Road to the 2019 Finals: Championship DNA
Just like the last four previous seasons, the Golden State Warriors will be participating in the NBA Finals. Unlike those previous years, the Warriors took a long and winding road to get to this point. Adversity and attrition rained down on them like a furious hurricane, and a lot of NBA fans and media pundits loved every second of it. There’s a perception that the Warriors dynasty is mostly built on luck. During their first championship run, many key point guards were injured before they played. In that year’s finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers were short two all-stars. In their second championship run, Kawhi Leonard was injured after the Zaza Pachulia intentionally or unintentionally slid his foot under his landing space. Last season, Chris Paul went down with an injury after the Houston Rockets went up 3-2 in their series. The narrative was out there. Not only did the Warriors have an embarrassment of talent riches; but they always seemed to get the breaks. Well, that all changed this year.
For once, the so-called injury gods frowned on the Warriors. During their first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, DeMarcus Cousins went down with a quad injury. In a crucial game five in the next round, Kevin Durant went down with a non-contact calf injury. These injuries were supposed to be the death of the Warriors dynasty. After all, they were allegedly vulnerable all season long. Durant was playing the best basketball of his career and Steph Curry was playing some of his worst basketball. Fans and media members gathered around to read the last rights of the Golden State dynasty. The only problem is, no one gave the Warriors the memo that they were supposed to stay down. For a nearly a full calendar year, the Warriors had to hear from detractors that they would’ve lost last season against the Rockets had Chris Paul been healthy. Now, the shoe was on the other foot. Without KD, the Warriors were surely doomed to fall. That was until the Splash Brothers woke from their slumber. Klay Thompson kept the Warriors in the first half of game six while Curry couldn’t buy a bucket. Then in the second half, Curry detonated to the tune of 33 points and multiple clutch daggers. The healthy Rockets and their fans were left despondent as they were sent fishing by the wounded Warriors. In the next round, the Portland Trailblazers were supposed to provide an adequate challenge to the dynasty. After all, Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum were just as good as the Splash Brothers. Or so we thought. The Blazers were swept in four games the defending champions once again answered the challenge.
The 2019 Warriors have taught us many lessons during their run to their fifth straight NBA Finals. The first lesson is to cease the disrespect of Steph Curry. While he was down, NBA Twitter celebrated his shortcomings while claiming Curry was always overrated. Those same detractors are currently nowhere to be found. The next lesson was to take the Warriors ‘Strength in Numbers’ moniker seriously. Before injuries ravaged the starting lineup, Steve Kerr mainly relied on the ‘Hamptons Five’ lineup. Fortunately for them, their reserves have bought into the team’s culture and stayed ready for high stakes moments. Guys like Shaun Livingston, Quinn Cook, Alfonzo McKinnie, Kevon Looney, Damian Jones, and Jordan Bell all appeared seemingly out of thin air to aid the Warriors when it mattered most. The third lesson is the importance of a system. Far too often, fans and the media like to get caught up in isolation hero ball antics. The Warriors went back to their proven system that involves high IQ movement of the ball and of their players. In this system, Curry and Thompson are in constant motion confusing the opposing defense. Draymond Green is able to utilize all of his tools to torment defenses. The supporting cast is given opportunities to shine as well.
The most important lesson the Warriors taught us goes back to 1995. The Rockets were the reigning champions at that time and had to overcome constant adversity en route to another championship. At times, it looked like they were doomed to be eliminated or overpowered by another team. Through it all, the Rockets ended up successfully defending their crown. Their Head Coach Rudy Tomjanovich uttered the now famous phrase: “Never underestimate the heart of a champion”. Yes, we should never again underestimate the heart of a champion. This is nothing new for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve been here before as favorites and as underdogs. They have seen just about every scenario good or bad during their dynastic run atop the NBA. And despite knowing that, people still have the nerve to doubt? They’ve been battle tested in the crucible of playoff competition and have the rings and the scars to prove it. So the next time you hear someone criticize the Golden State Warriors, kindly remind that person what’s in their DNA. Remind them to respect the heart of a champion and to never count them out until they’re actually done.