(Jason Miller/NBAE/Getty Images)
Arrival of the Golden Age
by Brian Witt
There's no denying it now. When we talk about the most accomplished teams that have come to define the history of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors must be part of the conversation.
Three titles in four years.
Say it again.
Three titles in four years!
Back-to-back Championships. Four-straight seasons making it to The Finals. It's a strange existence for lifelong Warriors fans, who – for the vast majority of their connection to the organization – likely never imagined such a reality was possible. When Golden State won the first title of this current run, it was their first Championship in 40 years. In sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers this time around, the Dubs hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the second time in 362 days.
This is a true golden age in Warriors and NBA history.
The players and coaches will be the first to tell you that each title has felt different. Not only is there a different group of players in each instance, the context surrounding the pursuit of a championship has been different each time. And if you ask Steve Kerr, the most recent title was the most challenging of the three to attain:
"Every journey is a new one each season," said Kerr in the aftermath of completing the sweep of Cleveland. "Yet the cumulative effect on multiple journeys adds up, and we have felt that this year. I think it's been our most inconsistent season. It's been our most difficult season."
Kerr – he of now eight NBA Championships – knows what he's talking about. He is, after all, the only person with at least three NBA titles as both a head coach and as a player. To reach the apex of team achievement in the NBA one time is hard enough.
"That's why we spray champagne afterwards," Kerr has quipped on multiple occasions throughout the years.
But to do what these Warriors have done, year after year? There just aren't many instances of such sustained success throughout the NBA annals.
The Dubs went 16-5 on their way to the 2018 Championship, eliminating the likes of the Spurs, Pelicans, Rockets and Cavs on their way to the title. They outscored their opponents by 210 points over those 21 postseason games, which is the third-largest point differential in a single postseason in NBA history. The largest? That would be the plus-230 point margin Golden State posted in 2017, when they went 16-1 on their way to the title.
The sweep of Cleveland was the ninth NBA Finals sweep in league history, and further elevated Golden State's postseason success above all other dynastic periods in NBA history. Over the last four years, they've compiled a record of 63-20 (.759) in postseason play, surpassing the 1991-94 Chicago Bulls (51-17, .750) for the highest postseason winning percentage during a four-year span in league history.
It's been a consistent theme throughout much of this golden era, but the Warriors were up to their third quarter antics yet again in the 2018 playoffs. They outscored their opponents by 153 points in the third quarter, the largest point differential in a single playoff quarter in the Shot Clock Era. If you factor in the regular season, Golden State outscored their opponents by 524 points in the third quarter, also a league record.
Speaking of the regular season, while Golden State didn't quite live up to the lofty standard they had set over the previous three seasons, they still finished with the third-best record in the league and second-best in the Western Conference. In finishing 58-24, the Warriors have recorded at least 58 regular season wins in all four seasons under Kerr's tenure, joining the Celtics, Bucks, 76ers and Lakers as the only teams in league history to accomplish the feat.
In total, the Warriors won 74 of the 103 games they played this season. That was actually their worst cumulative winning percentage of any of the last four seasons, which speaks to just how historically dominant they've been over this four-year period. Dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season, the Warriors have posted a cumulative record of 328-83 (.798), winning three titles in the process. That's the best four-year winning percentage in NBA history, beating out the stretch the Warriors had from 2014-17 (.776).
You don't achieve that kind of sustained success without the talent to match.
Kevin Durant was named the 2018 NBA Finals MVP, marking the second-straight year he was honored with the award. That places him in some very exclusive company, joining Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to win Finals MVP in at least two-straight seasons. Additionally, he and Jordan are now the only players in league history with at least four scoring titles and multiple Finals MVPs.
Durant averaged 27.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game in The Finals, and capped his MVP run with his first career playoff triple-double in the series-clinching Game 4 victory. In total, he scored 608 points in 2018 postseason play, surpassing Stephen Curry's franchise record for most points scored in a single postseason (594 in 2015).
Speaking of Curry, he's also entered some rarified air with this newest Championship. He is now the eighth player in NBA history with at least three NBA titles and multiple MVP awards, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Tim Duncan.
Curry made 22 three-pointers in The Finals, including a Finals-record nine treys in Game 2, setting a new NBA record for any four-game playoff series. He now holds the NBA record for most three-pointers in a four-game Finals (22 in 2018), five-game Finals (19 in 2017), six-game Finals (25 in 2015) and seven-game Finals (32 in 2016).
Klay Thompson is now the Warriors' franchise leader in postseason games played. Draymond Green passed Wilt Chamberlain to become the Warriors' all-time leader in postseason rebounds. And after a Finals in which he shot 16-of-20 from the field, JaVale McGee (.702) is now the Warriors' all-time leader in postseason field goal percentage (min. 100 attempts).
There are now 73 players in NBA history that have won at least three Championships. Five of those players (Curry, Thompson, Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston) are on Golden State's roster.
Throughout NBA history, four franchises have won at least three titles in a four-season span: the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, and now, the Warriors. It just so happens that those four franchises have won the most titles in league history, with Golden State now tied with Chicago for third-most with six.
So, now what?
In the coming days, the Warriors will transition entirely into offseason mode. They'll have a Championship parade, after which most players will depart for some well-deserved R&R, while the Basketball Operations staff prepares for the upcoming NBA Draft, in which the Warriors hold the 28th overall pick. After that, there's Summer League and free agency, and then before you know it, teams will reconvene for training camp in September, attempting to ready themselves to knock the Dubs off their lofty perch next season. So, the question becomes, how long can this golden age last? After all, the "cumulative effect" Kerr described will only be greater coming off yet another arduous Championship journey.
It's a challenge they will face next year, no doubt, but one Warriors General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Bob Myers refers to as a "high class problem." In his view, the Warriors have the requisite characteristic most necessary to reinvigorate that championship drive.
"The first one may be the hardest because you don't know if you can do it," said Myers at his end-of-season media availability on Monday. "So having accomplished that, and now for guys that have accomplished it three times, I think what keeps you coming back is greed, and that feeling of how great it felt Friday night to win."
"I think for our guys," he continued, "I don't see them or that hunger diminishing, to try to do it again."
The time for greed and hunger will be here soon enough. For now, though, the Warriors and their fans can bask in the joy and glow of this golden age. We don't know how long it will last, but what a legendary ride it has been to this point.