OAKLAND — Steve Kerr’s wet hair was spiked into a mohawk, Kevin Durant’s champagne goggles still hung around his neck, and Stephen Curry’s championship hat was still perched backward on his head, and yet the painful memories from last year and the jubilation of the present moment had already given way to a different conversation: Dynasty.
Golden State defeated Cleveland 129-120 in Game 5 of the Finals on Monday, claiming their second title in three seasons and avenging last year’s unprecedented 3–1 collapse. On the final night of their near-perfect 16-1 run through the postseason, the Warriors did it with nearly equal measures of their two MVPs, one returning and one recruited, who ultimately proved able to share control of one of the most dominant teams in NBA history.
To stave off another fierce challenge from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Golden State needed multiple big shots from Durant in a Finals full of them, including a three-pointer that opened a 22-2 run in the second quarter and another early in the fourth quarter that pushed the Warriors’ lead back to eight. Down the stretch, Curry and Durant set each other up for multiple buckets before Curry drilled a deep party-starting three-pointer to ice the championship in the game’s final minute.
James, who fell to 3–5 in his Finals career, was masterful as always, and perhaps his 41 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists would have been enough to overwhelm either Curry or Durant. Together, though, the two superstars were able to comfortably finish off a commanding playoff run in which Golden State posted a three-point era record +13.5 point differential.
For Durant, the Game 5 victory meant the first title and the first Finals MVP of his 10-year career. For Curry, it meant a second title and redemption for his somewhat uneven performance in last year’s Finals loss. But for both superstars, and for the rest of the Warriors, the resounding nature of this run, capped off by a 5-game series, put to bed 2016’s talk of complacency and disappointment while simultaneously opening up a life without ceilings in 2018 and beyond.
“We're obviously just getting started,” Curry said.
There’s no hubris to be found in that declaration, for Golden State’s tantalizing future is constructed entirely on proven commodities. Durant showed that he could mesh with Curry and go shot-for-shot with James with a title on the line. Curry showed that he could adjust to physical defenses and turn in spectacular all-around efforts even when frustrated by his own silly turnovers. Draymond Green showed that he could “keep his cool,” as he termed it, despite persistent foul trouble and multiple rounds of trash talking with various Cavaliers players. And Klay Thompson showed that he would accept a reduced offensive role and still muster the energy to, in Kerr’s words, keep chasing Irving like “a yellow lab chasing a ball all day” on the defensive end.
These core four All-Stars are all under 30 and, come July, they should all be under contract for at least the next two seasons. Importantly, all four are two-way players: They created mismatches against every team in the league, including Cleveland, and they possessed enough defensive versatility and guile to handle every team in the league, including Cleveland.
“They're going to be around for a while,” admitted James, who has himself been around long enough to make seven straight Finals appearances. “Pretty much all their big-name guys are in their 20s, and they don't show any signs of slowing down. There's going to be a lot of teams that are trying to figure out ways to put personnel together to try and match that. In my eyes, they're built to last a few years.”
The future is especially frightening for the 29 teams outside the Bay Area because there was no ramp-up period for these Warriors. Durant and Curry didn’t need a few years to build up like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and they didn’t stumble in their first time together on the big stage like James and Dwyane Wade in Miami.
In Year One, the Durant/Curry tandem led the Warriors to an 83-16 combined record in the regular season and postseason, good for a .838 winning percentage that is second all-time to the vaunted 1996 Bulls. Their regular-season point differential ranked fourth all-time, they tied NBA records for offensive rating and True Shooting %, and they ranked third all-time in assists. Stylistically, they continue to play cutting-edge basketball, forcing opponents to keep pace in hellish track meets and stretch out past their breaking points.
“You can call us a superteam, but there’s been a lot of superteams that haven't worked,” Durant said on Monday. “We came together and we continued to just believe in each other and we sacrificed. We're champions now.”
The Warriors got all of that done by making a point to integrate Durant early in the season and then surviving his fluky knee injury that, for a moment, seemed like it would end his season. “I’m just so happy Kevin has broken through,” Kerr said on Monday, as his new forward stood nearby clutching the Bill Russell trophy. “There’s more to come from him.”
Often, Golden State looked and sounded more like a world-record-holding speed skater or marathon runner, competing against itself because the competition lagged. “We could be a lot better than we were tonight,” Durant said after Golden State’s 22-point victory in Game 1 of the Finals. In their next contest, the Warriors scored the most points in a Finals game in 30 years to cruise to another victory.
