This is the most sportswritery thing I’ll ever write, but all season long the Golden State Warriors won as a team. Sure, Stephen Curry was the MVP of the league, but he was far from a one man band. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andrew Bogut all won league-wide awards. After two stagnant season, Harrison Barnes improved leaps and bounds. Andre Iguodala agreed to come off the bench. David Lee didn’t complain once about getting his minutes snatched. Shaun Livingston played every position from point guard to power forward. Marreese Speights carried the offense for surprisingly long periods of time. I still don’t know what Leandro Barbosa is doing most of the time, but it worked.
The coaching staff was part of this team, too. Rookie head coach relied upon Alvin Gentry to guide his offense and Ron Adams to guide his defense, and was effusive in his praise of both. He fostered a culture of participation, and at the most crucial point in the season, trusted a guy that isn’t even really on the coaching staff.
Depth is usually much less important in the playoffs than the regular season. With at least one rest day after each game and the dramatically raised stakes, good players increase their minutes and rotations shorten. But the Warriors’s depth paid dividends, especially in the Finals. They were more energetic than the Cavs late in games, though the Cavaliers’s numerous injuries obviously played a role in that too. But it also meant that when Plan A didn’t work, the Warriors had Plans B, C, and D to scroll through, something I wrote about extensively after Game 4.
Game 6 followed a pattern that has become familiar in the Finals, as the Warriors struggled on offense early and only scored six points in the first six minutes. For a few players the struggle lasted all game long. Klay Thompson was shutdown on offense, struggled in the rare moments he was not shutdown, sat long stretches because of foul trouble and eventually fouled out. Andrew Bogut didn’t play a single minute. Stephen Curry only went off for one mini explosion, for a three minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
But it didn’t matter, and the Warriors won 105 to 97 to take the NBA title.
Andre Iguodala, the only Warrior who showed up for the entire series—and the only person besides LeBron James who has a legitimate claim to be the Finals MVP—punished the Cavaliers for trying to guard him with Timofey Mozgov, tying for the team high with 25 points. He also put in another stellar performance guarding LeBron James, allowing the Warriors to mostly single cover him.
Draymond Green wreaked havoc down low, picked up a triple double, and consistently guarded someone bigger than him, making the small ball lineup work. Festus Ezeli played a stellar 11 minutes, dunking all over the Cavs and scoring unexpected points when the game was getting close. Shaun Livingston had his typically understated game, acting to fill-in whatever offensive or defensive hole the team had.
For their part, goddamn did the Cavaliers compete. LeBron shouldered the burden of the world yet again. Mozgov was back in and put up a gaudy statline. He also had a stretch where he seemed to reject about ten shots in a row. Tristan Thompson got his rebounds and was a surprisingly effective scorer. Even the much-maligned backcourt, which overall had an awful game, went BANANAS in the final few minutes of the game, and J.R. Smith almost shot the Cavaliers back in the game. But it was too little, and much too late.
That the series was even this close after Kyrie Irving went down is a testament to the genius of LeBron James, the defensive scheming of David Blatt, and how hard the Cavaliers worked. But the Warriors were by far the best team in the league this season, and when it was all said and done, they rampaged to a 16-5 playoff record. The Warriors haven’t won an NBA title in 40 years, and for two decades were the most inept team this side of the Los Angeles Clippers. Don’t let any Warriors fan say otherwise: until the end they were convinced the Warriors would somehow figure out how to screw it up. But this team is special, and they didn’t.