Health of their Finals opponent aside, Golden State proved its dominance in collecting its first NBA championship in 40 years
POSTED: Jun 17, 2015 10:58 AM ET
Through the Lens: Warriors Celebrate
Watch at the Warriors celebrate winning their 2015 NBA Championship in super slow-motion!
CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors managed to avoid the NBA's second and third best teams -- the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers -- in the Western Conference playoffs. In The Finals, they faced a Cleveland Cavaliers team that had already lost Anderson Varejao and Kevin Love, and then lost Kyrie Irving before the end of Game 1.
Did they catch some breaks? Sure. But there's no disputing that the Warriors were the best team in the league all season long, making history along the way.
Since the league started counting turnovers in 1977, only one team had won a championship after ranking in the top five in pace in the regular season. That was the 1981-82 Lakers, who ranked fifth among the then-23 teams. The Warriors led a 30-team league in pace, squashing any doubts that you can't win big when you play fast
You can play fast and play defense too. The Warriors were the first team to lead the league in both pace and defensive efficiency since the 1977-78 Phoenix Suns. They were far from the most dominant defensive team we've seen, but were a versatile on defense, protecting the paint and guarding the 3-point line.
They ranked No. 1 on defense from the fourth week of the season on, and ultimately won the championship on that end of the floor. Though the Cavs were shorthanded and banged up throughout the playoffs, they came into The Finals with the best offense of the postseason, having scored 108.6 points per 100 possessions against the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks. In The Finals, they were held to just 93.8.
"Defense wins championships" isn't a cliché. The numbers back up the premise, and the 2014-15 Warriors are further proof that the defensive end of the floor is just a little more important.
Of course, it was offensive improvement -- going from 12th to 2nd in efficiency -- that really took the Warriors from 51 wins last season to a league-best 67 this season. The only two teams that saw a bigger increase in offensive efficiency were teams -- Cleveland and Chicago -- that ranked in the bottom 10 last season and added multiple All-Stars to their rotation. The Warriors only added Shaun Livingston, who scored a total of 44 points outside of 15 feet.
Rookie coach Steve Kerr brought more ball movement to the Warriors' offense. Golden State's 246 passes per game ranked last in 2013-14, but they increased that number to a seventh-ranked 316 per game this season. More of their shots came off the catch, and more came from the most efficient areas of the floor (at the basket and from 3-point range). They cut down on turnovers, too.
With a big improvement on offense and a smaller uptick on defense, the Warriors became just the third team in the last 38 years, joining the '95-96 Bulls and '09-10 Magic, to rank in the top two in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And they came pretty close (0.1 points per 100 possessions on offense) to leading the league in both.
Great offense and great defense leads to a big point differential. In the regular season, the Warriors outscored their opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best mark of the last 38 years, trailing only the '95-96 Bulls (plus-13.3), '96-97 Bulls (plus-12.0) and '07-08 Celtics (plus-11.5).
The second-best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) this season belonged to the Clippers (plus-6.9). The difference between No. 1 and No. 2 (4.57) was the second biggest of the last 38 years, trailing only that of the '95-96 season, when the Bulls were 4.59 points per 100 possessions better than the Sonics.
Fifteen of the last 38 NBA champions have lost fewer playoff games than the Warriors did, but Golden State still had a strong point differential (plus-9.0 points per 100 possessions) in the postseason. The Cavs got Golden State to play at a much slower pace in The Finals, but it adapted and outscored the East champs by 43 points in the series.
In total, over 103 games, the Warriors outscored their opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions, the third-best mark of the last 38 NBA champions and the best since the '96-97 Bulls.
They were the best team, a dominant team, all year. They were the best team in 18 years. The Warriors were, without a doubt, deserving champions.
|Best NetRtg among NBA champions, since 1977-78|
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