(Adam Pantozzi/NBAE/Getty Images)
A Fitting End To A Season For The Ages
by Brian Witt
A look back on one of the most impressive and entertaining seasons in NBA history.
The days and moments in the immediate aftermath of the Warriors’ 2017 NBA Championship have been quite a blur. There were trophies to be raised, champagne to be sprayed and parades in which to partake. But when the dust settled and the thousands of pounds of confetti were swept up from the streets of downtown Oakland on Thursday, one resounding truth emerged from the crazed scene that had just unfolded:
That was one heck of a season.
You could make the case that no team in NBA history entered a season with as big or bright a spotlight focused on them as this year’s Warriors team. Adding Kevin Durant and others to a core contingent that won 73 games a year prior placed a gigantic target on their backs, and there would be no easing into the pursuit of a third-straight trip to the NBA Finals. They had the talent, sure, but winning in the NBA is about more than just that. When you’re getting the opposition’s best shot on a nightly basis, the process of integrating a half-new roster demands expedition.
There were growing pains along the way, although their record may not have obviously reflected it. There were feeling-out stages, new systems to acclimate to and new tendencies to learn. There was adversity, pain and depletion – and not just limited to the players.
"Obviously Steve [Kerr] leaving out was definitely unexpected," said Draymond Green. "We thought we had went through that before and were never going through it again, and yet he needed to step down. But the great thing that Steve does is he empowers everyone."
In the end, they accomplished what they set out to do. The Golden State Warriors are NBA Champions once more, having placed the cherry on top of a season full of delectable treats. The massive volume of noteworthy numbers and statistics is enough to make your head spin.
Let’s work backwards, shall we? Start with Game 5 of the Finals, in which Golden State capped a 16-1 (.941) run through the postseason on their way to the Championship – that’s the highest single-season postseason winning percentage in NBA history. Over the course of those 17 games, the Warriors outscored their opponents by an average of 13.5 points per contest, the second largest average scoring margin in a single postseason in NBA history (minimum five games played). Their average of 121.6 points per game in the Finals was the fourth highest mark all-time and the highest in 50 years.
Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry combined for 62.0 of those points per game, the third highest combined scoring average by a winning duo in Finals history. Durant was the unanimous Finals MVP after becoming the fourth player ever to score at least 30 points in every game of the Finals for the winning team, and joined Magic Johnson and Moses Malone as the only players in league history to win the Finals MVP award in their first season with a team. Outside of Durant, Michael Jordan is the only other player to ever average at least 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game in the Finals prior to being named MVP of the series.
"I'm just so happy for Kevin," said a grinning Steve Kerr at the Championship podium. "I'm happy for all of our guys. It's interesting, when you look at championship teams, each player kind of has their own story...but Kevin has a very unique story. I'm just happy for him. He's had an amazing career, but he just took it to the next level. He was incredible all season long. He had an amazing series, just dominated."
Before dispatching the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals trilogy, the Warriors had to get there first. They went ‘four-four-four’ on their way through the Western Conference bracket, sweeping each of the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in the first three rounds. It marked the first time in franchise history the Warriors had swept three playoff series in a single postseason, and only the fourth instance in NBA history that a team recorded three consecutive series sweeps in one playoff campaign. To further highlight the rarity of their accomplishment, consider this: Golden State had just two four-game sweeps in franchise history coming into the 2017 postseason.
Golden State entered the playoffs as the number one overall seed for the third consecutive year after finishing the regular season with a record of 67-15. In doing so, they became the first team ever to win at least 65 games in three-straight seasons, and their 207 regular season victories over that period are the most over a three-season span in NBA history. As the lead man at the helm, Steve Kerr joined Pat Riley and Rick Carlisle as the only coaches to win division titles in each of their first three seasons as head coach.
"Steve is just, he's got a great brain," Andre Iguodala related following Game 5. "It's always working. He's trying to figure everything out like, okay, I know what I got, I know how to get the best out of each one of these guys. But we're going to take it to the next level. He's always trying to take it to the next layer, the next layer. It's like an onion, keep peeling it back. It's so intricate...But he does a great job of knowing how to communicate with the each individual, which is key, because everybody's different."
The Warriors finished the season with the NBA’s best home and away records, going 36-5 at Oracle Arena and 31-10 on the road. After going 34-7 on the road a year ago, the Dubs joined the Chicago Bulls (1995-96 and 1996-97) as the only teams to win 30 road games in back-to-back seasons.
