How the 73-win, ‘underdog’ Warriors won the Western Conference Finals

The outcome was exactly what we all predicted, only it came in a manner that no one predicted.

The Golden State Warriors, the 73-win underdogs, capped off one of the great comebacks in NBA playoff history with a Game 7 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals Monday night and are now heading to their second straight NBA Finals.

It was the result that everyone saw coming.

It was the result that no one saw coming.

Let’s not forget, these Warriors were dead to rights after Game 4 — Stephen Curry was playing like he was injured, the Thunder were moving the ball around like they were the Warriors, and Golden State had not only lost but had gotten blown out in two straight games.

These Warriors had been down in a playoff series before, sure, but those deficits were chalked up to shots not falling.

This Warriors team didn’t lose back-to-back games all season —€” until they did, at the most inopportune time. And the Warriors couldn’t just blame unfavorable bounces —€” they were getting roundly beaten by a team that looked not just better, but dominant.

So how did the Warriors become only the 10th team in NBA history to win a series after going down 3-1?

Heart, grit, a bit of their trademark magic, and trust.

The Warriors gutted their way to a win in Game 5 —€” the Golden State offense still didn’t look right, despite the team putting up 120 points in an elimination-game win. The Warriors got the job done, even when they weren’t at their best. That gritty performance should have told us something.

Game 6 told us a lot —€” Klay Thompson’s hot touch put Golden State in a position to win the game, and Curry, suddenly resplendent, and the "death lineup" finished the job against a Thunder team that was regressing to its natural state.

The comeback was called miraculous, but if you followed the Warriors over the last two years, you’ve seen the movie dozens of times before. Just a bit of Golden State magic. They were back.

But there were still questions heading into Game 7. Yes, the game was played in Oakland, and yes, home teams win 80 percent of Game 7s in the NBA, and all the confidence and momentum were on the Warriors’ side of the equation. But that all went out the window when the Thunder opened up a 12-point lead in the second quarter. 

The Thunder were moving the ball like they didn’t in Game 6 —€” the lessons appeared learned —€” and Golden State again was on the ropes.

But the Warriors were patient. They knew their shots would start to fall;€” they just needed a spark.

Cue the heart.

The Warriors didn’t start the third quarter well, but then Curry beat the bigger, taller, longer Andre Roberson to a rebound at the 9:31 mark, came down the court, and hit a deep 28-foot 3-pointer against the run of play. The Oracle Arena crowd re-entered the game. The Warriors’ defense started playing with a bit more punch, and suddenly Golden State couldn’t miss on the other end of the court. Andre Iguodala hit a 3, Klay Thompson hit a 3, and then Curry tied the game with a 26-footer against Steven Adams, whose missed shot started the run.

From there, the contest was over. The Warriors’ nervensträrke (German for "nerve strength") won out. The Thunder, faced with a challenge, further devolved into isolation, no-pass sets. They yelled at each other on the bench and on the court, while the Warriors calmly pulled away, outscoring the Thunder 29-12 in the frame.

Even when Durant went off for six unanswered points late, the Warriors weren’t rattled. Curry ruthlessly closed the game down with six unanswered points of his own.

The Warriors always acted like they had been there before, even when they had not. They knew what they were made of, even if it wasn’t showing up on the court. They trusted that, even with no margin for error, the true version of this record-setting team would come through.

It did.

The Warriors —€” the greatest regular-season team of all-time —€” pulled off an all-time comeback to keep their dream of becoming the greatest team in the history of the sport alive.

After all of that, how could you not think they’re going to finish the job?