At this time last year, general manager Bob Myers was admitting to drinking whiskey to help him cope with the worst collapse in NBA Finals history. Now, it’s all celebratory champagne for the Golden State Warriors.
Losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 set off a chain of events that turned a great group into one of the best pro basketball teams of all time.
Or, as Draymond Green put it after winning Game 5 and eliminating the Cavs on Monday, failing to repeat allowed the Dubs the best “consolation prize” of all time, signing Kevin Durant.
Here are the key dates that led to today, when the Warriors will hold their second championship parade in the last three years:
Days after Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson met with Durant in the Hamptons, the former Oklahoma City Thunder superstar announced he would be joining the Warriors in a much maligned article in the Players’ Tribune.
During that meeting, Curry convinced KD he was ready to share the spotlight with another big-time scorer, emboldening Durant in the decision to join a 73-win team.
He announced his decision on Independence Day, setting the NBA world on fire with smoldering takes.
The first game for the new-look Warriors was finally upon them … and the outcome wasn’t pretty.
The San Antonio Spurs bullied the Dubs inside, out-rebounding the home team 55-35 en route to a 29-point victory.
“I think the guys were embarrassed tonight, I know I was,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the game.
Everyone who proclaimed during the offseason “there is only one ball” rejoiced.
The Warriors entered their first game against the Cleveland Cavaliers of the season with a 27-5 record.
Golden State held a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter but couldn’t convert it into a win as Kyrie Irving hit a difficult, turnaround shot over Thompson to seal the Cavs’ fourth-straight victory over their rivals.
“We’re mad, man,” Thompson said. “The way we lost that game, we gave them a gift, shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Kerr would later point to this game as a turning point for the Warriors’ offense. After it, Curry would throw more assists while maintaining his scoring pace.
The Warriors were finally able to dish out some revenge to LeBron James and the Cavs.
During the second quarter, Green hit James with a foul in the open floor. LeBron flopped effectively, convincing officials to hit Draymond with a flagrant foul. The Warriors couldn’t believe it.
But, instead of that ruling derailing the Dubs, as it did in the 2016 Finals, it only made them stronger as they cruised to a 126-91 blowout win at home.
As was the case for the whole season, Golden State preferred to look at the big picture: “What happens in January generally doesn’t affect what’s happening later on,” Kerr reminded.
Durant was struggling through his worst game of the season during a Saturday night game in Sacramento. Green took it upon himself to get in his friend and teammate’s head in an attempt to get the former MVP back on track.
The loud argument from the Warriors bench during their 109-106 loss to the lowly Kings made for great television. Many thought Green’s abrasive nature would alienate Durant and this show of emotion was their proof.
Sitting at the podium with his Finals MVP trophy on Monday, Durant said that couldn’t be more untrue.
“I was struggling at that point. And to have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that’s what we all need in life,” Durant said, referencing how Green helped him after that episode in Sacramento.
Zaza Pachulia was thrown to the floor one minute, 33 seconds into the Warriors’ game against the Washington Wizards. On the way down, his head collided with Durant’s knee. Durant went down in obvious pain.
He would exit the game and wouldn’t return. His prognosis was uncertain at first — ranging from being out for a few games to being done for the season.
The Warriors would lose that game, and the next one at Chicago. Suddenly, the team that was so good as to be unfair for the rest of the league looked vulnerable.
The Warriors finished a brutal road-trip of eight cities in 11 days with a nationally televised game against the Spurs. Steve Kerr started Patrick McCaw, Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes, Kevon Looney and Pachulia.
The move appeared to be a quasi-protest of the league scheduling the Dubs for such an unreasonable trip. As you would assume, San Antonio won 107-85.
The loss marked the first time Golden State dropped three-straight with Kerr as head coach. The Warriors would win 15 of their next 16 games to finish the regular season. And over that span — most of it without Durant — the team showed it could dominate games on the defensive side of the floor as well.
After experiencing flare ups of the symptoms from a botched back surgery in 2015, Kerr removed himself from the Warriors’ sideline. Assistant coach Mike Brown moved over a chair to assume lead duties while Kerr was out.
The absence of their head coach proved to be the only uncertainty for the Warriors during their romp through the Western Conference playoffs.
“This is not going to be a case where I’m coaching one night, not coaching the next,” Kerr said from the team hotel in Portland. “I’m not going to do that to our team, our staff.”
Kerr returned June 4 before Game 2 of the Finals. Brown’s record as acting head coach of the Warriors: 11-0.
The Warriors shut down any “Cavs in 7” talk with a decisive Game 5, eliminating Cleveland 4-1. Durant wins Finals MVP in a unanimous decision.
Celebrations break out throughout the Bay Area as it becomes apparent just how powerful this young dynasty can be.
For his part, Durant soaks in the moment unlike anyone else on the team. It’s his first NBA Championship and he’s determined to share the moment with those who made it possible, including a group of fans outside Oracle Arena who he joins in celebration — much to the concern of his bodyguard.
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