DAR Sports: The 2017 NBA Champions, Golden State Warriors

By @TrueGodImmortal

Every now and then in the NBA, we tend to experience greatness of epic proportions. We saw the Shaq and Kobe led Lakers win three titles in a row, we watched Jordan and Pippen lead the Bulls to 6 titles in 8 years, the Spurs won 4 titles in 8 seasons, and we've seen the Showtime Lakers win 5 championships in nearly a 10 year period. In this era, it seems we've found the next dominant team and the next possible dynasty, as the Golden State Warriors have won two championships in the last 3 seasons, gave us the best regular season record ever in 73-9, and became the only team to have three straight seasons of 65 wins or more. The Warriors were extremely well developed and grown over the previous two seasons led by Steph Curry, their superstar player, but things got really interesting when Kevin Durant signed with them over the summer. Durant, a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, took a lot of flack for his decision to join the Warriors, but the truth be told, KD was a great fit for the run and gun offense of the Warriors and the fast paced style of play. Teams were already looking at the Warriors as the next West dynasty and Durant joining them only furthered those thoughts.

With a big 4 of Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, the machine that is Golden State went into the season as the favorites to win it all. There were doubts however, as adding a new piece into the lineup like Durant could be a huge adjustment, and losing a lot of key components on their bench like Leonardo Barbosa, Mo Speights, and more. The thought process was that the Warriors had lost their strength in numbers, and that they would lack depth. They would bring in Zaza Pachulia, Javale McGee, David West, and draft Damien Jones and Patrick McCaw to help compliment the central bench pieces of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Ian Clark. As the regular season got closer, many felt the Warriors were set to dominate, but there were also a lot of doubts. The depth and the defense seemed to be a possible issue going forward, and with assistant coach Mike Brown coming into the fold, the hot takes were flying.

The Warriors started the season with a bit of rough patch, losing their first game to the San Antonio Spurs after going 6-1 in the preseason. The preseason saw them showcase a bit of the chemistry that they would need to work on in the regular season, but the actual regular season would present bigger challenges. The Warriors would regroup, win four straight games, but you could see the struggle was beginning as both Steph and KD seemed to try to get comfortable in the offense together. After a dismal performance against the Lakers, in which the Warriors lost by 20, they had to get things worked out. With a 4-2 record just 6 games into the season, more hot takes were flying, and people were saying that Steph Curry had lost his power. Steph went 0 for 10 from three in that Lakers loss, ending his streak of consecutive games with a three pointer. With that streak over, Steph set out to respond the next game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and that he did, breaking the record for most threes in a game, hitting 13 threes to finish with 46 points in a huge win for the Warriors.

After the Warriors got their chemistry together and went on a 12 game winning streak, and continued their winning ways through November and December until they came head to head with their nemesis and rival, Cleveland Cavaliers. The LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led Cavaliers managed to steal a win that saw the Warriors blow a 14 point lead in the 4th alongside some spotty officiating to allow the Cavs to get away with fouls and non calls. Regardless, that loss seemed to demoralize the Warriors in the moment, but it woke them up going forward and that's when the Warriors seemed to figure all out yet again. The crazy thing about is, the Warriors started the season 27-4 before they had their big Christmas matchup with the Cavs, so they had went 23-2 after going 4-2 to kick off the season. They had begun to find their rhythm, but the Cavs loss seemed to knock them down a notch.

After blowing a massive lead to lose to the Memphis Grizzlies in a OT game, the Warriors knew they had to tighten up, and after victories against the Kings, the Heat, and the Pistons, the Warriors got set for their toughest stretch in a long time, as they would have consecutive games against the Cavs, the Thunder, and the Rockets. The Warriors dominated both games and made up for their loss to the Cavs on Christmas with a 126-91 blowout victory and got revenge on the Rockets for their 2OT loss earlier in the season with a dominant 125-108 victory on the road. The Warriors were not only an offensive powerhouse, they were beginning to find their defensive rhythm and utilizing their bench well, something people said would be an issue this season. Every bench player would fill their roles perfectly, none greater perhaps than Javale McGee, who provided length and firepower when they needed it. For a guy who was seen as a waste of talent by many, we got to witness what Javale was capable of if in the right system. Ian Clark was also great off the bench and a surprise on the season, and McCaw the rookie was also solid, and did what the Warriors needed most of the time he was on the floor. With the Warriors entire roster showing up when asked, this made the Warriors a tougher team to beat as the season moved along.

