This ragtag group of guys pictured below just won a berth in the NBA Finals. You can’t blame them for looking as utterly exhausted and depleted as they do in this photo:
Just kidding! The Warriors are off to their third consecutive NBA Finals, becoming the first team to go 12–0 through three rounds with a historically great point differential. The rubber match against Cleveland and a chance to avenge their failure to convert a 3–1 series lead (likely) awaits. While this outcome may feel like the most inevitable of events, Gregg Popovich is here to remind us that their achievements thus far are more than that. As he said, “They deserve a lot more credit than ‘they are talented and are supposed to win.’ That is disrespectful of them.”
He knows first hand just how hard it is to get back to the Finals after a devastating loss to LeBron James, and he also knows the challenges of evolving a team that already has three top talents. The latter was, obviously, the main question that loomed over Golden State at the beginning of the season: How would the Warriors adapt to an overhauled roster and who would sacrifice touches? The team downplays the supposed quandaries it faces on offense as much as possible, often pivoting the conversation. Ask them, and they credit their defense — so much and so often that Doris Burke had to acknowledge their defense as a verbal kowtow before pressing Kevin Durant about his team’s offensive explosion.
It’s a talking point so firm that one can’t help but wonder if it’s a diversionary tactic, a way to prevent an endless conversation about how to play Steph Curry and Kevin Durant together. Surely they were tired of it by the end of training camp. For Durant, coming off of eight seasons with Russell Westbrook, it wasn’t exactly a new question, while it was a different premise for Curry, who had settled in nicely as the brighter star of the Splash Brothers duo. But it was a legitimate question, first espoused by small but noticeable declines in Curry’s stats in the first half of the season, then reinforced by whispers about locker room divides.
Yet these Warriors are a stoic group who refuse to give in to the narrative about them. Just as their Eastern Conference foes have sharpened their game, they have mastered how to play their two stars together. Durant and Curry have settled into a comfortable coexistence wherein they take turns dismantling the opponent. In Game 4, Curry went off for 36 with a few impossible layups, while Kevin Durant added 29 and a ridiculous double-block. They don’t need to play together as much as they need to play side-by-side. Steph can take Quarters 1 and 3; Kevin can have 2 and 4. Sharing the ball means sharing the game; each can go off, but they can’t try to do it at the same time. Like so much of the Warriors success, it may seem obvious or preordained, but they mastered something more difficult: alternating within a single game.
Look again at the photo up top. That’s a group of guys about to get nine days of rest. That should be enough time for Matt Barnes to visit DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles, for Andre Iguodala’s knee to recover, for Klay Thompson to find his 3-point shot, and for Steph and Kevin to live a happily interconnected existence. That has proved to be more than enough so far.