15 of Golden State’s 67 regular season victories came after trailing by double digits. In six of those wins, the Warriors came back to win after trailing by 15 points or more, including a 22-point deficit the Warriors overcame in San Antonio on March 29. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Warriors are 3-0 when trailing by more than 15 points after the first quarter in the last three seasons; the rest of the NBA has a 14-163 record (.079) in that span.
Offensively, the Warriors were the cream of the crop during the regular season, a harbinger of things to come in the playoffs. In a year that saw the best league-wide offensive efficiency since the NBA started charting turnovers in 1977-78, Golden State scored 113.2 points per 100 possessions, the top offensive rating in the NBA and a full 7.0 points better than the league average. With an effective field goal percentage (which adjusts for the added value of three-pointers) of 56.3 percent, the Warriors set the NBA record in that category for the second-straight year. They shot 50.0 percent or better from the field in 39 games, and went undefeated in those contests. Golden State posted 19 40-point quarters, including the fourth 50-point quarter in franchise history in the third frame against the Clippers on February 23. Twice they notched two 40-point quarters in the same game.
The Dubs led the NBA with an average of 30.4 assists per game during the regular season, the most by a team since the Lakers averaged 31.4 in 1984-85. Golden State dished out 30-or-more assists a franchise-record 50 times (second-most in NBA history), and finished 49-1 in those games. Three times over the course of the season they notched at least 40 assists in a single game, while the entire rest of the league combined to do so just once.
Golden State was also relatively dominant on the defensive end of the floor. Their 101.1 points allowed per 100 possessions trailed only San Antonio for the best defensive rating in the league and had plenty to do with the Warriors leading the NBA in average point differential (plus-11.6 points per game) during the regular season. They ranked first in the league in steals (9.6) and blocks (6.8) per game, and held their opponents to the lowest field goal (.435) and three-point field goal (.324) percentages of any team in the Association. They also ranked among the top three finishers in deflections, loose balls recovered, contested two-point shots and contested shots per game.
From a player perspective, the Warriors’ regular season was littered with fantastic individual performances. Klay Thompson scored 60 points in three quarters while taking only 11 dribbles. Draymond Green, a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, recorded the first triple-double in league history that didn’t include points. Curry finished with the second-most single-season three-pointers in NBA history, and Durant became the first Warriors player in the Shot Clock Era to score at least 40 points on fewer than 16 shot attempts. All members of that quartet made the Western Conference All-Star team, giving the Warriors four All-Stars for the first time in franchise history. Of the four, only Thompson missed out on making an All-NBA team.
It wasn’t just star power, though. The Warriors’ bench scored 50-or-more points in eight regular season games, and Golden State was 26-3 in games in which their reserves outscored that of the opposition. In fitting right in with the team’s ‘Strength In Numbers’ motto, Ian Clark, Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and Sixth Man of the Year Finalist Andre Iguodala all registered the best field goal percentages of their respective careers. David West, who had never played the center position before in his previous 13 years in the NBA, became an integral spoke in Golden State’s three-headed center rotation. Patrick McCaw, a rookie second round pick, started 20 regular season games and played 12 crucial minutes in the Warriors’ championship-clinching victory.
Every team has weaknesses, but thanks to Golden State’s enviable collection of talent and depth, those points of vulnerability were few and far between. The ‘Strength in Numbers’ principle wasn’t restricted solely to the players, either. Lest we overlook the contributions of Mike Brown, who helped guide the team to 11 consecutive postseason victories while Kerr was out due to health reasons.
Sure, they made it look easy at times, but then again, looks can be deceiving. Winning in the NBA is hard – really hard – and the Warriors had to leave it all on the floor in order to complete one of the more impressive seasons in the history of the league.
"Coach always said, that's why you spray champagne on yourselves and teammates in the locker room after you win a championship, because you understand how hard it is to get this job done," said Curry wearing a drenched 2017 NBA Champions t-shirt at the podium following Game 5. "No matter what people said about us going into this season, a lot of hard work went into it."
"So to be able to be back in this position, be world champs again, be able to celebrate and enjoy this experience, it's unbelievable," Curry continued. "It's hard to compare what that feeling was the first time, but it's pretty darn close. So I'm going to enjoy this whole summer, as a champion."
As he, the rest of the Warriors and the entirety of Dub Nation absolutely should.
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