Warriors have chance to cement legacy with sweep of Cavaliers
NBA.com Global on Jun 09, 2018 08:14 AM
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry reacts during the second half of Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
CLEVELAND - JaVale McGee chuckled at the thought of his new normal.
He’s already a champion and is playing on an All-Star studded Golden State Warriors team. Yet here he sits, four quarters away from back-to-back titles and membership in a historical club he never imagined possible earlier in his journeyman career.
But playing with stars like two-time Kia MVP Stephen Curry, former Kia MVP and reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is a game-changer -- not only for Warriors' stars, but also for the role players going along for the ride.
“I don’t think you can comprehend what we’re doing right now until it’s over,” McGee said, “until five, 10 years later when you sit back and realize, ‘wow, we really did our thing.’ Because when you’re in it, I’m telling you, it’s a whole different experience. Me coming from different teams and different organizations, I know how it really is. It’s low-key depressing when you’re not winning. So the things we get to do here, that we’re doing here, it’s amazing.
“I know how glamorous it looks but I don’t think people understand the humble nature of these superstars. I feel like people think they just wake up, show up to the games and hit 30-footers and do amazing things without a realizing that is preparation, that’s dedication before and after practice and countless other times when the bright lights aren’t on you, those rare times when no one is watching. It’s serious.”
The Warriors are just as serious about chasing their opportunity to solidify their place in NBA history with a rare sweep in Game 4 of The Finals on Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Only eight times in NBA history has there been a four-game wipeout to finish the season, the last time coming in 2007 when the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs did the honors here against LeBron James and Cavs during his first stint (and first career Finals run) with the franchise.
Avoiding that nasty bit of his history for a second time will require yeoman’s work from James and his current crew against a Warriors team that ranks among the NBA's best and most accomplished championship squads ever.
Win a third title in four years and they have to be mentioned with the greatest teams of the modern era … the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers, the original "Big 3" Boston Celtics, "The Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons, Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, the "Clutch City" Houston Rockets, the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers, the Duncan-era Spurs and the "Miami Heatles" (led by James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade).
The Warriors are that good, that accomplished. Save for a Green miscue two years ago, they could be four quarters away from completing an unprecedented four-peat.
It took Cleveland’s historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit in 2016 to interrupt the Warriors’ current run of greatness.
No team in league history has rebounded from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series -- 131 teams have tried and 131 have failed.
And none of those previous teams have had to deal with a group like these Warriors.
They were champions in 2015 with their organic group led by Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala. In 2015-16, they came close to repeating after setting the NBA record for the best regular season in history with 73 wins.
They’ve been out of this world since Durant joined them, going 16-1 in the 2017 playoffs and were undefeated at Oracle Arena en route to this group's second title. And now here they are, on the cusp of defending that title and establishing themselves as the signature team of this era and one of the truly great groups of all-time.
James has dealt with them four straight years and knows them better than anyone. He’s got an appreciation for what it means to battle them, win or lose, for the ultimate prize.
“Obviously, from a talent perspective, if you're looking at Golden State from their top five best players to our top five players, you would say they're stacked better than us," James said. “Let's just speak truth. Kevin Durant. You've got two guys with MVPs on their team. And then you've got a guy in Klay who could easily be on a team and carry a team, score 40 in a quarter before. And then you have Draymond, who is arguably one of the best defenders and minds we have in our game. So you have that crew.
“Then you add on a Finals MVP coming off the bench, a number one pick in Livingston and an All-Star in David West and whatever the case may be. So they have a lot of talent. We have a lot of talent as well. We've been in a position where we could win two out of these three games … when you're playing [them], like I stated last night, the room for error versus a team like this is slim to none. And I think I said last night it's like playing the Patriots. It's like playing San Antonio. The room for error is slim to none. When you make mistakes they make you pay, because they're already more talented than you are but they also have the minds behind it, too, and they also have the championship DNA.