There were some landmarks games for the Warriors this season, and there was none bigger than the return to Oklahoma City with KD on their squad. The game was built with so much vigor and hatred from the OKC fanbase, and the cupcake comments and shirts towards KD really set the tone. As the Warriors and Thunder set up for their clash, many of us wondered how the game would go, and considering the two previous games in Oracle between them, there was a chance that the Warriors would end up winning in a blowout.... and they did just that. After their 130-114 win over the Thunder, the Warriors would head to the All Star break with an amazing 47-9 record, and all of their big 4 voted into the All Star Game. That was a huge moment for this new group, and as they finished up All Star Weekend, one had to think they were coasting to the playoffs and keeping the goal on a championship. However, a big setback would hit the team, and many thought it would cripple them going forward.

Kevin Durant was injured in a game against the Washington Wizards and ruled out for at least one month, if not longer. The Warriors would go through a rough patch, losing 2 games in a row for the first time in years, and  looking the weakest that they've looked in the regular season for the first time since their run began. Many thought the Spurs would eventually overtake the top seed in the West and after the Warriors lost three games in a row, including one at home against the Celtics, the Warriors seemed like they needed KD. Steph and Klay were in shooting slumps and it couldn't have come at a worse time. However, the Warriors are a resilient team and they would soon bounce back. After losing those three straight games, the Warriors found their rhythm during the 4th quarter of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers were up by double digits until Steph started to find his shot, and then their fortunes changed. After a big 106-104 bounce back win over the 76ers, the Warriors found their rhythm in full and began knocking out huge blowout victories over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Orlando Magic, the Thunder, and the Dallas Mavericks, two of those games coming on the road. The Warriors would rack up wins against the Kings and the Grizzlies before going on the toughest three game stretch of the season with two games against the Rockets and one against the Spurs, the 2nd and 3rd seeds of the West. Surely, their winning streak without KD would come to an end while on the road for back to back games in Texas, right? Wrong. After a close victory over the Rockets, the Warriors went in the very next night focused and rallied back from a 22 point deficit in the 1st quarter to win the game 110-98. The game was a great offensive showing, but their defense was impeccable, limiting a Spurs team with Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker both on the floor in San Antonio. They would rally back from a deficit at home in the third game of the stretch against the Rockets to win as well.

At this point, the rumors began about KD coming back, and the Warriors were on a roll. With this knowledge, the Warriors put in more dominant performances, including two masterful perfomances from Steph Curry in big wins over the Wizards at home and on the road against the Phoenix Suns. It was then announced that KD would return against the Pelicans in the 80th game of the season, but interesting enough, Steph would sit out that game. KD returned and helped to lead the Warriors to a 123-101 blowout victory, before finishing the season off with a solid victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors finished the regular season 67-15, similar to what they did in 2015, and set out to the win another title and make a third straight Finals.

