With most NBA championships, it’s hard to determine the exact moment when they became the team that was destined to win the upcoming title. But for this 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors Team we can point to July 7, 2016 as the moment when they were thrust as the heavy favorites to win this year’s championship. This was the day that the 73-win team and runner up to the 2016 NBA Championship signed the summer’s biggest free agent and one of the best players in the league in Kevin Durant.
Filling in the Holes
But signing Durant wasn’t as simple as everyone thought. His max contract made it impossible to keep all the pieces from the previous year’s record breaking team. Their starting forward Harrison Barnes was allowed to leave and sign with a different team, starting center Andew Bogut was traded to Dallas, and their two back up centers Festus Ezili and Mo Speights weren’t signed back either. They may have gotten an upgrade at the 3-spot, but their entire center depth lineup was completely gone. They also lost Leandro Barbosa, a key contributor in their bench depth. The NBA’s newest superteam was starting to look like a very “top heavy” team.
Acclimating an MVP
Simply adding a great player to a successful team is not easy. There are rotations and roles to be filled, possession issues, and the ever important team chemistry factor. Luckily for the Warriors, KD fit in perfectly with the team’s personality. Not only did he have that ‘splash’ mentality, but he also blended well with Curry and Draymond off the court. The upgrade of Barnes to Durant made the Warriors team a much more potent offensive and defensive team. The only problem was that Klay Thompson wasn’t getting the same number of touches and he struggled early in the season, but they found a way around that eventually.
Late Season Curse Turns into Blessing
The Warriors were doing an exceptional job in integrating Durant into their winning system. By mid season they were 50-9 and looking to hit the 70 mark once again. Then disaster struck. In a game against the Wizards in late February, Kevin Durant suffered a leg injury that would hold him out for the next few weeks, possibly even months. The loss of Durant impacted that game, ending in their 10th loss of the season. They would also struggle after the fact, losing 5 of the next 7 games. This might not seem like much, but the standards are higher for a team like the Warriors. But then the Warriors remembered something. Without KD, they were a 73-win team that still had All Stars Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. They finished off their season on a 14 game win streak, adding Durant back to the lineup in the last 3 games.
Better to be Lucky…
The season for the Warriors was marred by all kinds of injuries and setbacks, but luck always seemed to be on their side. Head coach Steve Kerr was sidelined because of a serious back injury, and it could not have come at a worst time, during the playoffs. But interim coach Mike Brown led the team to the finals and a record of 11-0. Luck also seemed to go bad for the other team. Most notably the infamous Kawhi Leonard Injury in game 1 of the conference finals. Leonard fell on Pachulia’s foot on a 3 point attempt and took him out of the series, essentially taking out the Spurs from contention as well.
The Golden State Warriors was a formidable force in 2017, but we did not see just how good they could get until the playoffs started. They swept through the entire Western Conference and gave up just one loss to a team led by the best player in the world. They were called a juggernaut of a team because of the arsenal that they possessed on offense but also because of the intensity that they showed on defense. Curry, Klay, and KD provided the fireworks on offense, while Draymond orchestrated their defense. Draymond was more than just an anchor on defense; he trafficked defenders on where to go and defended multiple positions, sometimes on the same possession. Their center position was held solid by committee by the three new recruits of West, Pachulia, and McGee. Their best lineup was still the ‘Death Lineup’ with Draymond at the center. The death lineup actually got even deadlier with the upgrade of Barnes to Durant. The bench was held together by selfless plays of Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston.
Record Breaking Dubs
The 2017 Golden State Warriors are viewed by some as good and even great team, but not as special as the previous year’s team, wherein they broke the record for the most wins in a single season, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. They weren’t able to crack 70 this time, but they were undoubtedly the best teams in the league during the regular season. This Warriors starting 5 included 4 All-Stars that were also All-NBA selections (Draymond, Curry, Klay and KD). The Warriors also holds the record in the playoffs in the history of the NBA (16-1) and they also hold the record for the longest winning streak (15 games) in NBA post season history (also the longest winning postseason streak in North American professional sports history).
Each of their top players broke records and set high marks during the regular season and the playoffs. Klay Thompson shattered the theory that he was struggling to score in the new lineup, erupting for 60 points against the Pacers in January. Draymond Green recorded the first triple double without double figure scoring when he had double figures in rebounds (11), assists (10), and steals (10), [and 5 blocks] against Memphis in February. Curry made history with his shooting, breaking the record for most threes in one game with 13, and most consecutive games with a 3-pointer with 157. Curry also had a remarkable finals series where he had a triple double in Game 2 and almost averaged a triple double in the series (26.8 pts 8 rbs 9.4 ast). KD saved his best for last, averaging 35 pts 5 rebs 5 ast for the finals and grabbing the finals MVP.
Even this early in the off season, it’s hard to imagine another team toppling this Golden State squad any time soon. The core of the team is relatively young, and they already have a winning season under their belt, meaning they could very well be getting better and could still be peaking toward their best. The death lineup is still the most potent offensive combination in the NBA and the core members of this championship squad are coming back together next season. This could very well be the start (if not the middle) of the next great NBA dynasty.