3 Titles Later, Golden State Warriors' Championship Run Was Never a Certainty

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 9, 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 8: Andre Iguodala #9, Klay Thompson #11, Stephen Curry #30, Draymond Green #23, and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors pose with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers on June 8, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Amid a rising narrative that the juggernaut they'd built had somehow sapped the fun from the NBA, the Golden State Warriors swept away LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a Finals-clinching 108-85 win on Friday, securing their third championship in four seasons.

But as we prepare for a summer of takes about how the Warriors are so good as to be legitimately unfair, that they are somehow bad for the league as a whole, remember: None of this was a foregone conclusion, and none of it is guaranteed to continue.

Golden State is where it is today, a legitimate dynasty with more titles in its sights, because it caught loads of breaks and capitalized on them.

Before we get to that larger point, I guess we'd better talk about Game 4. It was thorough, predictable, unremarkable—a perfect embodiment of the too-dominant-to-be-interesting quality many have ascribed to Golden State.

Cleveland hung in through most of the first half, even taking a brief one-point lead midway through the second quarter. But Stephen Curry quelled any thoughts of a five-game series with dagger threes en route to a 37-point night that wasn't even good enough to earn him Finals MVP.


Steph throws it up... SPLASH! 9 already for Curry on #NBAonABC #DubNation #NBAFinals https://t.co/mEDy1mQ6la

That honor went to Kevin Durant, who finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in his first playoff triple-double. His 43-point eruption in Game 3 sealed the Finals for all intents and purposes.

Golden State's secondary options contributed as well. Andre Iguodala hit three triples after making only two in his previous seven games. Draymond Green teleported all over the floor on defense, JaVale McGee brought early energy, and Klay Thompson managed to post a plus-19 on a night when he couldn't find his stroke until after the Cavs had submitted early in the third quarter.

The talent, execution and experience on the Warriors was overwhelming, and that's the crux of many observers' complaints. All those assets make winning too easy. Drama dies the moment Golden State takes control.

But go back to Game 1, which Cleveland would have taken if not for a missed free throw, a JR Smith blown synapse and a curious failure by head coach Tyronn Lue to call a timeout. The Warriors had nothing to do with those mistakes, and who knows how the series might have progressed if the Cavs had stunned the Dubs at home to open the proceedings?

Then there was the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets. Nothing easy there. And remember that Golden State trailed by double digits in two elimination games against those Rockets. If Houston hadn't gone 0-of-27 from three for a critical stretch of the decisive game, the Warriors aren't in the Finals.

Sean Highkin @highkin

The Rockets really missed 27 threes in a row. They could have prevented this if they’d made 3 or 4 of them.

Dig deeper. Way deeper. Take it back to the trade that could have sent Curry (and not Monta Ellis) to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut. Yes, that was a real thing that almost happened. The Warriors of today simply don't exist if the Bucks had chosen the other willowy guard.

What about the late-season tank and subsequent coin flip that got the Warriors Harrison Barnes, a key piece to their first title?

What about Curry's devastating ankle injuries leading to a contract that was dramatically below market value, which in turn allowed the Warriors to spend bigger on new pieces to put around the guy that improbably developed into a two-time MVP?

OAKLAND, CA -OCTOBER 29:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors holds his ankle in pain after taking a fall in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers on October 29, 2010 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

What about the rumored trade that would have sent Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love, which likely would have stunted Green's growth into a potential Hall of Famer? If the Warriors had pulled the trigger on that one, Love, a max player, would have occupied the power forward spot Green slid into when David Lee's hamstring cost him the start of the 2014-15 season.

What about Thompson scorching the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the 2016 West finals, swinging the series and spurring a comeback from a 3-1 deficit that led to...a Finals loss! Imagine if Curry had been fully healthy for that series. Imagine if Golden State hadn't blown a 3-1 lead. Imagine this team without its back-to-back Finals MVP.

There are so many alternate realities for these Warriors, all of which were a hair's breadth away, and none of them produce the team that just hoisted another trophy.

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 8: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for a photo with the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy and the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals on June 8
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The Warriors had some agency in several of these pivot points, but to say they weren't the beneficiaries of tremendously good fortune ignores reality. They needed countless breaks on and off the floor to become what they are: three-time champs whom Commissioner Adam Silver thanked on the podium for "basketball played at the highest level."

In one sense, this might be a deflating idea to consider. The Warriors have been exceptionally lucky and exceptionally good. They're charmed somehow. Touched by providence.

But in another, it should inspire hope for those turned off by the (flawed) idea that Golden State's dominance is a negative.

That's partly because the Warriors won't catch breaks forever, but more than that, this team's ascent from two full decades of lottery-bound basketball purgatory means anyone can do it.

It means your franchise-altering superstar doesn't have to look and play like LeBron James. It means an injury might result in a positive. It means losses, even ones that feel devastating, can produce unimaginable success.

So yeah, the Warriors are the NBA's best and luckiest team. But nobody looking at the roster five years ago would have ever dreamt such a thing was possible. Even two seasons ago, after the Dubs fell to Cleveland and before Durant signed on, there was no guarantee of another ring.

Golden State is on its own level, but the Rockets are close. The Boston Celtics are close. Whichever team LeBron James plays for next year will be close. All they'll need are a few breaks to give the Dubs another run—and possibly even beat them.

A superpower looking to prolong a historic run and a handful of up-and-comers purpose-built to knock them off. I think maybe that means we're the lucky ones...because we get to watch it all play out.


Stats courtesy of Basketball ReferenceCleaning the Glass or NBA.com unless otherwise specified.

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