Memorable isn’t exactly the right word.
Painful, frustrating, demoralizing. Those words are closer to how Draymond Green I would describe the two seasons between the Golden State Warriors’ last appearance in the 2019 NBA Finals and the current season, coming within a game of returning to the championship series after Sunday’s 109-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals.
However, there is a memory of the last two seasons that is still present.
“Really, none of these people took us out of this space,” Green told ESPN reporter Ohm Youngmisuk of the team that didn’t make the playoffs the previous two seasons. “Toronto beat us, but no one really came out and said, ‘Okay, the Golden State Warriors era is over.'”
For all the attitude and bragging, it’s easy to forget that Green has always been one of the keenest observers of the NBA landscape.
The Los Angeles Lakers team won the NBA title in 2020, while the Warriors stumbled to the worst record in the league with Green, Klay Thompson Y Stephen Curry absent during the entire season or significant periods due to injuries. The Milwaukee Bucks won the title last season, while the Warriors tried to develop their next generation of players while giving their current core a chance to reach the highest echelons of the championship.
This season, rookie teams and superstars, like the last three teams the Warriors have faced in these playoffs, began to take their respective places in the future of the NBA. However, no team or organization has come close to replacing the Warriors and displacing them from their dynastic seat.
In the first round, Golden State finished off the two-time MVP Nikola Jockic and the Denver Nuggets. In the second round, they beat Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies, the team frequently compared to them (even directly, as it brazenly did Dillon Brooks) during the early phases of his dynasty.
In these conference finals, the Warriors gave the Mavericks superstar Luka Doncić the same kind of care and treatment they used to give Lebron James: Conceding his greatness and acknowledging that he would probably score 40-plus points, no matter what defensive scheme they put in front of him.
“Luka is unbelievable,” Green said of the Mavericks All-Star, who had 40 points Sunday despite finishing minus-19 in 40 minutes. “This is his moment. His moment is the future. He is a great player and he will be a great one for a long time.”
The Warriors won, as they did in three of four Finals matchups against James, limiting all of their opponents. In Sunday’s matchup, they limited Doncic’s teammates to 36% shooting from the field and an atrocious 25% from 3-point range.
It is the third time in these playoffs that Doncic has scored at least 40 points in a loss, tied with James (2009), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1977) and jerry west (1965) with the best production in a postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
Over the next few weeks, much will be written and said about how the Warriors regrouped and reinvented themselves to return to these stages of the tournament.
However, it is probably better to ask: Have they ever been abandoned?
“We’re not leaving space because we’ve gotten too old to stay here,” Green told Youngmisuk. “We didn’t leave this space because we all went our separate ways. We left the space because Klay Thompson was absent and then he was out again, and Andre [Iguodala] I wasn’t here either.”
“Then Steph Curry took a leave of absence. We didn’t leave this space because we were no longer able to stay in this space.”
Obviously, there is one important figure from the Warriors dynasty that Green left out of his analysis. We are talking about the man awarded two consecutive times as Finals MVP in 2017 and 2018, the same one who left the team as a free agent in 2019 to reach the Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant.
Perhaps it was a simple omission on Green’s part, or a subtle reminder that the Warriors won a championship in 2014-15 and hit a record 73 wins in 2015-16 before Durant’s arrival.
That style of play from the early years of the Warriors dynasty has come back into its own in this series.
These Warriors excelled at using their length, talent and intelligence to play a suffocating defense while sporting the most democratic and aesthetic offense in the NBA.
All this, together with the absolute destruction of their rivals in the third period.
On Sunday night, Golden State was able to turn a close 48-47 halftime lead into a comfortable 78-68 lead before the fourth quarter.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Warriors outscored the Mavericks by 10.3 points per game in the third quarter of this series. This pace would lead them to their best differential in all series played under coach Steve Kerr: better than the 9.7 points with which they beat the Houston Rockets in the third quarter of the Conference Finals in 2018.
With Curry (31 points and 11 assists and Wiggins (27 plus 11 rebounds) as figures, Kerr’s men beat the Mavs 109-100 and took a 3-0 lead in the NBA West finals. Doncic, 40 points in the local.
That seven-game series was much closer than this or any of their subsequent Conference Finals games. Sunday’s win was Golden State’s ninth straight in the conference finals, a string dating back to that Game 7 victory against Houston in 2018.
“For us to get back to this stage and win a playoff series, much less where we are now, it’s not about motivation,” said Curry, who finished with 31 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds. “It’s more about the excitement of being able to do it in a different way.”
“The motivation is that we are back at this level, with the opportunity to seek a Finals appearance after a two-year break with our core and a new cast.”
Those nine straight wins in the Conference Finals share a common thread, despite the two seasons between them. The Warriors tend to get stronger as the series progresses, while making the most of weaknesses they discover in their opponents.
In this series, Golden State has identified the Mavericks’ shortcomings when it comes to protecting the rim. Multiple sources close to the team have told ESPN that Dallas will emphasize this aspect in its offseason moves.
According to Second Spectrum data, the Warriors are shooting 72.6% on their layups and dunks during this series, putting them on track for the second-best production in a series among NBA teams since shooting began. data in the 2013-14 season.
This Sunday, they converted on 68.8% of their layups and dunks. Doncic was the closest defender on 11 of those plays and was a sneak, giving up 10 layups or dunks, including the Tomahawk dunk from Andrew Wiggins 6:38 left on the clock.
The 11 layup attempts tie the second-worst in a game of Doncic’s career (the worst in his playoff career) and the 10 baskets is his worst in a single game.
That represents an expression of Doncic’s defensive struggles individually and the Warriors’ emphasis on forcing him to expend energy on that end of the floor.
“I’m still learning,” Doncic said. “I think after the season is over, regardless of where we are, I’m going to look back and learn a lot of things. This is my first NBA Conference Finals.”
In contrast, the Warriors have been to these instances many times. And the way they’re playing now, it’s like they never left.
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