Golden State Warriors Sailing into Uncharted Waters

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMay 16, 2015

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When the Golden State Warriors step onto Oracle Arena's hardwood to kick off the Western Conference Finals against either the Los Angeles Clippers or Houston Rockets, don't ask them to act like they've been there before. 

In their noisy home? Sure, they've played there plenty of times, and they've usually emerged victorious, dropping only two games during the regular season (to the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls) and one during the playoffs (to the Memphis Grizzlies).

On this stage? Not at all, as advancing this deep into the postseason is a completely new experience for nearly everyone involved. A 108-95 victory over the Grizz in Game 6 thrust them into what's essentially an entirely new round for this organization.

The Larry O'Brien Trophy remains the holy grail for a team that won 67 games during the regular season, earned the No. 1 seed in the NBA's tougher half and then lost only two contests through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But if any squad deserves to sit back and enjoy its latest accomplishment, it's this one—as long as everyone is done celebrating and ready to play when the series begins.

First, it's worth noting that until recently, this was unquestionably a tortured franchise. 

Since Latrell Sprewell's Dubs lost in the first round of the 1994 playoffs, Golden State has only played more than the minimum number of games in a season on four occasions. In 2007, Baron Davis led the historic upset of the Dallas Mavericks, but the Utah Jazz easily disposed of the team in the next round. Then there was another drought, though it would only last five seasons this time around. 

Now, the Warriors have made the playoffs each of the last three seasons, and this is the deepest they've gone in a long while. How they got here is ultimately a bit irrelevant, fading into an abstract painting of MVP trophies, threes from well beyond half court, an endless barrage of shorter triples and plenty of highlights that led to wins. 

What's important now is how rare an appearance in the conference finals has been for this beleaguered organization. The last time it happened, Rick Barry, Phil Smith, Jamaal Wilkes and Gus Williams led the 1975-76 Warriors past the Detroit Pistons and into the second-to-last round, back when only one series victory was required to get to this stage.

For that matter, that actually served as the last time the team won a division title until the current crew ended that particular dry spell. And as Justin Ferguson wrote for Sporting News, "Each team in the Pacific Division's history—including Trail Blazers and the Thunder, who moved to the Northwest Division in 2004 when the franchise was still in Seattle—had won at least two division titles during the Warriors' championship drought of almost four decades."

How long ago was 1976?

Just saying 40 years doesn't even cut it. Nor does emphasizing how Stephen Curry wouldn't be born for another dozen years. In fact, his father, Dell Curry, was still six years away from enrolling in college.

Steve Pyle/Associated Press

A 28-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won MVP during that 1975-76 season, and it was only his first year with the Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, Julius Erving was torching the ABA and leading the New York Nets to the final title in the now-defunct league's history.

Forget expansion teams that didn't yet exist.

The Clippers were still called the Buffalo Braves. The Seattle SuperSonics were around, and Clay Bennett wasn't yet an unspeakable name in that rainy Northwest state. The Utah Jazz were the New Orleans Jazz. The Sacramento Kings still played in Kansas City. The Washington Wizards were the Washington Bullets. 

Obviously, it's been a long time since the Warriors were four wins away from an appearance on the league's biggest stage. And somehow, that's not even the most staggering way to showcase the Warriors' lack of experience this deep into the NBA's second season. 

Teams strong enough to remain alive and play a part in the Association's version of the Final Four generally have a couple of veterans who have made it that far before. This year is no exception.

SALT LAKE CITY - NOVEMBER 1:  Paul Millsap #24 of the Utah Jazz looks on during the game against the Houston Rockets at EnergySolutions Arena on November 1, 2007 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The Rockets won 106-95.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Even the upstart Atlanta Hawks have Paul Millsap, who made the Western Conference Finals with the Utah Jazz in 2007, and Kyle Korver, who was on the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers boast a star player (LeBron James) who hasn't just advanced that far but has actually done so in each of the last five seasons. J.R. Smith, James Jones, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and Kendrick Perkins have also been there. 

The Rockets (James Harden, Dwight Howard, Jason Terry, Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza) and Clippers (J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Dahntay Jones) are both in the same boat, regardless of which team wins Sunday's Game 7. 

Those other four squads all have at least two key rotation members who have experience at this level. But not the Warriors. 

Curry and Klay Thompson have never before made it past the semis. Nor has Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes or any other player who receives regular playing time, save for one. 

The saving grace here is Leandro Barbosa, who advanced to the Western Conference Finals during the spring of 2005, 2006 and 2010—all with the Phoenix Suns. But is he even a key rotation member? 

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - MAY 11: Leandro Barbosa #19 of the Golden State Warriors warms up before facing off against the Memphis Grizzlies for Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals for the NBA Playoffs on May 11, 2015 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennes
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Though the speedy Brazilian guard has maintained his ever-churning wheels over the years, he played just four minutes during the Game 6 victory over Memphis. During this postseason as a whole, he's suiting up for only 9.6 minutes per game. 

There's no veteran to lean on. There's no key player who's actually going to be on the court when he tells everyone to settle down and remember that they're just playing another basketball game, even if it comes with more of a national spotlight. 

Oh, and Steve Kerr? 

The head coach went to the penultimate round seven times during his playing career and won five titles—three with the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. However, he's a rookie on the sidelines, so he obviously hasn't been asked to make tactical adjustments this late in the year. 

Other first-year signal-callers have done this before, and some have gone even further. Recently, Tom Thibodeau led the 2010-11 Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals, and Paul Westphal took the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993, among others. But that doesn't lessen the importance of this moment for Kerr, who just keeps doing things that rookie head coaches shouldn't be achieving. 

After all, he set the all-time record for most wins in an inaugural season earlier this year and was subsequently doused in Gatorade. 

"The ball was great," Kerr explained after setting the record and receiving the game ball, via Sports Illustrated's Adam Pincus"The Gatorade...not so much. It was still pretty fun. A great scene in there. I wasn't really thinking about the significance of the record. Those guys were. They presented me with the ball, and how lucky am I to coach these guys in my first year? Ridiculous."

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 15:  Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors draws up a play against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 15, 2015 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.
Noah Graham/Getty Images

But now, all these guys are in the same boat—the pine-riding Barbosa notwithstanding. 

This Western Conference Finals appearance is a first for generations of tormented Warriors fans who weren't alive when Rick Barry was lobbing up underhand free throws. It's a first for 14 of the 15 active players on the roster. It's a first for the head coach—at least in his current job. 

And if all goes according to plan, it won't be the last first for all of them. Holding up a trophy would suffice in that role. 

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.


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