OAKLAND, Calif. -- It wasn't five minutes after she left the Oracle Arena court in triumph that Riley Curry, all of two years old, went back into the Golden State Warriors' sparsely occupied family room. Most all other friends and loved ones were still on the court celebrating and taking selfies and high-fiving with yellow confetti ribbon in their hair, but Riley had grandpa Dell, the 16-year NBA veteran who knows how to exit a raucous court, to help her back to quieter spaces.
As he carried his granddaughter, Dell gave Riley a kiss on the cheek and smiled. It was the face of not only a grandfather's love but the pride that comes with watching your eldest son lead a team that has, in recent history, known little more than misery to within arm's length of a championship.
Indeed, it was Steph Curry, as always, who helped the Warriors secure a thrilling home victory, a complete and clinical 104-90 contest that Golden State earned more and more with every ensuing basket. Curry finished with 26 points on 21 shots, eight boards, six assists, and five steals, a heroic performance after the nasty spill that marred a Game 4 loss down in Houston.
Curry's teammates were sensational when they needed to be. Klay Thompson carried the offense in the first half with 15 points and Golden State went to the locker room up by six. In the second half, Harrison Barnes kept the pace going with 13 more points on top of his first-half 11, his explosiveness in transition helping the Dubs gain a decisive advantage on points in the paint. Andrew Bogut clanked his only shot, but he pulled down 14 rebounds and had two blocks in a performance that must've made Dennis Rodman crack a smile. Backup center Festus Ezeli pumped in a career playoff-high 12 points to go with nine rebounds. Even Draymond Green, who has often pulled this team along by himself when Curry and Thompson cannot but struggled on this night, still clocked in with a Draymond-lite line of nine points, 13 boards, and four assists.
Bottom line: The Warriors are deep with talent and relatively healthy -- although Thompson's concussion-like symptoms may yet change that -- and they will be a definitive and clear favorite against LeBron James and the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
But this night belonged to the Warriors.
"I always think of Pat Riley's great quote: When you're coaching in the NBA, there's winning and there's misery," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "He's right. Winning feels like a relief more than anything most of the time. But to get to the Finals, first time in 40 years for the Warriors, it's more than relief. It's joy. Our players are feeling it."
Kerr was dead on. The mood inside the Dubs' locker room after a 46th win in 49 home games this season was happy but still focused. There was music and then there wasn't. Smiles were prevalent but it wasn't exuberance. Curry was downright stunned to see James Harden's turnover total (13) when a reporter handed him the final boxscore. Green plugged his Snapchat account. Everyone took their time in getting dressed. The sense of accomplishment was palpable, insofar as we can even assess such moods, but there was no doubt that the ultimate goal still remained unfulfilled.
"Very proud and happy with how we played tonight," Curry said. "We've got to take a week off to get ready and get our minds right and our game plan right for how we're going to beat Cleveland."
Even if a semblance of this Warriors team shows up next Thursday night for Game 1, the Cavaliers will have a tough task. In Game 5, Golden State outrebounded a team that had Dwight Howard at center for 42 minutes by a total of 59-39. They also had more fastbreak points (26-20), points in the paint (50-34) and second-chance points (18-8). These Warriors will switch up on defense, pound the Cavs at the rim, and force them to run all night long. Cleveland will need to maintain a sustained level of high-percentage shooting -- much like Houston mustered in its Game 4 win on Monday -- if they are to have any chance of deflecting the Warriors' relentless ball movement.
"Obviously, our hitters are Steph and Klay," Barnes said, "and the rest of us, we just try to fill in and be aggressive from there, whether that means scoring, whether that means making the extra pass, screening away, rebounding, offensive rebounding, just things like that. So on a night like this, when I'm able to get a lot more shots [and] make shots, it feels good, but also understand there are going to be a lot of nights where you won't necessarily have big scoring numbers but you can still have an impact on the game."
It feels like eons ago that the Warriors started off this season with a 21-2 clip, but they've basically led the Western Conference wire to wire. And all season long, the experts proclaimed the West to be far superior to its Eastern brethren.
Now, as conference champion, the Warriors get to put that claim to the ultimate test, and if they play the kind of the basketball that has now dispatched the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, and Houston Rockets with a kind of hard-fought ease, they will be champions of the NBA for the first time since 1975.
Steph Curry, the reigning MVP, will be there for Game 1 next Thursday, his daughter and father watching from the stands. So will LeBron James, the greatest basketball player on the planet.