Entering the 2014-15 season, few would have picked the Golden State Warriors to emerge as one of the league's best teams.
Although they had made the playoffs for three seasons and counting, a first-round series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2014 playoffs was the last the NBA world had seen of the Warriors as the new campaign began.
But a change on the bench, plus a breakout season from superstar Stephen Curry, led to an NBA playoff run not seen in Oakland for decades.
Golden State led the league in pace, defensive rating and net rating, becoming the first team to lead the league in the latter two categories since the 1977-78 Suns. Curry dazzled the entire NBA, finishing sixth in the league in scoring while setting an NBA record with 286 3-pointers. Those accomplishments plus many others helped Curry claim the MVP while his first-year coach, Steve Kerr, took home Coach of the Year honors. That duo helped the Warriors change from merely a solid team to a legit championship squad.
While Golden State's rise was one of the big stories of the Western Conference in 2014-15, in Oklahoma City the tale was about how the reigning MVP, Kevin Durant, just couldn't avoid the injury bug. Durant was limited to 27 games and eventually shut down for the season in late March. His departure allowed Thunder teammate and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook to dominate as he racked up a league-best and career-high 11 triple-doubles.
Most of the Western Conference hierarchy remained the same, but the same could not be said in the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers, who were the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, fell to No. 9 after Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury while practicing with Team USA the previous summer. The Milwaukee Bucks, who were one of the East's worst teams a season earlier, made the playoffs thanks to new coach Jason Kidd and exciting youngster Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Of course, the Eastern Conference's story couldn't be told without LeBron James, who powered the Cavaliers to a 20-win turnaround and a Central Division title in his unexpected homecoming. Equally important were the Atlanta Hawks, who went from an also-ran squad to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They won a team record 19 straight games en route to their first 60-win season in franchise history.
Once the playoffs began, only one first-round series went the distance as the Clippers ousted the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs in seven games. As the Warriors rolled through the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies to reach the Western Conference finals, the Houston Rockets took down the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and climbed from a 3-1 series hole to stun the Clippers in the West semifinals.
Out East, the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, the Hawks and the Cavs all reached the semifinals, with the latter two advancing to the East finals. Cleveland swept Atlanta to reach its first NBA Finals since 2007 while Golden State ousted Houston in five games to reach its first Finals since its shocking championship run in 1975.
Cavs-Warriors looked like it was headed for a great series after an epic Game 1. But in the course of that game, Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving was lost for the series with a knee injury. Although James staked Cleveland to a 2-1 series edge, the Warriors' high-powered offense and defensive adjustments overpowered the Cavs as they won the series in six games.
Warriors reserve forward Andre Iguodala garnered NBA Finals MVP honors after his defensive wizardry on James throughout the series as Golden State won the final three games by an average of 14 points.
Eastern Conference first round
Atlanta defeated Brooklyn (4-2)
Chicago defeated Milwaukee (4-2)
Cleveland defeated Boston (4-0)
Washington defeated Toronto (4-0)
Western Conference first round
Golden State defeated New Orleans (4-0)
Houston defeated Dallas (4-1)
L.A. Clippers defeated San Antonio (4-3)
Memphis defeated Portland (4-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Atlanta defeated Washington (4-2)
Cleveland defeated Chicago (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
Golden State defeated Memphis (4-2)
Houston defeated L.A. Clippers (4-3)
Eastern Conference finals
Cleveland defeated Atlanta (4-0)
Western Conference finals
Golden State defeated Houston (4-1)
Golden State defeated Cleveland (4-2)
Points -- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (28.1)
Assists -- Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (10.2)
Rebounds -- DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (15.0)
Steals -- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (2.3)
Blocks -- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (2.9)
FG% -- DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (71.3)
FT% -- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (91.4)
3PT% -- Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks (49.2)
Most Valuable Player -- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Rookie of the Year -- Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Defensive Player of the Year -- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Most Improved Player -- Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Sixth Man of the Year -- Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors
Coach of the Year -- Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
All-Star Game MVP -- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Finals MVP -- Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors