Resilient. Tough. Gritty.
The Warriors will unfairly be robbed of such appraised championship clichés, at least initially, in favor of terms that exemplify their new-aged style of basketball.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Golden State rises above overused clichés because their brand of basketball represented something more, an expansion of the game into a showcase of glitzy modern-day basketball.
However, innovations and additions often only occur to things when the base proves to be stable. That’s what made the Warriors so dominant, so mesmerizing, so entertaining, and eventually so championship worthy. Intangibles qualities such as resiliency, toughness and character didn’t need to be prioritized or emphasized because they were already so strongly engrained into the culture. Warriors isn’t just a nickname, it’s an embodiment.
The intangibles made them champions, but, there is no denying it, the playing style made the Warriors entertaining as hell. The Run-n-Gun pace, the free flowing, movement-based offense, the shape shifting versatility and, of course, those silky rainbow jumpers that cued Oracle eruptions on a nightly basis. It all added up to something Golden.
It wasn’t always this way. For much of the past decade plus the Warriors compiled points at a premium, but allowed opponents to light up the scoreboard at even greater rate. In other words, defense wasn’t a priority.
Enter Mark Jackson, who ditched his broadcasting gig and brought a new intensity and pride to the less glamorous side of the ball, while the Golden State front office began acquiring a new brand of player. However, while Jackson brought a new dedication and discipline to the defensive side, his offense staled out, as did his tenure as coach, in a bundle of boggled down, passing devoid isolations breeding inefficiency.
However, when Steve Kerr chose Golden State over the blundering franchise residing in New York, he brought a new level of ingenuity to the Warriors offense, utilizing the luxurious pool of talent. Kerr unleashed a flurry of off-ball movement via basket cuts, back screens, pindowns and cross screens among a number of other new quirks. He discovered and then unleashed a devastating pick-and-roll/pop series between Steph Curry and Draymond Green, with shooters abound to space the floor.
Kerr, however, refused to yield or sacrifice an ounce of the built up defensive fortitude in order to attain enriched offensive delights. He reinforced the team’s developing defensive pedigree, pushing his players to improve individually while drilling his team to perfect a switch-heavy scheme centered upon the versatility of Green, the rim protection of Andrew Bogut and the glut of long-armed wings who epitomized “positionless basketball.”
Kerr also expertly managed the task of dealing with professional athletes transfixed with pride and ego, convincing former All-Stars such as Andre Iguodala and David Lee to accept bench roles for the betterment of the team. With the season’s stresses at its highest peak, Kerr persuaded Bogut to assume the role of bench warmer as the Warriors trailed the Cavaliers 2-1 in the Finals heading into Game 4. The move paid off and as the final seconds of Game 6 ticked away, Kerr exalted, not with the team he initially took over, but with the family he had bonded.
We didn’t have to watch the boring stuff, the tedious stuff, nor the most difficult stuff; we didn’t have to watch the work. We reaped the rewards he did, but without the struggle, without the grind, without the pain. Steph Curry was the best show in the NBA with his impossibly pure jumpers, his visionary passing and his dazzling ball handling, and we got to experience all of it.
But MVPs and champions become constructed, become transcendent, become legendary in the days of seclusion when the deserted gym and lonely weight room become their most familiar acquaintances. Curry likely remembers those days with fondness now as he celebrates with his NBA-laden father Dell, his adorably-laden daughter Riley and the rest of his beautiful family. We don’t remember those days because we didn’t see them, instead we got to see what those days created, the captivatingly magnificent play of Stephen Curry.
Curry will draw his appropriately sizeable portion of glorification and admiration after his marvelous season, but the necessity of less-dignified role players to capture the championship lore is what makes team sports so grand. The rest of the guys put that uncelebrated work in during the offseason just as Curry.
Klay Thompson, the second banana of the properly titled Splash Brothers, took his game to new heights enhancing his heat-check aura while also developing into a more complete player. Thompson improved his ball handling and off-the-dribble attack culminating in an All-Star appearance and an All-NBA roster spot. His newly developed offensive potency, combined with his effort-infused defensive sturdiness made him one of the more prolific two-way perimeter players in basketball.