The collective basketball IQ, an underrated mental and physical toughness and determination along with rock-solid chemistry among the core group has allowed for additions and subtractions without any disturbance of the collective peace.
Durant’s fit was seamless, an unfair advantage if you ask anyone not bathed in Warriors’ blue and gold, for a team that didn’t need the boost.
“I think No. 1, you really learn where a guy’s IQ is,”Green, the fire-breathing, emotional leader of this bunch said of how this crew has managed the egos of a new core that fuels this machine.
“And then you kind of adjust to that. IQ isn’t gonna be everyone’s strength. You look at LeBron, he’s probably one of the smartest players to ever play the game. You can’t say that about the rest of the Cavs team. He’s special in that aspect. But it’s on him to make sure what he does rubs off on them, and he puts them in the right spots. And he do that.
“As far as we go, when you look at guys having a high IQ on our team, it’s our job to make sure we’re doing whatever we can to help other guys who may not be as strong in that area,”Green continued.“I think that all comes from the system we play in. The culture that we’ve built. You don’t want to be the short thumb sticking out.I think it’s one of the most underrated things when you’re talking about the success that we’ve had. Because you can’t really measure it.”
Kerr has done his best to refrain from putting his team in a box. Why confine them to a predetermined space now, while they are in the midst of crafting their own narrative and carving out their own place among the game’s greatest teams?
Playing on a championship teams with both the Bulls and Spurs gives Kerr a perspective few people on the planet have of teams of this ilk.
So when he speaks glowingly of his team, their accomplishments and the era they are dominating, it’s not just obligatory praise.
The reverent tone is genuine and appreciative of the sacrifice and struggle required to get here.
“It really is shocking when you see the talent,”Kerr said.“I was telling our staff after the game last night: I played in five Finals; I don't think I ever saw anybody make a 30-foot shot in the middle of the game, much less four of them, which K.D. did last night, I believe, and which Steph did multiple times the game before, which LeBron did multiple times in Game 1.
“The talent level right now I think is at an all-time high in the league. It's very different. You don't have the aircraft carriers, you don't have Shaq and Patrick Ewing and Hakeem [Olajuwon]. But the skill level on the perimeter is so shocking. Sometimes I try to picture myself playing in The Finals now. Twenty years ago, I survived. It was tough, but I survived. I could find guys to guard. I can only imagine right now. LeBron would be pointing right at me saying, Come on up. We're going to set a screen with you.
“It's gotten so tough. You have to have so much versatility and size and speed and strength to be able to survive on the floor because of this incredible skill level. Because these guys can make shots from 30, 35 feet without blinking. Now you've got to go out there and pick them up. Now they're driving by you. And they've got four three-point shooters in many cases, but usually at least two three- point shooters. Sometimes three or four surrounding them. So guarding and playing defense today is the most difficult it's ever been.”
That might be what makes this season so sweet for the players.
Knowing what they had to grind through to get here, the regular-season fatigue, the challenge from Houston, the 3-2 deficit in the conference finals and that Game 7 on the Rockets’ home floor.
You go through all of that and you are right back here, knocking on the door of history being in The Finals for a fourth straight year.
“At the end of every season and run that we've had, there is always an appreciation for things you learn, things you've gone through,” Curry said. “Going into this season, I don't think anybody could have guessed or predicted the ups and downs and the roller coaster we've been on.
“So, definitely a different year, just overall, personally with injuries, as a team with dealing with injuries, dealing with the kind of expectations that have been placed on us from the outside and the noise around us as a team. Trying to understand that throughout the regular season we had to continue to get better, whether that was a slow process or not, and understand when the playoffs came around that probably wouldn't go 16-1 to win a championship. It's probably going to be a lot harder because teams are keying in on us and shifting their lineups and stuff like that. That's been how it's been.
“I think for us to do what we did in the Conference Finals and win a Game 7 on the road, we had never done that before. And now to be one game away, it's been a crazy ride. So now we've just got to finish the job. I think we're all excited about that opportunity.”
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