Warriors deserve to be recognized as one of all-time great teams
LeBron James may have just given us one of the greatest individual performances in NBA Finals history. But the Golden State Warriors carved out their own special accomplishment: They cemented their place as one of the greatest NBA teams of all time.
This is no captive-of-the-moment thinking coming off the Warriors' 105-97 Game 6 takedown of the Cavaliers on Tuesday night to win the NBA championship. And it's time to rise above the drone that a team whose Splash Brothers never lit it up in the same game, or who happened to play an injury-riddled Cavs team, somehow lacks historical wattage.
Consider these facts: This season's NBA champs had the league's best defense, they scored the most points, had the most assists, boasted its Most Valuable Player and, most remarkable of all, notched the third most wins in NBA history when including the regular and post-season.
The only teams with a better mark than the Warriors' 83-20 run of domination? Two teams led by a guy named Michael Jordan: the 1996-97 Bulls (87-13) and the 1995-96 Bulls (84-17).
No one else has been better, period. Which makes these Warriors an all-time great team. Period.
And wow, the depth.
Andre Iguodala, who didn't start in the regular season, was the Finals MVP. He went off for 25 points in Game 6, capping a spectacular series that turned in momentum and direction when Kerr tapped him to start and power a go-small lineup.
Draymond Green, one of the game's best defenders, helped finish off the Cavs with a triple-double Tuesday night: 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Steph Curry, as he tends to do, took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his 25 points as time ticked toward a title.
Shaun Livingston and Festus Ezili each scored 10 ... On and on it goes, a team — a true team — that ran 10 guys deep and turned utter chemistry and a buy-in to head coach Steve Kerr's way of thinking into all-time greatness.
"It was chaos," Kerr said of the locker room scene afterward. "Pure joy. The thing about the NBA playoffs — and I've been through this as a player and going all the way to the Finals five times as a player, but it had been 12 years since I'd been there — I almost forgot how grueling the stretch is."
It certainly was. Klay Thompson never truly got it going, and Curry took several games to be able to channel his MVP-worthy skills in Finals greatness. He got there in the end, but it wasn't easy.
"(I learned) to block out the noise," Curry said. "That's the biggest thing. Because it's obviously just you and another team, and all eyes are on you every single step you take."
They were, and what those eyes often caught was James, not Curry, shining clearly as the best player on the floor. Again. And again. And again.
LeBron turned the early part of the series into a grueling grind, as he routinely scored 40 points and notched near- or actual triple-doubles in efforts that boggled the mind.
In the end, in the Finals, he averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. He single-handedly — at least until the weariness caught up to him in Game 6 — slowed the tempo to enough of a grind that the injury-depleted Cavs were able to claw their way to two wins, and to the illusion of a shot at the series.
And while Iguodala won the Finals MVP with seven votes, LeBron garnered four (he would have had mine, too, had I had a vote) because many watching saw this Finals for what it was: a testament to the power of one of the all-time greats at his best and, in the end, also a testament to its limits.
"When you fall short, it hurts and it eats at you, and it hurts me to know that I wish I could have done better and done more and just put a little bit more effort or whatever the case may be to help us get over the hump," James said. "But it just wasn't our time."
No, it wasn't, but it seems on its way. Vegas already has set odds that put the Cavaliers as next year's favorites. And LeBron, as good as he was trying to bring that glory back home, is almost certain to have some actual help next season.
This, Cavs fans, is just the beginning.
Because LeBron didn't just suffer the bad luck of losing Anderson Varejao, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to injury. He ran into one of the greatest NBA teams of all time on top of all that hardship.
So now we know: One of the game's greatest players ever, giving us one of the NBA Finals' greatest all-time performances is no match when up against one of its all-time greatest teams.
At least for now.