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The NBA is a marathon, not a sprint

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‘Strength in Numbers’ is at the core of the Warriors success.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors
#DubNation’s secret weapon.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors have advanced to their fourth straight NBA Finals, a truly rare achievement in the pantheon of legendary NBA teams.

But rather than celebrate another installment of one of the best NBA rivalries of all time, pitting one of the greatest players ever against one of the greatest teams ever, there are many NBA fans swimming in a sea of salt.

We are of course, living in an age of rage, where rationalism and objectivity no longer apply, and the opinion of those that shout loudest is what is heard and valued most. It’s no wonder these Warriors, who have ‘Weaponized Joy’, trigger so much hate.

Injuries suck

Chief among the accusations thrown at these Warriors is the supposedly easy path they have been thrown by injuries to key opponents at different points of this run (though if you start quoting Jusuf Nurkic, you lose all credibility).

There’s no doubt the loss of Chris Paul came at the worst time for the Rockets and had a big effect on their game plan. At the same time it’s very probable that the Warriors would not have lost both Games 4 and 5 had Andre Iguodala been playing.

You can look back at the 2015 NBA Finals where Kyrie Irving went down, but then you also have to consider the 2016 NBA Finals where Steph Curry was hampered by injury, Andrew Bogut went down in Game 5 and Iguodala’s back crucially gave out in Game 6.

One thing all NBA fans can agree on is that injuries suck.

Endurance matters

But here’s the thing. Winning an NBA title is hard. It’s really, really hard. Warriors fans have seen the highest highs and the lowest lows over the last few years.

It is true that you can only beat those who are in front of you. But it’s also true that the schedule is always in front of you until the bitter end.

To win a title you have to play over 100 games of NBA basketball. It is an intensity filled, grueling schedule that no normal human being could take. That’s why LeBron James’ run of eight straight NBA Finals is such an incredible feat.

It’s why the Warriors were among the first NBA teams to invest in technology to track player fatigue. It’s why they brought in Chelsea Lane, one of the top medical and physical performance experts in the sports world. There’s no doubt you need luck to stay the course, but as the old saying goes you make your own luck.

But more than luck, in the end, you need unbelievable levels of emotional and physical stamina to reach the mountain top.

‘Strength in Numbers’ is the secret weapon

Steve Kerr has reached that mountain top many times, on two of the NBA’s greatest dynasties. And his experiences have shaped how he goes about the task he is entrusted with.

He knows that at some point in the season every player is going to be called upon. He knows that everyone on the roster needs to stay ready. And he knows that to perform in the most crucial moments of the season, the stars need to be as fresh as they can be.

To win an NBA title, you can’t ride a six or seven man rotation 40 minutes a night. In the end they will break down.

It’s even more important when you’re a team that shoots a lot of threes. The Warriors have been at the forefront of this three point shooting revolution. They were arguably the first ‘jump shooting team’ to win an NBA title.

Kerr’s system is designed to be so much more than that. Yes, the three pointer is a wonderful weapon, especially when you have two of the greatest shooters of all time in Curry and Klay Thompson.

But the Warriors don’t just chuck them up. They are a forensic, sophisticated machine that exploits whatever gap the defense leaves. They use the threat of the three to open up easy buckets off a whirlwind of ball and player movement.

It also means everyone stays involved so if an unfortunate injury does happen they are ready to step in. Kevon Looney’s ascension from roster afterthought to indispensable starter in the Western Conference Finals, and Kerr’s willingness to trust Jordan Bell to deliver in two consecutive elimination games, are classic examples of this strategy working.

And crucially it means that if tired legs strike late in a series you don’t end up shooting 7-44 from deep in a crucial Game 7.

You can keep your asterisk

It’s no accident that the Warriors rested players all season long, and ultimately outlasted the Houston Rockets. They learned their lesson in 2016.

Their ‘Strength in Numbers’ slogan is not just some vacuous marketing push; it is in fact an integral part of their success.

In the end the NBA is a marathon, not a sprint. That’s why they give a big trophy and a load of gaudy jewelry to the last team standing.

Four more wins and the Warriors can claim their rightful place in NBA history.