December 16, 2017


By Jesse Blanchard

On Monday night, inevitability met reality as the Golden State Warriors’ fluid offense gave way to free-flowing champagne.

These NBA Finals were more coronation than competition; predetermined from the moment Kevin Durant agreed to sign with a 73-win team boasting the NBA’s first unanimous MVP and two other All-NBA talents.

For some, the Warriors’ second championship in three years was a celebration of beautiful, perfect basketball brought to life. Others lamented the lack of challenges to overcome on the path to NBA immortality.

The Cleveland Cavaliers boast, easily, the best basketball player in the world. And LeBron James put together one of his best Finals performances ever, averaging a triple-double. He was flanked by two All-Stars who, likewise, put together games reasonably representative of their considerable talents. In almost any situation, this should be enough currency to give any team a puncher’s chance.

Instead, James’ performances were rendered irrelevant and his Cavaliers ineffectual. At the end, the futility of it all was kind of numbing.

“I left everything on the floor every game,” James said afterwards, scoring 41 points and contributing 13 rebound and eight assists in the final game.

The Warriors were always inevitable. Now, undeniably, they’re champions.

And deservedly so.

Opinions about these Warriors and competitive balance will run the gamut. Questioning the integrity or greatness of these players is silly. The CBA set the rules that allowed for this chain of events to transpire. When we, as an audience and the purveyors of legacies, failed to uphold our end of the bargain, failing to provide reasonable, nuanced opinions, we set the rings or bust culture that made Durant’s decision so obvious.

Just as silly is denying the fact that Durant’s decision robbed the NBA—an entertainment business—of years of compelling battles and made his individual greatness at least a little redundant. It is fair to be frustrated and a little apprehensive about how easily the Warriors made narratives and challenges meaningless.

But know this, it does not and should not matter to Durant; and the Warriors have never cheated the game or its audience.

“You can talk about whatever you want to talk about, but nobody comes in and cares about the game or loves the game as much as I do, or works as hard as I do,” Durant said. “You can talk about whatever happens on the outside, but inside those lines, I come to bring it every day.

“I work hard, I believe in the game, I respect the game. I love the game and I knew at some point in my life it would come around for me. So I just tried to stay with those principles and keep grinding.”

Durant’s choice never needed validation, but his brilliant play vindicated him anyhow. He was the unanimous choice for Finals MVP, averaging 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and a steal per game in the series, including 39 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the closeout game.

Every time the Cavaliers made a run, Durant was able to help the Warriors hold them off at arm’s length, using arms longer than most.

“He’s incredible. Some of the things he does at seven feet is just unbelievable,” Draymond Green said of Durant. “He continued to do that from the beginning to the end.”

There has never been an answer for Durant. In the past, there were simply enough questions around him to dilute and work around one wrong answer. But alongside the rest of these Warriors, each unresolved problem only bleeds into the next.

The matchup nightmares are apparent, but it goes beyond obvious problems like losing track of Klay Thompson’s off-ball choreography due to shading too much attention towards Durant or Stephen Curry. Though that problem is significant.

This is a team, first and foremost, steeped in defense. The specific style they play depends on the unique talent at hand, but the precision in which they play requires work and attention to detail on a level most players aren’t prepared to live up to.

The manner in which they switch assignments when necessary and fight through screens when not is enough to neutralize most of the tough situations offenses are designed to put defenses into.

In response, teams often lean on more simplistic actions and isolations which can wreak havoc on their floor balance, leaving them vulnerable in transition, where the Warriors really shine:

This is a team that marries elite individual talent with beautiful team basketball.

The Warriors didn’t simply add Durant’s great individual talents to their own, they incorporated them so thoroughly that, for the most part, they were indistinguishable from each other. In doing so, even though the Warriors may have taken the easier path, it was never a shortcut.

“I mean, come on, you got a bunch of guys who are talented and can shoot and pass and dribble, and they’re unselfish. There was never any question in my mind that this was going to work,” Steve Kerr said. “So, this is the culmination of a year where they grew together and learned each other’s games and got better and better all year, and it was just phenomenal to be part of.”

Golden State still used the season as a process, putting in the repetitions to perfect its craft. Contrast that with the Cavaliers and the season-long talk of flipping the switch instead of addressing the flaws.

This season’s Warriors were born on third base, but worked hard and built something anyways on their way to winning a championship at home.

“We sacrifice from top to bottom. KD can shoot 30 shots a night and he didn’t; Steph could shoot 30 shots a night and he didn’t, because we’re about winning,” David West said. “It’s about making the extra pass. Out-passing your opponent. Doing the right things to win the game. Period. That’s all it’s about.”

And as Durant embraced his mother, both overwhelmed by joy, surrounded by loving teammates and friends, nothing else mattered. No concern for  how they got here or what people thought, just a celebration of all the hard work put in as a team over the course of a season, and as individuals in the years before that.

The Warriors are inevitable. How you feel about that is, fairly, open to interpretation. But they don’t prepare or play like anything is decided. That’s what makes them special.


Jesse Blanchard

Jesse Blanchard is the author of Dynasty: the San Antonio Spurs Timeless 2013-2014 Championship, author/illustrator of the unpublished #LetBonnerShoot, A Dr. Seuss Story, and former contributor for 48 Minutes of Hell, Project Spurs, and ESPNsa.com. Boris Diaw is his pickup game spirit animal.

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