By Josh Preston.
Surprise, surprise. The Golden State Warriors will contest for the NBA championship to conclude a third consecutive season.
In completing a series whitewash over the San Antonio Spurs to claim the Western Conference title, the Warriors become just the third team in league history to enter the finals without losing a single game.
Of all the reasons for this, superstar forward Kevin Durant’s two-year, $54.3 million move to the Warriors at the beginning of the season stands out from the rest.
Let’s look at the facts. Golden State won the 2015 NBA championship without Durant. Last season they broke the record for most wins in a regular season with 73 and came within one game of securing back to back titles, again without Durant. But this year they have made a complete mockery of every playoff opponent standing in their path.
In Round 1 they made short work of the eighth-seed Portland Trail Blazers, winning by an average margin of 18 points over four games. They then swept a gritty but inexperienced Utah Jazz, defeating Quin Snyder’s squad by 15 points on average. Not even the Spurs, who many considered their only legitimate threat, could come close to the Warriors after losing reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard to an ankle injury in Game 1 of the series.
Former league MVP Durant, scoring around 25 points a game at over 50 per cent efficiency through the playoffs, has bolstered what was already one of the most formidable teams of basketball’s modern era. Golden State’s roster now includes Durant, incumbent MVP Stephen Curry, All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson and DPOY candidate Draymond Green. It can be argued that no starting line-up has ever been this stacked.
When asked about the Warriors’ supremacy after Game 3 against the Spurs, Durant said that “fans want to see a buzzer beater every game, but it’s not like that sometimes”.
“You have your years where you have great playoff series, four or five Game 7s, and then some years you have what you see this playoffs,” he said. “But as players, we wanna go out there and win by as much as possible, and play as great as you can. Whatever happens with the score happens. Relay that to the fans who feel upset. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
You could make the argument that LeBron James and the current champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, have made the Eastern Conference playoffs just as predictable in recent years. James has been an almost constant presence in the NBA finals since his stint with the Miami Heat began in 2010, claiming three championships and contesting a further four. But Cleveland have looked anything but a certainty at times this season, falling into second place in the final Eastern Conference standings before being seriously challenged in all four of their wins over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.
As for the Warriors, they may have bested Durant’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in last year’s Western Conference finals series. But the Thunder made for much tougher competition, forcing a tightly contested series and gaining a 3-1 lead before suffering a monumental meltdown and giving the Warriors their ticket to the big dance.
A three-year finals streak between the two teams would be a first in league history, something not even the legendary Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers dynasties of past decades could achieve.
Is this simply another era of legendary teams full of future hall of fame players for fans to enjoy? Or has Durant’s defection only made the pointy end of the season more one-sided?