The Golden State Warriors just completed the best four-year stretch in modern NBA history, and yet their greatest achievement during the run hasn’t been their dominance, but rather what their invincibility has inspired.
In the aftermath of the Warriors winning their third title in four years with a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, there has naturally been a need to contextualise Golden State’s place in history. They are, of course, a dynasty now, having joined only three other franchises – the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls – with three championships over a four-year span.
Their record of 328-83 (.798) in the regular season and playoffs during that stretch is the best four-year winning percentage in NBA history, beating out Magic Johnson’s 1985-88 Lakers (.754) and Michael Jordan’s 1995-98 Bulls (.758). The only season over the past four years that didn’t end in Golden State lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy was one in which they set a record with 73 regular-season wins.
Including the postseason, the Warriors are 328-83 (.798) over the last 4 seasons. That's the best 4-year winning percentage in NBA history, beating out the stretch the Warriors had from 2014-17. H/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/DtH10sxoBx— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2018
The Warriors are historically great and everyone recognises that. But for as many conversations that are going on today about how great this team is, there are just as many, if not more, centred on how they’ve ruined basketball.
Think about that for a second. We’ve just witnessed a team reach the very peak of the sport – not just in terms of overcoming 29 other challengers to win the title, but in how flawless they were to get here. Their collection of shooting, talent, unselfish personalities and playing styles melded into something we’ve never seen before and the result feels like someone solving a problem and all of its variables.
We’re in awe of that, sure. But we’re also upset and dismayed a team can have everything figured out and, frankly, be this good. At the end of the day, sports are a vehicle for entertainment and we want to be entertained. Greatness can be entertaining – how many people have you ever heard say Jordan ruined basketball? – but these Warriors feel inevitable and infallible in a way we’re not used to.
They have us questioning rudimentary concepts like competitive balance and fairness, while making the NBA season feel like a formality, even if the end result was in doubt along the way.
Golden State’s players and coaches seemed more relieved than anything after completing their task on Friday. There was unbridled jubilation after they won it all in 2015 and a feeling of ‘mission accomplished’ after their triumph last year. This time, however, it felt like an unburdening.
“It’s still euphoric,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But three years ago was, ‘I can’t believe this happened,’ and now it’s, ‘I can definitely believe this happened.'”
That may sound arrogant, but that’s exactly the overwhelming sentiment the Warriors inspire. They’re supposed to win and they’re supposed to do it in a way which makes you feel helpless.
Golden State have cracked, if not completely broken our psyche. We’re annoyed by how easy they make it look. Which is why after the Finals ended, the focus immediately turned to LeBron James‘ future. That’s expected considering he’s the best player in the world and the face of the NBA, but part of the reason we’re so invested in what LeBron decides to do this summer is because we’re desperate for someone to end the Warriors’ reign. And if James can’t do it with a handpicked situation, who can?
Well, the Houston Rockets nearly did in the Western Conference Finals. They were one win away from eliminating Golden State and up double digits in Game 6 and 7, only to falter.
This may be the last time we have this loathing attitude towards the Warriors for how hopeless they’ve made us all feel, although it’s not out of the question this keeps going for another few years, especially if Golden State want it to.
For now though, if you don’t want to celebrate this team for what they’ve achieved because it feels unjust or unfair, then at least recognise they can make you feel that way despite doing it all within the confines of the rules.
The Warriors haven’t’ just beaten the rest of the NBA, they’ve defied our construct of competition.
The Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven finals series, winning the fourth match in Ohio 108-85 on Friday to secure their third championship in four years.
Durant was chosen as the series’ Most Valuable Player, and became only the fifth player in history to register a 20-point triple-double in a title-clinching game.
Warriors guard Steph Curry contributed 37 points to the winning cause, as LeBron James and the Cavaliers lost out to the Oakland franchise for the second successive year.
Durant said: “This is about the journey – all season, getting up, going to work with these guys is amazing.
“The environment is incredible. It’s good for you to be around guys like this, it helps you become a better basketball player and a better man.
“I’m happy to be part of this group.”
Asked about the contest with Cavaliers superstar James, Durant added: “When you play against one of the best, it brings out the best in you as well.
“I’m just glad we got back-to-back championships and I’m looking forward to celebrating in the locker room right now.”
James revealed he had played the final three matches of the series with a broken hand, a “self-inflicted” injury, reportedly sustained when he punched a whiteboard after the overtime defeat in game one.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr admitted the talent in his team made this success easier to take in than previous successes.
