The Golden State Warriors' 2015-16 checklist is almost complete.
They won an NBA-record 73 games during the regular season, Stephen Curry captured his second straight MVP Award, and the Warriors finished a dramatic 3-1 comeback in the Western Conference Finals with a 96-88 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7 on Monday night at Oracle Arena.
Now all they have to do is beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win a second straight title.
Curry proved why he was the MVP in Monday's decisive showdown with 36 points, eight assists and five rebounds, while Klay Thompson added 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting from three-point range. Draymond Green also did a little bit of everything with 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal, but it was the Splash Brothers who turned in a record performance, per ESPN Stats & Info (h/t B/R):
According to ESPN Stats & Info, "teams with that season's MVP have now won 18 straight Game 7s."
Kevin Durant led the way on the other side with 27 points and seven rebounds on 10-of-19 shooting, but fellow Oklahoma City playmaker Russell Westbrook struggled from the field, shooting 7-of-21 on his way to 19 points. Westbrook made up for some of the misses with 13 assists and only three turnovers, but he needed better shooting numbers if the Thunder were going to prevail.
ESPN Stats & Info noted Durant joined some of the NBA's most elite company with his efforts in the series:
Golden State head coach Steve Kerr made news before tipoff when he elected to start Andre Iguodala, per Warriors PR. Kerr called the forward the "unsung hero" of Game 6 after he provided critical defense on Durant and Westbrook in the closing minutes, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle.
It proved beneficial, as Josh Dubow of the Associated Press noted "Durant has yet to take a shot in first 5:52 with Iguodala matched up on him." That allowed Curry to drill a couple of deep threes on the other end and trim the Thunder's early lead to 11-10.
The Thunder countered Iguodala's defense and Curry's threes with strong defense of their own and built a 24-19 lead by the end of the first quarter. Durant found a few good looks on the way to seven first-quarter points, which Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman saw as a positive for the visitors:
Oklahoma City expanded its lead to 35-22 within the first five minutes of the second quarter behind its defense. Jordan Brenner of ESPN The Magazine reacted to the Thunder's efforts on the interior:
That's when Thompson showed up. After missing his first seven shots from the field, the sharpshooting guard drilled his next three from long range, the last of which capped an 11-2 run and cut the Warriors' deficit to 37-33 with just over four minutes remaining until halftime:
Oklahoma City put together an 8-0 spurt to push its advantage to 45-33, but Golden State responded with a 7-0 burst to trim it to 45-40. In case there was any doubt about the talent on the floor, Westbrook converted an and-1 and Curry hit a floater in the lane in the final five seconds of the half.
After the Westbrook and Curry sequence, the Thunder went into halftime leading 48-42, and Jonah Keri of CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated said, "just disband the rest of the NBA and all other sports and have these two teams play every day forever."
The high level of play continued in the third quarter, as Curry, Thompson and Iguodala drilled three straight threes for Golden State in the span of one minute, 21 seconds. The three-point barrage cut the Thunder's advantage to 54-51 even though the visitors were hitting shots on the other end. Andy Glockner of The Cauldron pointed to Golden State's ability to trade three points for two on consecutive possessions:
Curry gave the Warriors a lead for the first time since 2-0 at 57-54 when he connected on another three with 6:24 left in the third. Bill Reiter of CBS Sports noticed a concern for the Thunder as Golden State started the second half with a 17-8 run:
The Warriors extended their lead to 64-58 when Durant forced a contested three and Shaun Livingston took the rebound and went coast-to-coast for an and-1 dunk, and Matt Moore of CBS Sports questioned the Thunder's composure:
Things continued to get ugly for Oklahoma City in the third, as it scored a mere 12 points on 5-of-19 shooting from the field and 0-of-7 shooting from three-point range, per Slater. A Harrison Barnes three and an Anderson Varejao basket gave the Warriors a 71-58 lead as they closed the third on a 23-6 run and took an 11-point advantage into the fourth, per ESPN Stats & Info.
It would have been easy for Oklahoma City to fold on the defending champions' home floor, but it started the fourth with a 9-2 run. Serge Ibaka scored five straight points in that stretch for the Thunder as they cut their deficit to 73-69.
The Warriors, however, had the two-time MVP, who drilled a three and scored in the lane to make it 78-69 with 7:36 remaining, and Reiter reacted to the 5-0 run by Curry:
Golden State had an answer for everything the Thunder threw at it after Curry's spurt. Oklahoma City trimmed the gap to 82-77, but threes by Thompson and Green pushed it to 88-77, and a layup in the lane by Curry made it 90-79 with just 3:10 remaining.
To his credit, Durant produced a 7-0 run by himself to cut the deficit to 90-86 with less than two minutes left. It was all for naught, though, as Curry drew a foul from three-point range and converted all three free throws. He drilled a three-pointer two possessions later to end the Thunder's chances.
The three came with 26 seconds remaining after two straight Durant misses and opened a 96-86 lead for the defending champs.
The NBA Finals begin Thursday.
It will be a rematch between the Cavaliers and Warriors after Curry and Co. won last year's series in six games. Golden State has home-court advantage and the confidence that comes with knowing it beat Cleveland on the same stage a season ago, but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both out with injuries in 2015 (Irving played 44 minutes in Game 1 before getting hurt).
James' running mates are healthy this season and critical components for a Cavaliers team that hasn't lost at home in these playoffs. The presence of Irving and Love will also help Cleveland from three-point range; the Cavs struggled in the final three games of last year's NBA Finals, shooting 14.8 percent in Game 4, 34.3 percent in Game 5 and 23.1 percent in Game 6.
A healthy Cleveland squad will be a formidable foe for the 73-win Warriors, who won both regular-season matchups with the Cavaliers. Golden State doesn't have long to celebrate its 3-1 comeback against the Thunder with James and his talented teammates waiting.
Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders attended the game and compared the Warriors to his campaign:
Every comeback has a loser on the other side, and Durant commented on his teammates, per the Thunder: "It hurts losing, but everybody fought hard every single moment, left their soul out on the court."
Durant also said, "I'm proud of everybody for the effort they put in," per Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.
Kerr acknowledged how well the Thunder played, via NBA TV:
Kerr was asked why some still question Curry's toughness.
"Because he looks like he's 12," Kerr said, per Janie McCauley of the Associated Press.
That may be the case, but Curry was unstoppable Monday. The MVP guard talked about returning to the NBA Finals, via the Warriors: "You appreciate how tough it is to get back here. You can't take anything for granted."
Curry also said, "the way this series went from Game 1 to Game 7, we're ready for anything," per J.A. Adande of ESPN.
That anything will come in the form of James and the Cavaliers.