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Explain One Play: Three Years Redeemed

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A look back at a heck of a three year Warriors run: the Innocent 2015, the Arrogant 2016, the Redemptive 2017.

Golden State Warriors Victory Parade And Rally
three years
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This is a personal retrospective on the last three amazing years which, thanks to this Finals win, I can finally enjoy with a peaceful heart. I’ll quote and link to pieces from all across the three years.

June 2014

Three years and two weeks ago, I wrote my first real article for GSOM, Seven Things To Expect In The Steve Kerr Era. It’s a good article, and the ideas that Kerr brought to the team are still the guiding lights for the juggernaut of today.

What I find extra charming is to read the comments. It’s a nice slice of the confusion and optimism of that summer of 2014. I was personally confused about why Mark Jackson was fired. I thought he did a great job of motivating the team, and sure the offense was kind of stagnant, but he got them to really buy into defense. I didn’t know at the time all the stuff about Jackson alienating all his assistants and management, etc.

We were really stressed and divided about the Kevin Love - Klay Thompson non-trade. Read for instance NBA trade rumor: Have the Golden State Warriors made a mistake by not doing all that they could to get Kevin Love? Marcus Thompson expressed the very common view at the time that you had to trade Klay for one of “the best 15 players in the NBA”. The GSOM poll “Have the Warriors made a mistake by not doing everything they could to get Kevin Love?” had answers of 33% Yes, 37% No, 20% Too Soon To Tell, and 9% I JUST WANT THIS TO BE OVER!

I wrote at the time:

what would change your mind?

I was for the Love trade, but I really don’t think it’s a slam dunk. It worked out great in NBA2K13, but with real people…? I’m pretty glad to stop thinking about it after this thread, and move on to the actual Warriors season.

But maybe to bring a new side out of the conversation, what in 2014-15 could change your mind about the Love trade? For me, I would agree that the Love trade was correct to PASS on if some (not all) of the following happened:

- if the Ws make the Finals,

- if the Ws became a Top 5 offense and Top 5 defense

- if the Ws had no major injuries (I would credit partly to depth)

- if Klay improved his numbers across the board (Off and Def) and became more clearly max-worthy

- if the Ws find good counters to Curry getting blitzed

- if Love had attitude issues (arguing w coach, conflict w LBJ, stat-stuffing)

- if Love had a bad year defensively

- if Love clearly had a bad year playing pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop

That gives you a sense for what passed for the top of what was reasonably imaginable. Klay Thompson wasn’t even clearly an All-Star then, or max-worthy. Draymond Green wasn’t close to starting.

2014-2015: A New Hope

So it was just incredible that basically all of these did come to pass. I really did not think the W’s would make the Finals. Everyone assumed the Spurs were still the team to beat (read the replies to my comment). I was going to be happy with 55 wins and an improving team, with Klay and Steph taking the next step, that Draymond kid getting more minutes and developing a jump shot, and beating those damned Clippers.

So somehow, the plucky Warriors snuck up on everyone and ripped off one of the all-time great NBA regular seasons. It was The innocent Season. But it felt too much, too soon, and surely the Spurs would take them out. But then the Spurs were upset and the Warriors kept sneaking forward, and despite twice going down 2-1, stormed back to beat the injured super-team Cavaliers to win it all. I watched the last seconds with my kids and gave them hugs and said, “We need to appreciate this now, because it could be 40 years until the next one.”

June 2015

And then the petty and bad takes started rolling in. Steph Curry wasn’t the real MVP, he robbed James Harden. The freaking Players Union held an alternate awards show just to snub Curry and give the MVP to Harden.

And the team takes. The Warriors just got lucky to miss the Spurs. To miss the Clippers. Jump shooting team got lucky because the Cavs were injured.

So that month, I wrote an annoyed article, Do the Warriors deserve this championship? which began

OF COURSE THEY DO.

The Golden State Warriors were the best team over the whole year and had a historically great regular season and then, when all is said and done, got through the playoffs pretty quickly against four teams each led by a healthy member of the All-NBA First Team. Were there some hypothetical matchups that were bad for them? Yes — Spurs, Clippers, full strength Cavaliers. But EVERY championship team has luck, even those Michael Jordan Bulls teams had bad matchups.

But let's say you think the W's don't 'deserve' a championship because each team the W's beat this year had injuries, or because they got a beneficial playoff bracket. So actually the Cavs were the deserving champs, right? Well, hold on — the Cavs played a Hawks team destroyed by injuries from Matthew Dellavadova and NYPD, a Bulls team with a gimpy Derrick Rose, and a scrappy bad Celtics team.

