye later in the low post. Same with the likes of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
Trading Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut was a coup three years ago, as was the trade that brought in Iguodala two summers ago, where Golden State parted with Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins, clearing $24 Million in the process.
Bogut was a sorely needed shot-blocker and excellent interior defender, passer and facilitator and Iggy proved his worth by winning the 2015 Finals MVP Award, becoming the first man to ever do so who had not started a single game during the regular season.
But the hidden icing on top of the cake was the fantastic defensive improvement made by Steph Curry over the years.
The front office has drafted exceptionally well and made some outstanding acquisitions. The Warriors played with a zeal and respect for one another that was apparent all year.
Steve Kerr knew when to pull Bogut, when to play Festus Ezeli, when to insert David Lee, when to start Iguodala, when to guard man-to-man and when to expertly send help coverage and multiple defenders in the half-court set against Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph, James Harden and LeBron James throughout their awesome playoff run.
Green, Iguodola, Lee, Thompson, Barnes, Bogut, Livingston, Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa did a great job within the team construct, and Stephen Curry stamped his passport to the Hall of Fame.
Are we looking at the next great young franchise out west, inheriting the mantle from the aging Spurs, or will Free Agency and the “Disease of Me” make them a one-hit wonder?
Those questions will be answered later. But for now, just enjoy what we saw and what Golden State gave us. It might not seem like it right now, but through the hourglass of time you’ll come to better understand it.
The 2015 NBA Champions were fun, exciting, distinctive and out of the ordinary.
They were beyond unique.
In the realm of modern day great teams, they were one of the best.