In the end, the Warriors didn't redeem last year's Finals disappointment with another historic regular season, nor did they have a perfect postseason record. But none of that mattered.
67-15. 16-1. Those are tidy numbers, extraordinary numbers, but all the Warriors cared about was getting another title, which they did with a 129-120 victory at Oracle Arena on Monday night, defeating the Cavaliers 4-1 in the 2017 NBA Finals.
A 21-point loss at Cleveland in Game 4 opened the door just slightly for everyone to wonder if LeBron James could author a historic comeback, but the Warriors responded to their first loss in 61 days the way they had all season: overpowering their opponent with their collection of talent.
The opening quarter of Game 5 was a continuation of Cleveland's offensive dominance from last Friday. The Cavs shot 62.5 percent from the field, scored 37 points and held a four-point lead. But a 21-2 run by the Warriors in the second quarter ignited a 38-point period and Golden State held a double digit lead at halftime. Thanks to yet another triple double from LeBron, Cleveland stayed within shouting distance until the end, but the Warriors were just too much.
Kevin Durant, who was the difference maker the Warriors sought after blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals last season, shot 14-for-20 and finished with 39 points in Game 5, securing the MVP Award for the series. Steph Curry -- after taking some criticism last year for his Finals performance -- closed things out this time with 34 points and 11 assists.
From the moment Durant texted the Warriors last July and informed them he would be joining them, this was the finish we expected to the 2016-17 season. There were talks of a lack of parity, whether a super team in Golden State would render the rest of the league meaningless for the foreseeable future, but zoom out and take a long view of this Warriors franchise, and it's been one of the most dramatic three-year runs in league history.
Two seasons ago, Steve Kerr took over from Mark Jackson and inherited a Warriors team with two premier shooters in the backcourt and a collection of talent that appeared on the verge of becoming championship contenders. The decision to move Draymond Green into the starting lineup in place of David Lee and moving Andre Iguodala into a sixth-man role sparked the Warriors to a 67-win season. The Warriors were the greatest show on earth. Curry and Klay Thompson electrified arenas on a nightly basis. Golden State played a style of basketball that was aesthetically pleasing, and curbed all talk that a jump shooting team could not win a championship. They beat the Cavs in six games to take the title that season.
As the basketball calendar turned, the Warriors went from champion to chasing history, starting the 2015-16 season winning their first 24 games, and talked openly about setting the regular season wins record, which they did by winning 73 games, topping the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls who finished 72-10. The playoffs arrived; Curry injured himself in the first round and came back not himself; the Warriors had to overcome a 3-1 deficit to beat the Thunder to get to the Finals; they appeared on their way to a repeat, and you know the rest.
The 2017 season was about two concurrent narratives for these Warriors: redeeming last year's loss, and ushering in the next half-decade of basketball dominance with the acquisition of Durant. "You call us a super team, but it's been a lot of super teams that hasn't worked," Durant said after winning his first championship on Monday. "We came together and we continued to just believe in each other and we sacrificed, and we're champions."
Durant is not wrong. From the Hakeem Olajuwon-Charles Barkley-Scottie Pippen Rockets of the '90s, to the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh Heat of recent years, superstars coming together have not always resulted in a championship in their first season together, if ever. The Durant-Curry partnership was uneven to start the season, even as the Warriors raced out to a 27-4 record. But after a Christmas Day loss to the Cavs, the two superstars found their bearings, and never looked back.
When it was all over, Curry looked back on a turning point in his approach during the season. "I kind of understood that we have such high IQ players that if I could be aggressive, do what I do and need to do every single night, everything will kind of flow from that," Curry said.
Curry was the one who texted Durant after their free agency meeting in the Hamptons to let him know that it didn't matter whose team it was. The carefree approach permeated this Warriors team and helped make adding Durant to this collection of talent a seamless transition that resulted in a title.
"The stuff you hear about Steph as far as sacrificing and being selfless and caring about his teammates, caring about other people is real," Durant said. "It's not a fake. It's not a facade. He doesn't put on this mask or this suit every single day to come in here and fake in front of you guys. He really is like that. And it's amazing to see a superstar who sacrifices, who doesn't care about nothing but the group."
"I'm happy for him. You've got to call Kevin Durant a champ now," Curry said. "He's put the time in and I'm just so happy for him to be able to realize his goal and be my teammate."
Curry is a free agent this summer and expected to re-up with the Warriors on a max deal. Durant can opt out and get a longer-term contract from the Warriors as well and is expected to return.
With two superstars in their prime, and a supporting cast led by Thompson and Green, Monday's victory put a cap on a wonderful season for the Warriors, but is also just the start of Golden State's dominance over the rest of the league. Greatness is often not appreciated until we have perspective. These Warriors will now continue to try to chase down history and become the greatest dynasty in league history, a pursuit of multiple championships that will enter them into the "best team ever" conversation. This could just be the beginning. How scary is that?