The Warriors were so invincible that they went undefeated through multiple rounds of the playoffs while led by their back-up coach, playing so consistently under assistant coach Mike Brown that Kerr’s health-related absence was a mere blip on the radar. Although a road loss to the Cavaliers in Game 4 spoiled a perfect 16-0 postseason, the Warriors still tied the NBA’s record for fewest losses in a championship run.
"We're going down as one of the best teams ever,” said Andre Iguodala, a key piece to the defensive strategy on James and who, like Durant and Curry, is expected to re-sign with the Warriors during the July free agency period. “That's a special thing you can't take away from us.”
At every turn, the Warriors left their foes without answers. “They’re better than they were last year,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said after losing in the first round, referring to the record-setting 73-win Warriors of 2016. “More versatile. More explosive.” Jazz coach Quin Snyder kept it simple following a second-round sweep: “What happened, happened. We got blitzed.” During the West finals, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went out of his way to praise the Warriors’ defense and unselfishness, concluding that it is “disrespectful” to say that “they’re supposed to win” because of their talent. “They’re really talented,” the legendary coach said. “But that’s not the whole equation.”
Once the Finals opened, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called the Warriors “the best I’ve ever seen,” while James added that they had “the most firepower I’ve faced in my career.” By the end of the series, James was scratching his head at how Cleveland should respond this off–season.
“I don't know,” he said, when asked if the necessary puzzle pieces were out there to beat Golden State. “I'm not the GM of the team. I'm not in the front office, but I know our front office is going to continue to try to put our franchise in a position where we can compete for a championship. … [The Warriors] went out and got one of the best players that this league has ever seen. Their front office and their players did a great job by doing that recruiting, the things that they did in the summertime, and obviously it paid dividends.”
The pertinent question now: How long will the dividends keep rolling in? Michael Jordan’s Bulls represent the gold standard for modern dynasties with six titles in eight years. Magic Johnson’s Lakers won four titles in eight years during the “Showtime” era. LA came back with five titles in 11 years, although those were split into with-Shaq and without-Shaq eras. Tim Duncan’s Spurs won five titles, too, but they were spread out over 16 years and never included a repeat.
The Warriors have a reasonable chance to match or top them all. Consider: Jordan was 35 when he claimed his sixth and final title. Curry is 29 with two titles and could get to six as early as age 33. Durant has one ring at age 28 and therefore could reach six by 33 too. Even if the Warriors “only” win two of the next four titles, that would amount to more winning in a seven-year span than any modern team besides the 1990s Bulls.
Realistically, the 2018 Warriors should be better than the 2017 Warriors thanks to another year of cohesiveness and their newfound freedom from the shadow of 2016’s sour ending. What’s more, Golden State seems to be inoculated against the chief causes of dynasty destruction.
Their ownership group is ultra-rich and fully invested, plus it hasn’t yet been stung by enormous luxury taxes. “Money is not an issue,” Brown said of his bosses on Monday. “They’re always there to support.” The management team, led by GM Bob Myers, has proven deft at all the necessary tasks: establishing a positive and inclusive culture, drafting well, recruiting big fish, and filling out the rotation with carefully-selected, low-salaried contributors. The desirable and tech-influenced Bay Area market qualifies as another asset, as does the new Chase Center arena that will open soon in San Francisco. Plus, true age concerns are still at least two years away for the core group, although the 33-year-old Iguodala is likely operating on a tighter timeline.
With all of those boxes checked, the biggest red flags left are egos and chemistry issues, which together have undone countless championship teams. For now, these appear to be airtight strengths rather than potential weaknesses. Look no further than the Warriors’ championship celebration, which saw Thompson giggle throughout Green’s lengthy self-described “State of the Union” address and Durant gush at length about Curry.
“The stuff you hear about Steph, as far as sacrificing and being selfless and caring about his teammates, caring about other people is real,” Durant said. “It's not fake. It's not a facade. He doesn't put on this mask or this suit every single day to come in here and fake in front of you guys. He really is like that. And it's amazing to see a superstar who sacrifices, who doesn't care about nothing but the group. … He's our leader. He's a big dog. You better start respecting him.”
Maybe there will come a time when this feeling of satisfaction is no longer sufficient, when someone wants more, when there isn’t enough money to go around, or when an even more super Superteam comes along. But that day is so far off that it’s not yet visible on the horizon.
This is Golden State’s league until further notice.