They took nothing for granted, accepted no single victory as the ultimate achievement and always looked ahead one game. They did not shrink from any challenges or lose focus long enough to feel any lasting consequences. They were the NBA's tier-one elite, with a top-10 all-time regular season record. Then came New Orleans, then Memphis, then Houston. One by one, they became line items on a historic chart, just more vanquished foes on a march to history. Then, not even the greatest singular performance in NBA Finals history could stop them from that beloved prize.
After 40 years, the Golden State Warriors are NBA champions once more.
From day one, the Warriors were the class of the league, starting out 5-0, 21-2 and 31-5, en route to a 67-15 record. Everyone said that whoever emerged from the Western Conference would be the superior team in a Finals matchup, and even though the Warriors, by the grace of the playoff bracket gods, managed to avoid the Spurs and Clippers, it wasn't exactly a romp. There was the insane 20-point comeback in Game 3 against New Orleans that completely deflated their opponent. There was the 2-1 deficit to Memphis that then spurred a renewed focus amid that window of difficulty. The Rockets, likewise, gave Golden State a worthy fight, but defense won out in the end.
Against LeBron James and the Roster Formerly Known as the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors were put to the ultimate challenge. LeBron averaged -- and make sure you're sitting for this part -- 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in six Finals games against the best defense in the league. His was a performance we should cherish for as long as the NBA is in existence. He didn't win the Finals MVP award, but he didn't need to in order to validate his play. No one will remember that LeBron wasn't MVP, but rather they'll remember how he did everything humanly possible to try to defeat the best team in the NBA and how maddeningly close he actually came. In the end, he was the Final Boss the Dubs had to defeat, and they most surely did that.
Steph Curry, the ever-beating heart of the unbreakable Warriors, played on a clear level below LeBron, but he was as good as he needed to be. He averaged more than 27 points per game in the Finals. He played the second-most minutes in the Finals behind LeBron. The old record for threes in a playoffs was 58; he smashed that by 40. Following up on his league MVP award, bestowed on him during the Memphis series, Curry became a national sensation, because of his mind-numbing shots but also for his guts and guile in late-game situations, for being the kind of player we all dreamed of being when we were kids, for doing it all with a grace, kindness, determination, and inner fortitude that is impossible to disrespect.
If he were on your team, you'd love him with every piece of your soul, but he belongs to Oakland and San Francisco and the nine Bay Area counties, now and likely forever.
Behind Curry was a most perfect hodgepodge of stars and role players, used-to-bes and not-quite-weres. Klay Thompson, Curry's sharp-shooting comrade, was a constant threat to unleash a similar fury of downtown bombs; once you put up 37 in a quarter, you carry that rep around for keeps. Andre Iguodala, the Finals MVP who came to Oakland on a hyped $48 million deal but morphed into a quality sixth man who rose to the defensive assignment of his career. He didn't stop LeBron -- no force on Earth could do that -- but he slowed him to the point that shots that could've derailed the series for Golden State simply didn't fall.
Draymond Green, who replaced David Lee early in the season and cemented his spot as the Dubs' second-best player and one worthy of the max contract coming his way shortly, fought back from confidence issues and back aches to nail down a triple-double (14-10-10) in the clincher, showing the world that he really can do it all. And the rest of the roster -- Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa and so on -- served up a host of complementary, interconnecting pieces that formed a fated puzzle, one that (as long as everyone stayed healthy) could not go down in a long series. Stay healthy they did, and now the Warriors have the rings to prove it.
Head coach Steve Kerr brought it all together. As a player, he learned from the best coaches in league history, men like Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. He won five rings as a player, was a general manager, even a TV commentator. There was nothing left for him to accomplish in this league except as the guy calling the plays from the sidelines, strategizing the substitutions and keeping the team grounded in times both good and bad. His performance this season, through 67 regular-season wins and 16 more in the playoffs against 20 losses combined, should be taught in textbooks. Kerr stuck with Green, he managed the team's minutes so they were fresh come playoff time and he went "small" in the playoffs, benching key players when he could've worried about egos and second-guessing. Some teams like talk about "trusting in the process." Golden State showed us all how it's done.
And now, after 40 long years by the Bay, the Golden State Warriors are once again NBA champions. Curry, Kerr, Thompson and the rest can finally look back at this historic season and exhale and smile and think about how easy they made the challenges look, the struggles they overcame, the lifelong fans they won along the way, and the memories that will last all of their lives.
Then, they'll probably start planning how they can do it all again next year.