For two years, the Warriors tricked us into believing that they were dead. We got two NBA Finals without the team from Golden State and it seemed like that trend would continue. Steph Curry was banged up and past his MVP-caliber prime. Klay Thompson was coming off two major knee injuries. Draymond Green was older and no longer a threat to score, at all. There wasn’t a Kevin Durant, Harrison Barnes, or Andre Iguodala (well, technically there is an Andre Iguodala on the team but he is far from the version of himself he was when the Warriors were winning championships). That important wing position was manned by Andrew Wiggins this year.
But the Warriors are back where they feel most comfortable. After beating the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals in a gentlemen’s sweep (4-1 series victory), Golden State has once again advanced to the NBA Finals. Just like a phoenix rising from the ashes (if the phoenix won three NBA Championships before the whole ashes thing) the Warriors are back in the final round of the playoffs. Not only are they back with a chance to win it all but they are clicking on all cylinders at just the right time.
Golden State looks a lot different than the last time they were in this position but some of the most important aspects of the team remain the same. Obviously, the stars (Curry, Thompson, and Green) are the biggest talking point of the team, but it is the defense that is truly the most potent part of the roster.
The staunch defense that the Warriors played during their five straight runs to the NBA Finals was always overlooked in favor of the splashy offense (see what I did there?). But Golden State was legitimately one of the best defensive teams in the NBA during that period, something they have regained this season.
The Warriors posted the second-best defensive rating this year, behind only the Boston Celtics (meaning we could be in for a low-scoring NBA Finals matchup). Green has been one of the best defenders in the league when he is healthy. Thompson hasn’t been the same defensive stopper that he was before the injuries, although he is still competent at that end, but Andrew Wiggins and some of the other wings have been able to make up for it.
The defense is the reason that Golden State has such a good shot at the championship, but the offense has also been incredibly potent. They have averaged 114.5 points per game, which is better than some of their previous championship-winning years. It is clear that this team has the combination of offense and defense that is needed to win a title.
The bulk of the credit for the scoring obviously belongs to Curry. He has averaged 26.7 points per game in the playoffs despite shooting a modest (for him) 38.4 percent on three-pointers. Klay Thompson has also chipped in 19 points per game and has been a steady force on offense. He has been even better in the big games, scoring 30 or more points in the last two series-clinching games.
The production from the splash brothers was expected but the level of play from a few other players is what makes this team a true title threat. Jordan Poole was one of the huge breakouts stars of the regular season and has carried that over into the playoffs. A lot of times young emerging stars struggle in their first taste of meaningful playoff action, but Poole has soared. He has averaged 18.5 points per game in the playoffs, which is more than Chris Paul, Tobias Harris, and Bam Adebayo. His playoff performance has truly solidified him as the third splash brother as he has been able to pick up the offensive slack if Curry or Thompson is struggling.
Wiggins has also been a huge asset on offense, which is not something that was expected from him in these playoffs. He has averaged 15.7 points per game, which is pretty good for a fourth-best scoring option. He upped his play in the Western Conference Finals, though, averaging 18.6 points per contest against Dallas.
Kevon Looney is another player that has played better in the playoffs, especially recently, The big man has become a vital part of the Warriors and proved his worth in the series against the Mavericks. Looney scored in double digits three times in the series and had another game where he scored nine points. His biggest game was in game two where he piled on 21 points, a playoff career-high for him. He was also a beast on the boards, averaging 10.6 rebounds in the series, including a staggering 18 in game five.
While this is certainly not the same core of players that won the Western conference five seasons in a row, the franchise is still the same. The Warriors still have Curry and Thompson and Green, all with head coach Steve Kerr at the helm. This franchise is the same. The same one that has been the most successful in the NBA for the past decade. The Warriors don’t need to sign big free agents or make blockbuster trades. They develop players that fit in their system and then they employ that system to great success in the playoffs. We are watching that happen once again and although it may feel different, we could end up with the same result. We could very well watch the Warriors win another NBA Championship.