If the past few playoff runs have been a celebration of the Golden State Warriors’ continued place at the peak of the NBA mountaintop, this season’s postseason march could be their sign-off from that perch.
Because while Golden State could keep its momentum going in 2020 and beyond, it will enter this summer with far tougher decisions than it has ever faced to this point. Kevin Durant will be a free agent. Klay Thompson will be a free agent. DeMarcus Cousins will be a free agent. Kevon Looney will be a free agent. Draymond Green could be a trade chip. While the team should continue to contend, a murky future means its time as the outright league favorite might be coming to a close.
In the meantime, the Warriors will savor their run at a third straight NBA championship and fourth title in five years, a staggering streak of dominance that might not be fully appreciated until it’s all over over. Fans should take a moment to recognize how unique this ride has been.
Golden State’s regular-season home finale against the Clippers on Sunday at Oracle Arena had the team in a reflective mood, giving it a rare opportunity to stop and consider all that has taken place in the building. The Warriors, of course, will move to the Chase Center in San Francisco next year.
Stephen Curry wore a Monta Ellis jersey to the arena, a nod to his former backcourt mate and a cult legend in the Bay Area. The team donned throwback uniforms from the “We Believe” era. It then blasted the Clippers, as it has done so often in recent years, 131-104.
After the game, coach Steve Kerr told fans the organization appreciated their support during the lean years, which included 17 out of 18 seasons without a playoff berth. He said the atmosphere at Oracle always “just jumped out of the gym,” from his time as a player through his ongoing stint as a coach.
The view that basketball in Oakland has always been special was echoed throughout the evening.
“There’s still the inevitable playoff home appearances,” Curry added to reporters, “but … it’s definitely a different feel just in terms of what tonight means, closing out 47 regular seasons playing in this building.”
The past six of those campaigns have been magnificent. In fact, Golden State’s record in that time represents the best six-season stretch in NBA history in terms of regular season record.
Yet it hasn’t been enough to silence critics at times this year, as the Warriors dropped easy games against the Suns, Heat and Timberwolves, among others.
Though they struggled at times to keep focus, there’s little indication they’ve lost their fastball. Wins over Denver, Boston, Houston, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia displayed a familiar top gear that should become the norm this postseason.
Curry, now playing with renewed eyesight, is having his best 3-point shooting season since 2015-16 (43.7%). Thompson has rebounded from long-range since a poor start to the campaign. Durant, steady as ever, has the second-best field goal percentage of his career.
Unlike last year, when Golden State’s No. 2 seed meant the Western Conference finals ran through Houston, the top-seeded Warriors now have a path to the NBA Finals in which they can book a trip to the championship by simply winning at Oracle.
That matters, not just for escaping the West, but also for conserving energy ahead of a potential meeting with the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers or Celtics.
A championship triumph over a team other than the Cavaliers, who the Warriors extinguished in three of the past four seasons, would add a new flavor to the dynasty, possibly putting their stamp on whatever dominant franchise rules the NBA next. A series win over the Bucks, for example, could forever tie the Warriors to the start of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s potential reign, much like the 1980s Celtics and Lakers were tied to the Pistons and the Pistons were tied to the Michael Jordan-led Bulls.
Or Golden State could just keep winning, remaining light years ahead of the rising organizations in the East for several more years.
This likely won’t be the end of the Warriors’ title contention no matter what, considering at the very least Curry will still be on the roster next year. But it very well may be the last time Kerr’s squad is the strong favorite to win it all.
In that case, it’s worth revelling in the glow of this year’s postseason, where Golden State can once again demoralize the rest of the league.