And none of the other 2015 teams beat anyone worthwhile. So NOBODY this year deserves the title.

And then I went through the previous 40 NBA champions to show they got lucky as well, ending with this:

So, actually, when you go through the record, the last legitimate champion was the 1975 Warriors. So, let's award the championship to them, and have the 2015 Warriors accept the trophy as their representatives.

Anyway, to be honest, who cares whether people think the Warriors got lucky. When the Warriors have multiple modern NBA championships, we can mope about how some of them were too easy. Until then,

WE BE CHAMPIONSHIP!

2015-2016: The Empire Strike Back

So the 15-16 season began with the super-team Cavaliers, not the lucky, fluke, wimpy Warriors, as the favorites for the title. I personally was hoping for GSW growth, 60 wins and getting back to the Finals. So I agreed to write one little piece (the Explain One Plays) for every win.

And so the Warriors, thoroughly disrespected, kicked off The Arrogant Season. They whipped off the record 24-0 start, despite losing Steve Kerr. Steph Curry came back stronger and exploded for the greatest offensive season in history, the Unending Heat Check season. 73 wins. All to be derailed when Curry hit sweat in Houston. It was a season to be proud of and also frustrated by.

June 2016

But by the Finals, the Warriors had fallen out of fashion and amazing waves of ignorant or malevolent takes began. The 3-1 jokes were inescapable in their casual cruelty. The jokes made a mockery of one of the great playoffs the NBA has ever seen, both crapping on the great GSW-OKC series and the Finals.

Most frustrating of all was the common insistence that Curry wasn’t injured, which was ridiculous then, and looks incompetent after the 2017 Finals. As early as his first game back, Explain One Play: Stephen Curry's "I'm Back" Game (POR Game 4), I wrote that he was only 80%, and consistently talked about his injury limitations, most thoroughly in Explain One Play: Stephen Curry is not going home yet (OKC Game 5) which was about how he was specifically limited and how he was compensating for his injuries.

I wrote a frustrated piece, which I think stands up quite well. Better than most of the poor and bad faith takes of the time. From Explain One Playoffs: (Near) Unkillable Warriors Almost Overcome Curry’s Injury:

Another View of the Playoffs

In short, the Warriors’ leader and hero and the best offensive player we’ve seen in many years (possibly ever) got seriously injured right away. After that, it was a series of incredible comebacks and clutch performances and LUCK and a gusty comeback which got the Warriors all the way to within seconds of a repeat title, stopped by great performances by an all-time great player and an excellent sidekick.

Curry’s Injury(s)

Let’s not mess around. Curry was injured and limited. That’s not a debate. It’s admirable for Curry to not mention it and avoid crapping on the Cavs’ parade and making excuses. But I’m not Curry, I can say the obvious truth. I mean, do you really think Tristan Thompson became a shut down defender on Curry after the 2015 model of Curry tortured him in the Finals? That healthy Curry couldn’t get a shot off against Kevin Love?

I’m focusing of course on the MCL sprain, but he also lost time due to the ankle and also suffered from the "tennis ball" elbow from stage diving into an uncooperative courtside club.

I loved Hugo’s tweet from Game 7 night:

I saw Empire Strikes Back in the theater on release and I won’t forget the howl of disbelief that the movie ended as it did, in the pit of despair. We couldn’t believe we’d have to live with the bad guys winning for 3 years before the next movie came out. But unlike with the Warriors, we didn’t have national media calling the Rebels chokers or claiming Luke wasn’t injured after his hand was cut off.

And as I wrote last E1P:

But I was really struck by this quote from Shaun Livingston right after Game 7:

And so the Warriors grew up. No complaints that the Cavs were lucky. No talk of Curry’s obvious injury, and Curry deflected when directly asked about the knee (but his skipping the Olympics spoke volumes to anyone caring to pay attention). They carried themselves with an icy professionalism. Then the shock consolation prize of a Durant came, in the middle of the worst blizzard of 3-1 jokes.

2016-2017. The Return Of The Jedi

And with the arrival of Kevin Durant began The Revenge Season. The most simple-minded NBA commentators complained about how boring it was, and that the Warriors were too good, etc. Good. The NBA got fantastic close playoffs last year, and they turned it into a joke and bullying. The NBA doesn’t deserve interesting, because it can’t handle interesting. People bored by the Warriors are exactly the people who only value winning rings and finding the next group of losers to gang up against.