“It was definitely the toughest from the standpoint that it was the fourth year in a row that we’ve attempted to get back to the finals,” he told reporters at a post-match press conference.
“I remember sitting in this room three years ago and this feels more like reality. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. That’s just the talent we have, the experience we’ve gained.
“Three years ago it was ‘I can’t believe this happened’. But now it’s ‘I can definitely believe this happened’. But it was hard.”
After building a nine-point lead by half-time, the Warriors put the game out of Cleveland’s grasp with a third-quarter rally in which they outscored their opposition 25-13.
LeBron James left the court with 4:03 left on the clock and the Cavs down 102-77, having just turned over the ball to Durant while the game slipped out of their reach.
James had 23 points on the night, with his Cleveland side looking to do the improbable and overturn a 3-0 deficit for the first time in NBA Finals history.
For the third time in four years, the Golden State Warriors sit atop the NBA throne after repeating as champions.
There was no need to head back to the Bay Area to close out the NBA Finals this time as Golden State completed a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 108-85 win in Game 4 on Friday.
The Warriors exerted their dominance from start to finish in a performance that left no reason for doubt. While they’ve often slipped into a lackadaisical malaise during their past two title runs, Game 4 showed their urgency and how much they weren’t willing to mess around.
Cleveland were the more desperate team coming into the contest as they fought to stave off a sweep on their home floor, but it was Golden State that looked hungrier at the start and tried to deliver a knockout punch, going up 34-25 by the end of the first quarter. That set the tone for the rest of the way as the Cavaliers were constantly playing off the back foot and trying to stay within arm’s length.
Fittingly, the Warriors used one of their patented third-quarter runs – which buried opposing teams all season – to put the game out of reach as they outscored Cleveland 25-13 coming out of the intermission.
But while they hit 14 3-pointers and Stephen Curry had smoldering moments in his 37-point performance, it was Golden State’s defence which was most impressive in the clincher. Not only did they hold the Cavaliers below the century mark for the first time all series, they also limited LeBron James to just 13 shots and 23 points.
It may not have been the Warriors’ best game of the series, but they were arguably at their most focused and locked-in to steal the title.
Durant edges Curry
Unsurprisingly, the most suspenseful part of Game 4 was the neck-and-neck battle over Finals MVP between Curry and Kevin Durant.
It was the latter who ended up with the honour for the second straight year after posting a triple-double with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, compared to 37 points, six rebounds and four assists for Curry.
For the series, Durant finished with averages of 28.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.0 blocks, 52.6 per cent shooting overall and 40.9 per cent on 3s, while Curry averaged 27.5 points, 6.8 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 40.2 per cent shooting and 41.5 per cent from deep.
From a pure statistical standpoint, there’s no doubt Durant deserved the award, but Curry was arguably better in three of the four games. Game 3, however, was such an iconic performance by Durant – capped by an iconic shot – that it likely carried greater weight.
NBA tells me the vote on Finals MVP was 7-4, KD over Steph.— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 9, 2018
Gotta think Durant coming up with that near-perfect game to determine the series was what swayed most voters. It’s what did it for me. https://t.co/wSsCNcGyDQ
Finals MVP continues to elude Curry as the lone major award missing from his resume, but with how the Warriors are set up for even more sustained success, he’ll have more opportunities to add to his trophy cabinet.
And with how unselfish the culture appears to be in Golden State’s locker room, it may not matter all that much to Curry anyways.
LeBron’s last stand
An unpredictable summer is on the way, but we may have seen LeBron’s final game in a Cavaliers uniform.
If that was indeed the final time James walked off the Quicken Loans Arena court as a member of the home team, it was a disappointing end to his tenure in Cleveland.
No one could have reasonably expected LeBron and the Cavaliers to win the series against a much more talented team, but avoiding a sweep was a reasonable goal. Instead, the gap between the teams was abundantly clear and that may weigh on James’ mind when he sits back this summer and surveys the landscape before making a decision on his future.
LeBron and the Cavs were swept by the Spurs by a total of 24 points in 2007. They lost tonight by 23 and all 4 games by a combined 60 points. Lakers 2002 sweep over Nets was by a combined 37 points. 60 is the most of any of the 9 sweeps.— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) June 9, 2018
What’s evident in this moment is that Cleveland, as currently constructed, are nowhere near the level of Golden State. And if James’ sole purpose is to compete for championships, staying with the Cavaliers doesn’t look like his best bet to do that.
A lot can change, however, and much will in the coming weeks. But as the dust settled after the final minutes of the NBA season, it was hard to ignore the feeling of finality around LeBron.