Capturing a second title in three seasons in historic fashion has put the Golden State Warriors among some of the NBA’s greatest championship squads, overcoming a heartbreaking setback to become even better.
The Warriors, powered by 39 points from Kevin Durant and 34 from Stephen Curry, beat defending champions Cleveland 129-120 Monday to win the best-of-seven NBA Finals four games to one, avenging their loss to the Cavaliers in last year’s final.
“We’re going down as one of the best teams ever and that’s a special thing you cannot take away from us,” Warriors reserve Andre Iguodala said.
The Warriors followed up their 2015 title by winning a record 73 regular-season games in the 2015-16 campaign, but stumbled with a 3-1 finals lead and fell victim to the greatest comeback in finals history by Cleveland.
That pushed Golden State to add Durant as a free agent last July and the results have been devastating. A 67-win season followed by a record 15-0 start to the playoffs, dropping game four in Cleveland to miss being the first unbeaten playoff champion.
Which all set the stage for Monday’s home victory, the first of the club’s five titles won in front of loyal San Francisco Bay area supporters.
“It was unbelievable. The energy in this building from the time we stepped foot on the floor was on 12 out of 10. It was just ridiculous,” Curry said.
“And that last three minutes was a blur just of pure emotion and energy. So for us to be able to do it in front of our home crowd, something I’ll remember for a very long time.”
As unforgettable for the rest of the NBA was the way the Warriors attacked the season, blending Durant’s inside power with Curry and Klay Thompson’s outside shooting to create a deadly combination and potentially long-lasting one.
“We’re obviously just getting started,” Curry said. “This is something we want to continue to do.”
Beating Cleveland two out of three in the first rivalry to be featured in three consecutive finals didn’t hurt the sense of drama the Warriors aroused all season.
“I wouldn’t call it revenge,” Iguodala said. “It’s just making the most of the opportunity that was in front of us. You learn from your disappointing times. I feel like we’ve grown from that.”
It makes the latest crown much different than the 2015 title, the first in 40 years for the club and in the careers of most of the players.
“It’s hard to compare to what that feeling was the first time, but it’s pretty darn close,” Curry said. “It’s different just because of what happened last year.”
“We went through, for lack of a better term, basketball hell, just being so close to getting the job done and not realizing that goal and having to think about that for an entire year and compartmentalize and just try and keep the right perspective about this season and learn the lessons we learned,” he added.
As good as the team that Cleveland beat was, the latest edition with NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Durant, who averaged 35.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in the finals, is even better.
“The team we had, we were great, right where you want to be,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “But we were able to keep our eyes open to someone who could make this whole thing complete.”
– ‘More to come’ from Durant –
“We felt like Kevin could come in and help us,” he added. “Steph definitely took a back seat to start the season until he realized we didn’t need him to take a back seat. When he turned that corner, we became almost unbeatable.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr sees Durant as that missing piece to turning a formidable club into a historic juggernaut.
“He has had an amazing career, but he took it to the next level. He was incredible all season long. He had an amazing series, just dominated,” Kerr said.
“Everybody for the last 10 years knew how good he was but until you break through and win that first championship there’s still something there. I’m so happy Kevin has broken through and there’s more to come from him.”
Among the other first-time NBA champions was Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, the first player from the nation of Georgia to win an NBA title.
“We put in everything we had, our heart, soul and sweat, everything,” he said. “It’s a championship. It’s a great feeling.”
Those feelings were especially moving for Iguodala.
“Once it hits zero and you see that excitement in their faces, it’s almost like in a lost world because you have no idea what to do,” he said. “And you can’t describe it. That’s when you see how precious these moments are.”
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