And it was an interesting season, to see how Kevin Durant would blend with the Warriors. There were significant bumps, starting with the opening night disintegration, to Christmas Day (where Curry learned to be aggressive) to the Grizzlies Meltdown (where Durant learned to not go it alone). While Curry worked his way back into shape, we worried about his lingering inability to hit logo shots and off-the-dribble threes. We worried about how Durant would experience a vicious homecoming and saw his teammates put the cupcake insults literally on their backs. The scary Durant injury and road trip from Hades (which kicked off Toaster Season, when Curry remembered how to dominate games).

June 2017

The third Star Wars movie was originally titled Revenge of the Jedi. The name was changed to Return of the Jedi because Lucas decided that Revenge was not a Jedi value.

I had expected that when the Finals ended, I would feel a kind of cackling vengeance for all the abuse the Warriors fans have taken this last year. That I would feel that dark energy of meeting abuse with abuse. And strangely, I did not. Instead I have felt a lasting happiness and contentedness, and I felt that I could reclaim memory and pride over all of the last three years.

Until then, because of the toxic environment, I couldn’t feel appropriate pride in 14-15 and 15-16. And in fact, I had never actually watched the broadcasts of 2016 Games 5, 6 and 7! Game 6 I saw out of the corner of my eye at a school event, Games 5 and 7 I had the privilege (and extreme pain) to attend. So when I started to write breakdowns of the 2017 Finals, I naturally needed to analyze film, and I finally forced myself for the first time to watched the TV versions of those games. Reclaimed memory.

And what a satisfying 2017 Finals it was. It seemed to shine a purifying light on almost every foolish, simple-minded or wicked take.

2016 Stephen Curry wasn’t injured? No one could ignore how devastatingly agile and accurate 2017 Curry was with a year to recover.

Kevin Durant is just a coat-tail rider? He blossoms into a fantastic two-way player and gets Finals MVP. Andre Iguodala is useless? He leads the team in Finals plus-minus.

Mike Brown is an idiot? He got to head coach a key playoff win against the team that fired him.

There were so many absurdly on-the-nose exorcisms of key events from 2016.

  • 2016 LeBron James blocks Andre Iguodala? 2017 Iguodala gets the Game 3 saving block/strip on LeBron.
  • 2016 Kyrie Irving bombs in the go-ahead 3 for The Shot? 2017 Durant bombs in a series-stealing 3 for The Pull-up.
  • 2016 Kyrie drops the step-back 3 series winner over Steph? Curry dropped the 2017 series-sealing step-back 3 in Kyrie’s face.
  • 2016 Curry got shut down by Love and Thompson? Repeatedly 2017 Curry treated them as traffic cones.
  • 2016 LeBron blocks Curry and stares him down? 2017 Curry puts moves on LeBron and gets him disco dancing in multiple memes.
  • 2016 LeBron provokes Draymond by standing over him and baiting a crotch shot? 2017 Iman Shumpert provokes Zaza Pachulia by standing over him and hooking a crotch shot. And it just looks pathetic.
  • 2016 Curry throws and loses his mouthguard in outrage? 2017 Curry squats and loses his mouthguard in joy from Durant’s The Shot.
  • 2016 Strength in Numbers young Festus Ezeli and old man Anderson Varejao blow the deciding game lead? 2017 Strength in Numbers young Patrick McCaw and old man David West keep the lead and rest the stars.
  • 2016 Andre Iguodala is broken down and injured by the end? 2017 Iguodala finishes with five massive dunks.
  • 2016 Andrew Bogut gets injured and damages the Warriors chances? 2017 Bogut gets injured and doesn’t help the Cavs.
  • 2016 Warriors blow a 3-1 lead? 2017 Warriors seal the deal with a 3-1 lead.

Final Thoughts

Redemption. Closure. The 3-1 jokes just seem sad now. 15-16 seems like a painful but important growing experience with incredible moments along the way. This Finals has helped me to finally enjoy 14-15 and 15-16.

And for me personally, I can look back at the Explain One Plays from 15-16 without a shadow hanging over them. There are an awful lot of them, and you know what, they’re pretty good! Not bad for thoughts gunned out the night after games. I started writing at GSOM because I liked the community and I wanted a frame for my thinking about Warriors basketball with you all. But they also serve as a cool kind of archive of the last three seasons. You can see them all indexed at The Explain One Play Mega-Index, where they are sortable and searchable by date, play, player, title and opponent.

They say about players who win a ring that “they can never take that away from you”. Well, now I feel the same way about this incredible three-year run. No matter what ill fortune comes in the basketball future, finally I can look back at this run to see what happens when talent, dedication, teamwork and selflessness combine in a magical way.

They can never take that away from us now. Thanks for sharing the journey with me.