As the Golden State Warrior’s licked their wounds and massaged their bruised egos, having surrendered the NBA title to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was a sense that nobody within the organisation could quite believe what had happened. This was a team who have made playing basketball look so easy, so fun and so entertaining for most of the past two years. Yet since the start of the Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, these Warriors finally started to look mortal.
The carelessness that had caused regular season losses to lowly teams such as the Lakers, Timberwolves and Nuggets, but had been absent whenever the Warriors played other top teams, began to creep in to their game. The carefree ball movement that had been enthralling throughout the regular season started to look self destructive, as the long arms of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams crowded passing lanes and created turnovers. This worrying trend was emphasised by Curry’s decision to throw a no look behind the back pass with the scores tied in game 7 of the finals. The pass flew wide of the mark and out of bounds and the Warriors championship hopes seemed to evaporate with it.
It would be easy to simply analyse that play on arrogance or over confidence on the Warrior’s part. However, I think there is a more complex reason for Curry’s decision. Throughout games 5, 6 & 7 the Warriors had gone away from what had made them so great. They were playing much more isolation ball, Curry was over dribbling, Klay Thompson was forcing shots and Harrison Barnes just kept missing. This was more evident than ever when the Warriors went scoreless for the last 4 and a half minutes of game 7. What Curry was trying to do, in my opinion, was try and help his team rediscover their identity, that swagger that had kept opposing defences off balance all season. There was no doubt that the Warriors needed to change something, their offence had become stagnant and lacked movement. In hindsight it is easy to say that Curry made the wrong decision, but 20/20 hindsight never won an NBA championship. What the Warriors need to do is work out why they got away from their core principals late in the season. Was it fatigue and injuries or have teams started to work out how to play against their system.
This breakdown of their historic collapse will be painful for all involved but it is crucial if the Warriors want to come back strong next season. Along with this they have some key personnel decisions to make. Harrison Barnes is a free agent and his ice cold performance in the finals will have the Warriors front office questioning wether or not to retain him. Key role players Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala look to be ageing rapidly and there are serious questions to address at the centre position with neither Festus Ezeli or Anderson Varejão looking up to the part. On top of all this there is the impending free agency of Kevin Durant. Should the Warriors pursue another superstar? Or build around Thompson, Curry and Green with smart role players in the ilk of Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa?
It is a quirk of American Sports that in each of the 4 major sports leagues (the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA) the teams with the best regular season record in the history of each sport have all failed to win the title. The 1906 Chicago Cubs, 2007 New England Patriots, 1996 Detroit Red Wings and now the 2016 Golden State Warriors have all failed to turn their regular season dominance into a championship. So how will these Warriors be remembered as the dominant regular season team they were or as the team that collapsed in the finals?
I sincerely hope they are remembered as the great team they are. They were such a joy to watch for most of the season, providing us with an engaging style of basketball that will attract fans from all over the globe. Pundits and past players will be quick to try and claim that Golden States failure is proof that their style of basketball doesn’t work, that a jump shooting team cannot win consistently in the league. This does the Warriors such a disservice they are so much more than just a jump shooting team. They are a team who play great defence, move the ball fantastically and who also happen to take, and make a lot of jump shots. Their style is here to stay.