Even in the Finals, where outside of Game 2, Thompson posed as nothing more than an afterthought possessing lacking point totals and shooting percentages that failed to match his stature, his value was uncanny, consistently demanding a defender be attached at his hip. All that defensive attention opened up gaping holes for rim runs, basket cuts and drives to the hoop from his teammates, while his off-ball screening with Curry formed a devastatingly hopeless proposition for the Cavs defense. The evolution of Thompson’s game made him more than a dead-eye shooter and gave him the ability to orchestrate magical moments like this…
Andre Iguodala’s sacrifice to accept the team’s sixth man role off the bench after proving himself at the highest level of basketball has been thoroughly documented. It takes a sort of humility and selfless attitude many NBA players don’t have to consent to a seemingly more diminished role, especially considering Iguodala had proved himself as a skillful all-around All-Star in the past.
Iggy didn’t need a starting spot to prove his worth, but in the Finals he did anyway when given the chance, revealing the athleticism, offensive creativity and defensive acumen that made him such a coveted asset of the Warriors. He rivaled LeBron tit for tat defensively, reducing the always-efficient King to a porous shooting percentage and diminishing his energy reserve with every contest. Offensively, Iguodala’s wizardry as a passer pierced the small crevices in Cleveland’s defensive armor while his determination to push the ball at every opportunity flipped the pace and the series in Golden State’s favor. Finally, his 3-point shooting slayed the Cavs and launched the Bay Area into an uproar as his value crested with the Finals MVP trophy.
There were others as well, who journeyed through the peaks and valleys of their careers to lift their first Larry O’Brien Championship trophy.
Harrison Barnes took Iguodala’s starting spot where his improved 3-point shooting, disrupting length and off-ball activity make key contributions to the Golden State juggernaut. Bogut crystallized his imposing rim protection and high post passing after shrugging off his injury-riddled past. David Lee was relegated to the bench and saw minimal minutes for much of the season, but remained dutiful in his preparation and emerged on the championship stage to deliver some much-needed juice to Golden State’s offense. Leandro Barbosa polished off his role in the modern “pace and space” offensive era after serving on the pioneering Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns teams. Mo Speights worked his back from a late-season calf injury to hoist midrange jumpers that offered yet another element to the offensive attack. Festus Ezeli’s boyhood energy and effort presented the Warriors with an alternative option at center to the plodding Bogut as his spry legs and elongated arms provided critical minutes throughout the postseason, including in the closeout Game 6. Shaun Livingston, whose career once appeared lost due to a devastating knee injury, persevered and fought his way back to relevancy through the grind of rehab before finding the perfect landing spot in Golden State where his size, length and ball handling was utilized as a flexible one-two postup threat.
Then there was the energetic soul, the fighter, the dude who relishes doubt as if it’s necessary to ensure his survival.
Well maybe it is, because after all few expected Draymond Green to be here. Green is why heart in sports matters. Heart can stave off insignificance, heart can keep dreams alive, heart can make you a champion.
Heart gave Green the chance to be here, but it was his brash confidence, developed skills and top notch versatility that made him such an integral part of the team. He became the posterchild for the term, playmaking four, with his ability to catch off pick-and-rolls and operate 4 on 3s with uncanny effectiveness. His quick feet and superior length became the linchpins of his defensive value where he excelled in space and held his own defending every position on the floor. His 3-point shooting matured to the point he suited the part of a stretch four. But at the most basic level, Draymond’s greatest asset will always be the thing beating in his chest.
The 2015 Warriors included so much contrast, so much variance, so much diversity. That’s what made Golden State a flashy extravagance casual NBA fans admired, but also what made them the rough and tough grinders ardent sports fans respect, and in the end it’s what forever united them with a raucous and loyal fan base amid the gleam and glimmer of a championship trophy.