Most of the NBA universe had predicted the Golden State Warriors to represent the Western Conference since the team entered training camp back in September. Now when the buzzer sounded on Monday Night in Portland, Golden State had won the Western Conference championship for the 5th consecutive season. But the journey to that moment wasn’t the way that Bob Myers, Steve Kerr and the Warriors franchise would have envisioned it.
When Kevin Durant decided to re-sign and DeMarcus Cousins joined the team on a one-year contract, the Warriors were expected to run through the entire Western Conference. There had never been a point in the NBA’s history that a team had 5 selected All-Stars on the same team at the same time. Even with Cousins returning from an Achilles injury, the Warriors still had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green along with Durant to keep the ship a float until their new weapon was available for use.
Most people questioned how the fit of Cousins would work with a team that not only plays a style of basketball, that most low post scoring big man don’t really fit in and a player with Cousins reputation could fit with a team that had won in the four previous seasons without him. But before Cousins hit the floor for his first action with his new team, stories and rumors about Durant’s summer plans had taken over as the team’s major headline.
Durant, who is a free agent this summer, had been connected with signing with the New York Knicks in the middle of the team trying to three-peat as NBA Champions. Even Kevin attempted to divert the attention, you can tell that it was taking effect on him during interviews with members of the media.
On the court, the Warriors started the season 10-1, at one point won 11 straight games and finished with a 57-25 record entering the playoffs. But even with the winning, you can tell the chemistry as in previous seasons wasn’t the same. Curry was still scoring at a high rate, but he was still not getting the respect that he deserves. Thompson’s numbers haven’t dropped, but he hasn’t been featured as much as in previous years. Green’s offensive numbers have slipped including his field goal and points per game.
Before Durant’s arrival, the Warriors were a free flowing offensive that allowed Green to play at the high post and pick teams apart. On top of that, the team’s “Death Lineup” struck fear in opposing coaches. Now adding Durant might have changed a few things, but his arrival still made Golden State even more dangerous. Kevin has turned into a dangerous playmaker (averaged a career high 5.9 assists this season), but he’s at his best when he can play at times isolation basketball.
At times the isolation basketball works great, but then you have moments when it doesn’t. One point this year, it spilled over during a game.
As they entered the playoffs they won 8 of their final 10 games and one of the losses was to Memphis. In that game, Curry, Green and Cousins didn’t play and Thompson and Durant played limited minutes. They cruised to a game one victory against the L.A Clippers at home to start the playoffs and it seemed like it was going to be a easy potential sweep, until Cousins went down 4 minutes into Game 2. Golden State ending up blowing a 31 point third quarter lead in that game as the Clippers tied the series on the road. His injury has not allowed him to play in a game since then.
After defeating the Clippers in 6 tough games, they had a chance to end Houston’s season again in the second round of the playoffs. Both teams split the first 4 games of the series and Durant has scored 30 or more points in 7 of his last 8 playoff games, everything changed for the Warriors again. Late in the third quarter of game 5, everything changed for Steve Kerr’s team again. The reining two-time NBA Finals MVP came down grabbing his calf after scoring his 22nd point of the game. He didn’t return to the game and unlike when Cousins went down in the Clippers series, the Warriors ended up winning the game. But the injury might have sparked what the country as seen in the 5 full games.
Not only did the Warriors close out the Rockets on their home-court in Game 6, but then went on the sweep the Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. The team without both Durant and Cousins have looked like the team that was so dominate for the 2 seasons before Kevin’s arrival two years ago. Curry has returned to the MVP player that had transformed the way point guards were being looked at, Thompson has returned to being the dangerous rhythm shooter he has always been and Green is back to being of the most valuable all-around players in the game.
The path to this point might not have been the way it was drawn up when this team was assembled. But the Golden State Warriors are 4 games away from a 4th NBA Championship in the last 5 years.