When the playoffs started, we watched the Warriors go into the series against the Blazers at full strength it seemed. They would win game 1 over the Blazers with a huge game from their key guys KD and Steph, but the defensive performance from Draymond Green is what powered their second half dominance of a game that was tied at the half. Then, unfortunately, small injuries to KD and Shaun Livingston and a huge injury to coach Steve Kerr caused them to go into games 2 and 3 without two of their vital players, but they would win decisively in game 2 110-81, and they would make a huge comeback in game 3 to win 119-113 led by Klay and Steph. With Steve Kerr not on the bench coaching, assistant coach Mike Brown would step up for the team big time and make his presence felt. Game 4 saw KD return and the Warriors finished the Blazers off relatively easy as they won 128-103 with Steph being the biggest component of that victory with a huge game. As the Warriors finished off the Blazers in a sweep, they got ready to face a tough defensive team in the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz were expected to win at least one game in Salt Lake City, but I thought the Warriors would win in a sweep. With KD and Livingston both back for the series, we watched the Warriors take games 1 and 2 as they played their best defensive basketball, winning 106-94 in game 1 and 115-104 in game 2. Playing a tough defensive team like the Jazz could be tough on the road, and while game 3 was a rough uphill battle in the 3rd quarter, the Warriors would take over and KD would help lead them to a 102-91 victory to go up 3-0. Game 4 was close early on, but eventually the Warriors would begin to blow the Jazz out in the 4th quarter and close the series with a huge 121-95 victory. The defensive performances by the Warriors in those first two series showed that they were locked in on defense and going into the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, they would need it.

The Spurs vs Warriors series started off very interesting. The Spurs were up 23 points in the 3rd before Kawhi Leonard would injure his ankle two times in the game before going out for the rest of the series. The Spurs would lose game 1 after Kawhi's injury in a close 113-111 battle that saw Steph put 40 points and KD drop 34 points. Game 2 would see the Warriors dominate the Spurs in a 136-100 victory and game 3 was a bit more of the same dominance, as they won 120-108 and closed out the Spurs with a 129-115 win in game 4 to make the NBA Finals for the third straight year. For KD, there was a justification now that the Warriors made the Finals again, giving KD another shot at performing in the Finals and allowing the Warriors their shot at redemption. As the Warriors prepared for the Finals, they would end up running into a familiar adversary: Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, and JR Smith, a juggernaut in their own right, set out to go back to back and win their 2nd straight NBA Title. For the Warriors, redeeming themselves after the 3-1 lead blown, the injuries to Bogut and Iggy, the Draymond suspension, it all gave the Warriors a chance at true redemption. As the Finals began, we witnessed the new rivalry of this era coming full circle once again.

Game 1 was a close battle in the first half, but those standard Warriors three quarter bursts cam and blew the game wide open leading to the Warriors taking game 1, 113-91, showcasing yet another solid defensive performance. KD was excellent in game 1 and so was Steph, and it seemed as if the Warriors were already on the right path. The Cavs would make adjustments in game 2, and so would the Warriors in a different way. Steve Kerr, who had been out since game 3 against the Blazers, returned to the sidelines to coach the team. Kerr had been traveling with the team while Mike Brown was on the bench, but he would return to a thunderous ovation and the Warriors would take game 2 with a 132-113 victory. Game 3 took us to Cleveland and we saw the Cavs play their toughest game, but a late 4th quarter comeback sealed their fate and put them down 3-0, thanks to a few layups from Steph, and two pivotal baskets from KD alongside a great defensive stand from Iguodala and Klay. The Warriors would lose a controversial game 4, but had the chance to close it out in game 5 in Oracle. They would do just that. KD helped stop the momentum of the Cavs and finished with a 39 point performance, while Iguodala provided 20 points in a huge performance on the night, and Steph finished with his 5th straight double double of the series with 34 points and 10 assists on the night. The Warriors would win the NBA Finals 4-1, wiping out the memories from the 2016 Finals and the bad taste of blowing a 3-1 lead. KD was named Finals MVP in one of the greatest performances with an amazingly 50/40/90 shooting performance. The Warriors were NBA Champions once again for the second time in three years, and KD finally had his ring and his first title. Steph showed up big time in the Finals averaging 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists per game.

For the Warriors, the 2017 NBA Championship was true redemption and the finishing touch on a season that was about not only proving everyone else wrong, but proving to themselves that they were who they thought they were. The Golden State Warriors could be on the brink of a true dynasty and their best ever 16-1 playoff record set the tone for what might be coming. The NBA has been put on notice.



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