Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Warriors bask in glow of monumental comeback

 
— When it was over and they had beat the Thunder and the longest of long odds, the victorious Warriors, the survivor Warriors, did nothing to downplay what they had just accomplished.
This was no time to play it cool, not on a Monday night when the volume on fans inside Oracle Arena had been set to Blast and the rainstorm of yellow confetti fluttered down from the rafters and on to the party below just after the clock drained to 0:00. Golden State beat Oklahoma City 96-88 in the game and 4-3 in the series to win the Western Conference title and advance to The Finals for the second year in a row, and even the veteran team knew the moment was special whether or not it was the ultimate goal of a series win in June.
The moments -- plural -- actually. The Warriors, after all, had come back from a 3-1 deficit to win after only nine clubs in 232 previous tries, all of 3.9 percent of the tries in NBA history, had pulled the same 180. They had done it against a quality opponent capable of winning big games on the road, not in the first round when an overfed team in cruise mode stirred in time to swat aside an overmatched weakling. And they had earned it with the very poise that had been surprisingly missing in the middle of the series, with a victory in the final minutes of Game 6 on Saturday in Oklahoma City followed by a victory in the final minute two nights later in California.
It's definitely the biggest thing that this team has had to overcome and it took a great, tremendous effort and fight to overcome it.
– Golden State's Draymond Green
So, no, the Warriors would not choose calm. They did in tone, without the hysteria to match the fan base around them, but not in words. It was that big of a moment.
"I think everybody will look at 73 wins (in the regular season) and say, 'Wow, this team never hit any adversity,' but there is adversity in every season," All-Star power forward Draymond Green said. "It all comes in different forms. But when you're talking down 3-1, and everything's on the line, that makes it 10 times worse. So it's definitely the biggest thing that this team has had to overcome and it took a great, tremendous effort and fight to overcome it. But like I said after Game 4, if I think anybody can do it, it's this group. Because once we figured something out, we can get it rolling, and I think, although we lost Game 4, and we got punished, I think we figured it out. It wasn't easy. That's a great team we just beat and we had to continue to fight. And I knew if we continued to fight, which I had no doubt in my mind that we would, that we could do it.
"So it's by far the biggest thing. It's just everything that went into it from the great season we had the hopes of repeating, and that all being on the line in every single game for the last three games we had to win is, for sure, the largest amount of adversity we had to overcome."
The Warriors understood how close 73 wins came to becoming something to be thrown in their face, a tool to mock them as a great regular-season team that didn't get victories when it really mattered. Try in-their-face close, with Oklahoma City within three points in the final minute in Game 6 and then within four with 1:40 remaining in Game 7.
Warriors on Series Win
Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry and address the media following the Game 7 and series win over the Thunder.
The star guards had saved them, Klay Thompson in the fourth quarter Saturday and Stephen Curry with 15 points in the fourth quarter Monday while making five of six shots, but so did a lot of others. The bench stepped up. Andre Iguodala, the starting small forward in place of Harrison Barnes as coach Steve Kerr jolted the lineup with the season in the balance, defended.
Curry was asked afterward what he had learned about himself and the team through the comeback from 3-1 and said, "Actually nothing," before he added the telling part of the statement: "I knew we were ready for the moment. We were a mature basketball team that tried our best not to listen to the noise outside when six, seven days ago we're down 3-1, everybody thought the wheels were falling off and it was kind of the end of our run. But in that locker room, the talk was positive. It was, 'Let's figure this out. Let's go out and take it one game at a time and claw our way back into the series and see what happens.' We followed that kind of mindset these last three games. It's just you appreciate how tough it is to get back here. That's the one thing I've learned. You can't take anything for granted because it's such a grind, it's such a battle against a great Thunder team that pushed us to the brink. So you've got to be appreciative of this accomplishment, and I look forward to getting four more wins."
Nightly Notable: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry leads Golden State with 36 points and 8 assists as the Warriors defeat the Thunder to advance to the NBA Finals.
Winning the Western Conference title was as momentous as possible without the championship itself on the line. The case could be made that beating the Thunder was a bigger accomplishment than beating the Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals. Not greater importance, because the rings are everything, but for talent level of the opponent, facing and surviving three consecutive elimination games, while walking on a razor blade in the fourth quarter of the last two, there aren't many teams that have pulled off what the Warriors just did.
They get it too. With the last step of the 2015-16 journey still ahead, beginning Thursday as the Cavaliers return to Oracle for Game 1 of the Finals rematch, eliminating the Thunder was for all time, as rare as that is to say for a prelim. Of course there was no reason to play it cool.