- After completing a painless sweep of the Spurs, the Warriors are headed back to the NBA Finals. The only way Golden State’s season can be considered a success is if this time they complete the job.
The Warriors’ record may as well be 0–0. The regular season, the perfunctory sweeps through the Western Conference, the Stephen Curry heat checks, the Draymond Green technicals—every moment since Golden State signed Kevin Durant last July has merely been a warmup act for June 1, when the Finals begin and the Warriors’ legacy will begin to take shape.
This is the burden a superteam carries. The regular season means nothing. The first three rounds of the playoffs mean nothing. Golden State will be judged solely on the Finals, and after finishing off the Spurs in the West finals on Monday, the Warriors will finally start playing games that matter.
Make no mistake, legacies will be on the line once the Cavaliers inevitably join the Dubs in the championship round. Can Curry redeem himself after being overshadowed by LeBron in two straight Finals? Will Green keep his composure after he likely cost Golden State a trophy last year? And perhaps most importantly, will Kevin Durant separate himself against LeBron, or will his first title come as a cog in a larger machine?
All those questions (and more!) will be answered in June. Anything short of a championship will be an utter failure for the Warriors, who added a four-time scoring champion and former MVP to a team that won 73 games last season. Golden State learned the hard way in 2016 how teams are judged when their regular season accomplishments outshine their postseason success, and this year the Dubs have thoroughly dominated playoff opponents as if they’ve been reading our 3–1 lead jokes before every game.
The Warriors will enter the Finals in a much better place than a year ago. Green has avoided the kind of incidents that would leave him vulnerable to a suspension in case any funny business goes down in the next round. Curry should be much healthier after battling a knee injury in 2016, which means it won’t be as easy for him to be contained by Cleveland’s bigs. And then there’s Durant, who not only looks in great shape after his own injury scare, but is peaking at the right time as his chemistry with Curry seemingly improves game by game.
Golden State, even with Cleveland playing its best all year, will be heavily favored in the Finals, and rightfully so. After finishing the regular season first in offense and second in defense, the Warriors are No. 1 in both categories during the playoffs. Amid struggles from Klay Thompson, the Dubs have gotten spectacular play from Curry, Durant and Green, as well as timely contributions from the likes of Javale McGee and David West. Golden State has been largely untested during the playoffs, but that says less about its opponents and more about the Dubs’ overwhelming level of talent.
In regards to that talent, Warriors owner Joe Lacob said something interesting in the aftermath of his team’s Game 4 win over the Spurs—he admitted to wanting to face the Cavs in the next round.
“We were the better team but they did win [last year],” Lacob said, per the Mercury News’ Marcus Thompson. “We need a chance to go in there and prove that.”
Lacob, frankly, is right. The Warriors were the better team than the Cavaliers last season. The 82-game sample size of the regular season is a better indicator than a seven-game series, particularly one that came down to quite literally the last minute of play. History, of course, won’t remember Golden State as the better team, because the Finals will always serve as the barometer for judgment.
Now, after 94 games, Judgment Day is coming for the Warriors. After all the noise about how they ruined the NBA, made the playoffs boring and robbed us of potential rivalries, the Warriors will have a chance to silence their critics. Because for the first time since the clock hit zero on Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Golden State will be playing in games that actually hold some meaning.