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After ending Finals drought, Warriors have one more goal

Golden State will duel Cleveland for the NBA title, starting June 4

POSTED: May 28, 2015 9:43 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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Warriors vs. Rockets Game 5

Stephen Curry scores 26 points to help the Warriors end a 40-year NBA Finals drought with a 104-90 win over the Rockets.

— Fourth quarter, Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, Oracle Arena close to boiling over, a historic trip to the championship series fast approaching. And out of nowhere Harrison Barnes thought about 2012.

He couldn't help it. Barnes looked around, saw Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green on the court with him as the Warriors were about to plant a foot on another plateau, the next-to-last one, and it hit him.

The three guys who came in together in the 2012 Draft would ride into The Finals playing together.

Without looking for the symmetry, without needing it to make the might more special, Barnes got the wow moment anyway. Flashbacks. Right there on the floor, as fans stayed on their feet for the final screaming minutes, with gold confetti about to drop from the rafters, he thought about arriving as part of the latest Golden State new beginning and the memory of hearing laughter when he said on the eve of the first training camp that his goal was to make the playoffs.

That's how far these Warriors had come. From nowhere, actually, from years of lottery appearances and unrealized potential and high-speed basketball that was a thrill ride in the regular season but a bad gimmick in the playoffs.

And to get to the NBA Finals with exactly the opposite method, by pushing forward when the series turned violent and required guts and deep trenches -- well, that's just the perfect statement of how far they really had come.

Warriors Postgame: 'A Perfect Night'

Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes talk about winning the West Conference finals.

Stephen Curry crash landed on the court Monday in Houston with the look of someone headed directly to traction, then returned in the same game, beat up enough that he would be sore two days later heading into Game 5. On Wednesday, the other star guard, Klay Thompson, took a knee to the head, left for the locker room, got cleared to returned, played more and only afterward in the celebration, began to show concussion-like symptoms, the team said. He would continue to be evaluated through the night.

The whole game, though. The Warriors got to The Finals for the first time since 1975 with a 104-90 win over the Rockets as the final installment of the 4-1 series victory while shooting 40.7 percent and committing 18 turnovers and with Curry going seven-for-21 from the field and Green 3-for-15 and Thompson playing 22 minutes because of foul trouble and injury.

Those Warriors won the West.

I'm happy for everybody, especially our fans. Forty years is a long time.

– Steve Kerr

"Relieved," coach Steve Kerr said. "I always think of Pat Riley's great quote: When you're coaching in the NBA, there's winning and there's misery. And 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. I know our fans are. I'm happy for everybody, especially our fans. Forty years is a long time."

NBAStore.com: Get Warriors' Western Conference Champs gear!

To the suggestion that it was not the most artistic of wins, that grinding out a win was unlike the Golden State image, Kerr volleyed: "I would counter your phrase and I would say this was in many ways a very Warriors-like performance." In a game of this magnitude and everything, they were more than fine with demolition derby being placed front and center. They encouraged it.

If it holds up for four more wins, starting June 4 when the Cavaliers come to Oracle for The Finals opener, their place in history will be locked. After handling rising star Anthony Davis in the first round, rough-and-tumble Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph the next and inside-outside threat James Harden and Dwight Howard in the conference finals, the Warriors now get the King, LeBron James.

The reality for years has been that the Warriors are very good defensively, no matter their outdated rep as nothing but a group of jump shooters who need a track meet to win. Surviving this playoff gauntlet would make the organization's transformation complete. It has happened on most levels already, of course, but that's what winning a title does, if it comes to pass. There will be a sense of permanence nothing else can bring, no matter how deep a roster dug in an earlier round. Beat Cleveland and there is a finality.

Rockets Postgame: Grounded

Kevin McHale, James Harden and Dwight Howard talk about losing the Western Conference finals

The Warriors know it. They know they have already accomplished something to get this far, and probably to do it in this way. But there was no great postgame celebration in the locker room for a reason.

"It was special, I think, because everybody was kind of enjoying the moment," Curry said. "We wanted to appreciate the moment, not take it for granted, because it was something that we've been waiting for and wanted to close out tonight. But you kind of take it for what it is because you have four more wins and you don't want to get too ahead of yourself. We're going to appreciate what we've done because we've got to be proud of winning the Western Conference. That was tough all year long, and we're excited about the next step."

About the real wow moment within their grasp. About the flashforward.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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