A place for me to talk about San Francisco Bay Area sports.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Congrats to Warriors for 2 Championships in 3: Start of Dynasty That Needed Durant

The Warriors closed it out this season, when they were 3-1, instead of setting an all-time worse of losing a series after leading 3-0.  And with the Warriors 16-1 run through the playoffs, the complaints came out again.

About the Warriors being too good.  About Durant joining a really good team in the first place.  About Durant being soft for joining the team that beat him the year before.  But here is the reality:  they needed Durant to get over the hump.

The Reality

The reality is that the Warriors built the core of their team mostly internally.  People forget in their moaning that the Warriors drafted and developed Curry, Thompson, and Green (and Barnes, who played well his first season away).  They signed Iguodala and then Durant, among their key players.  It is not that much different from when the Heat built up their championship run with LeBron.  It is not that much different from the Lakers picking up Shaq, or before him, Kareem.  Better, even, because they built through the draft first.  The only difference is that they built up a really great team mainly through the draft.

But many people do think it is different.  They point out that the Warriors that set the record for wins in a season at 73 added the second or third best player in the NBA.   And these people feel that was just gilding the lily, making a historic team even better.

But the reality is that while the Warriors won the Finals 4-1 over the Cavaliers, the Cavs were not easily beat.  Each game was competitive until the Warriors had a great run that put them ahead for good, and maintained that lead.  And anyone watching knows that Durant was key to maintaining that lead, he put a dagger into many of the Cavs rallies with a pull-up jumper or 3-point shot right after the Cavs get close enough to think that they were in the game.

Game 1

At half time, the Warriors lead was only 8 points, 60-52.  Anyone who followed the Warriors pre-Durant know that the Warriors routinely blew 10 point or less leads, and that's just in the final minutes of the game.  I don't know how many of those games I experienced, just in the past few glory years.  Then they had a burst and the lead ballooned to 18 points, 70-52 in the first 3 minutes of the third period, 73-52 in the first 4 minutes, outscoring the Cavs 13-0 in those 4 minutes.  For the rest of the game, they were basically even, 40-39.

Game 2

Similar to Game 1, the Warriors only led by 3 points at half-time, 67-64.  And the Cavs got within 1 point early in the 3rd quarter, and kept things close, behind only 4 points with 5:42 left in the 3rd quarter.  In the next slightly less than 5 minutes, the Warriors outscored the Cavs 32-20, to take a 99-84 lead.  For the rest of the game, 33-29 Warriors, again, basically even.

Game 3

In this game, whether it's because they are home or they figured out what they needed to get better at, the Cavs were very competitive again, and, in fact, took a lead later in the game, 3 minutes into the 3rd quarter, and got that lead to 7 points with a flurry at the end of the quarter, ending with a 5 point lead at the end of the third.  And they kept that lead late into the fourth quarter, in fact, they still led 113-111 with 1:15 left to go, only to get outscored 7-0 in that short period of time.  It was the Cavs lead until that final minute, and the Warriors barely beat them; another few minutes on the clock, it could just have been as easily a Cavs win.

Game 4

This game requires no commentary other than that the Cavs led for the entire game, the Warriors could never mount much of a comeback, they halved the lead at one point, near the end of the 1st quarter, but never could get within 10 again of the lead.  The Warriors got blasted, and had no answer to the Cavs in this game and this continued into the next game.

Game 5

The Cavs led again, for most of the early part of the game, until about 4 minutes into the 2nd quarter, at which point they led 43-39.  The Warriors surged at that point, with a 15-0 run in the next 3 plus minutes that made that lead, as the Cavs kept pace after that 17-17, leaving the Warriors leading 71-60.  The Cavs were able to chip away in the third quarter, getting the lead down to 98-93 after three.  The Warriors held serve in the 4th quarter, and came away with the win.

2017 Finals

If one looks only at the final results - Warriors win 4-1 - then it does look like the Warriors did not need Durant and was only gilding the lily.  However, one needs to recall how the Warriors did in the last two finals to get a different picture of the reality of the situation.

The Warriors won 4-2 in 2015, but the Cavaliers had led, 2-1, when the Warriors figured out how to beat them.  That series was very competitive, and there was plenty of people who thought that the Warriors were lucky to beat LeBron and the Cavs in that series, particularly since they had injuries to Love and Irving.

The Cavaliers won 4-3 in 2016.  The closeness of that shows how competitive the series was.  The Warriors might have led 3-1, but the Cavaliers came back to win three games to win the Finals and get that Championship.  They had Love and Irving in that series, which helped.

Reality is LeBron is Great, and It Took Strength in Numbers to Defeat Him

So the reality is that the Warriors and Cavs, despite the number of wins either team had in the regular season, were closely matched teams.  If Love and Irving were not injured in 2015, it is very easy to see that the result could have been very different.  Same for Curry being injured (he was the MVP, after all) in 2016.

And if you look at the 2017 Finals, when LeBron was on the court, the Cavs were basically even with the Warriors, for a total Plus/Minus of -7.   That is a toss-up, and that is with Durant on the court with the Warriors for most of that time.   So why should the Warriors not want to upgrade?

When people complain about the Warriors having too much fire power, they forget how transcendental LeBron's talent is, and how much a team has to make up just to make up for how good LeBron is.  You can't just count up All-Stars and call it equal, some All-Stars are just much better than others.

This also shows that the Warriors needed Durant to get over the LeBron hump, and even with him, the Warriors were only equal to a LeBron led team.   The difference in the results was that LeBron could not play every minute of every game, that the team would collapse without him running everything.  He is that good and the rest of the team not.

So the crucial question facing the Warriors for the 2016-2017 season was:  if you sign Barnes and keep the same crew that they had for the last two finals, you are treading water and only matched evenly with the Cavs, and arguably could be worse, given how poorly Barnes showed up in the playoffs late in the 2016 Finals, you know that would have carried over.  And see how the two finals were, both were tough battles.  And because of how good LeBron is.

Or, instead of Barnes, for just a handful of millions more than what Barnes got per year, you can get Durant.  Anybody crying about it now would be talking about how it's fine, if they were on the Warriors and in that situation.

Warriors Did What Any Other Team Would Have Done:  Go For Dynasty

Last I know about the NBA, the objective is to win it all and to dominate.  Any team in their position would have went for the gold ring, would have gone to create a dynasty.  With this team, the Warriors are set up for years to contend for, if not win, championships.  And, if you don't improve when you have the opportunity, you are just being stupid.

The Warriors improved themselves.  They may have been very good, but they were not necessarily good enough to beat LeBron, he and his cohorts were good enough to give as good as they got.  Thus the Dubs went out and got the player that put them over the hump against LeBron, using the same rules as every other team, which many people seem to forget, they planned for this moment, the moment when Durant was a free agent.

Overall, the Warriors did the right things.  They built up an All-Star team with the draft.  They added a fourth All-Star via free agency in order to have a better chance of beating LeBron.   And as I noted, they played him to a standstill, it was his teammates that cost them the series.  It is not like the Warriors traded and signed their way to dominance, they signed the one guy who could put them above the Cavs.

And what's wrong with that?

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