The Warriors didn’t face much adversity in the regular season as they cake-walked to an NBA record 73 victories. But the road to a second straight NBA Finals was very bumpy, and the Warriors proved their championship mettle by overcoming everything that hit them.
It started with Stephen Curry’s ankle and knee injuries that kept him out of games in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but Golden State had more than enough to beat the Rockets and Blazers. That was nothing compared to what the Thunder had in store for the defending NBA champions.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pushed the Thunder to a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference finals. A few more makes, or better decision making, or a couple of stops on Klay Thompson in Game 6 and the Thunder might have knocked out the Warriors.
In Game 7, on the Warriors’ home court, the Thunder started fast and built a 13-point first-half lead. But OKC melted down and the Warriors closed out like champions, winning the epic series with a 96-88 victory Monday night, becoming just the 10th team to advance after facing a 3-1 deficit.
“We survived by the skin of our teeth,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Draymond Green called it “by far the largest amount of adversity we had to overcome” but “no one ever had any doubt that we could get this done.”
The NBA Finals will be a rematch of last year’s championship series that the Warriors won in six games, against the Cavaliers. LeBron James had little help with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both sidelined last year. This time, the Cavaliers are healthy. So it should be as competitive a series as the Western Conference finals were.
“The way this series went, from Game 1 to Game 7, we’re ready for anything,” Curry said.
Too bad it didn’t go to overtime, but the Warriors wouldn’t let that happen. Once they seized control of the game, they didn’t relinquish it.
Curry was unstoppable in the fourth quarter and finished with 36 points. Thompson, who scored 19 in the fourth quarter of Game 6, got hot at the right time in Game 7. The Splash Brothers made the Thunder crash. But it was much more than that.
“It hurts losing, especially being up 3 games to 1,” Durant said. “Everybody fought hard every single minute they were on the court. It sucks to lose. It sucks, but it was tough. It was a tough series.”
The Warriors showed poise with their season hanging in the balance each of the last three games. On the other side, the Thunder fell apart in Games 6 and 7.
The “choke” word will be thrown around, because that’s what happens in sports, especially in situations such as this. But the bottom line is the Warriors are the better team, period. They have more talent, depth and versatility, and their best players rose to the challenge with the season and series on the line.
Durant and Westbrook are elite players. But they didn’t take over games 6 and 7 the way the Warriors’ stars did.
Curry, the two-time MVP, was 13-for-24 from the field, including 7-for-12 from three-point range. After starting 0-for-7, Thompson scored 21 points, and hit 6 of 11 from deep, many with a hand in his face. But his quick release is as deadly as Curry’s – as Thompson showed in that humongous fourth quarter two nights earlier
“Game 6 was kind of magical,” Kerr said. “What Klay did that night, basically putting us on his shoulders, allowed us to have this moment.”
Durant played well and unselfishly. He shot 10-for-19 and scored 27 points, but in a series-deciding game, he needed to be more aggressive and take more shots. This was a night Durant should have shot 25 times or more.
Westbrook was 7-for-21 with 19 points. He took some ill-advised attempts when a better decision could have extended the first-half lead.
And now the questions about Durant’s future begin. They did already during his post-game press conference.
Durant will be a free agent and will have just about every team with money gauging his interest, including the Knicks and Nets.
He’s going to want to play for a proven team with a chance to win it all, so the Spurs, Warriors and Heat are teams he’s more likely to join if he left Oklahoma City. But that may not be the plan. Durant could sign a short-team deal and give it another try with Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and emerging Steven Adams.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Durant said. “I’m just embracing my teammates and reflecting on the season. I’ll think about that stuff I don’t know when but we just lost an hour ago, 30 minutes ago so I don’t know.”
Curry, meanwhile, is embracing the moment and what the Warriors have accomplished. If they win it all again, they have the Thunder to thank for making them stronger. Golden State was pushed to the brink, but the champs pushed back and moved forward. The Thunder will probably need some time before it can move forward.