The Toronto Raptors created history on Friday, with the Canadian basketball side clinching the NBA Championship with a 114-110 Game 6 win against reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
Whether it’s poetic vindication or a cruelly ironic epilogue to a career largely defined by playoff misfortune is a matter of perspective, but the best Steve Nash team of all-time is about to win the NBA title two months after his retirement.
Substantively, the Golden State Warriors are a fundamentally different team to Nash’s Suns. There’s a lot more to these Warriors than ‘Seven Seconds or Less’.
Conceptually though, on offence at least, Golden State emphasise the same headlining principles: rapid pace, running off makes, selfless ball movement, a religious devotion to the pick and roll, and a quick trigger from downtown.
The Warriors also have the same defining characteristic on offence that the peak Suns had: they come at you in waves. Their scoring binges are as diverse as they are devastating; fast-break tomahawk dunks for Igoudala, corner threes for Barnes, put-backs with attitude from Draymond, and of course, those pull-up transition three daggers from Curry that send opposition fans deliriously giggling all the way to the insane asylum.
The beauty and horror of these waves is that their timing is entirely unpredictable; like a tsunami, they seem to operate on their own whim. An opposition team can be comfortably in the game and then in the blink of an eye they’re down 18, drowning in the sea of Steph. Resistance is futile; to try and beat the wave is to meet the same fate that Patrick Swayze met at the end of Point Break.
Like the mid-to-late ’00s Suns, these waves of ‘splash’ make the Warriors the most glamorous team in the league, but what separates them from those star-crossed Phoenix teams is that they’re also the toughest and most disciplined unit in the game.
In Round 2, the Warriors didn’t beat the Grizzlies with lights out offence – Golden State scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions against Memphis, a mark that would have ranked 11th for the season – they did it with maniacal defence. They grit and grinded Memphis into submission, only allowing the Grizz to score at a rate that would have ranked 29th in the league during the season, sentencing the self-professed Grindfather Tony Allen to his own baptism of fire in the process.
The Warriors defence all starts with an Essendon fan from suburban Melbourne patrolling the paint. Andrew Bogut is the best rim protector in the NBA and he along with Draymond Green give the Warriors their identity. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘praise the Lord’ euphoria of Steph and Klay draining threes like it was scripted in the Bible for them to do so, but the Warriors are actually better at defence than offence.
The distinction is slight because the Warriors are basically better than everyone at everything. During the regular season Golden State ranked number one in the league in defensive efficiency and number two in offensive efficiency. But their defining characteristic is their defensive versatility – their ability to protect the rim with Bogut and Green and switch virtually everything whenever they want to.
Golden State has also improbably managed to make elite defence aesthetically pleasing, which is akin to making broccoli taste like crème brulee. It’s largely because Bogut and Green moonlight as basketball savants with elite passing skills to start or even run the break. Watertight defence becomes liquid offence faster for Golden State than any team thanks to the dynamism and selflessness of Bogut and Green.
Statistically, by point differential, winning percentage and efficiency ratings, the 2014-15 Warriors are one of the six or seven greatest basketball teams of all-time. They’re the most versatile team we’ve ever seen; the first team in history just as comfortable winning a shootout 137-129 as they are winning a rock-fight 85-83.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘they’re young, they shoot too many jump-shots and they’d never made the Conference Finals before’ storylines trumpeted by old white men on radio whose wives are optimistically waiting for a reboot of Murder, She Wrote, but in reality this Warriors team was always winning the title.
Disclaimer: the Warriors are winning the 2015 title. This is happening. Assuming the Hawks don’t miraculously come to life again like the zombies roaming Atlanta in The Walking Dead, LeBron’s Cavs as presently constructed will be the worst team to make the finals since, well, the last time LeBron’s Cavs made the finals.
With Irving crippled, Cleveland’s second-best player right now is Tristan Thompson, who, nice as he might be, would probably be the seventh best player on Golden State.
I’m writing off the best player in 20 years at my own peril, but one man – or in LeBron’s case, one god – can only do so much. James Harden played about as well as one person can play basketball in games one and two against Golden State and Houston is about to get swept.
Beneficiaries of playing in the barren wasteland that is the Eastern Conference, the Cavs are succeeding with caveman iso-ball but the Warriors are the astronauts from the future who are going to use the Cavs’ clubs against them. If the Warriors stay healthy this series isn’t a question of whether Golden State wins; it’s only a matter of how much blood will there be.
Aside from maybe the 2011 Mavs, this Golden State team would be the most likeable champion of my lifetime. They’ve got the loudest fans in the league, the best atmosphere, a tortured history, an endearing, humble rookie coach and a phenomenal basketball story in Shaun Livingston.
They’re selfless to a fault and don’t get caught up in false bravado (alright, Draymond might have a little bravado, but his swagger is the truth, my friends). Their talent is immense but it’s secondary to their impeccable discipline. They play the ‘right way’, and they’ve made the right way synonymous with the beautiful way. Which brings us to Steph.
I’ve written about Steph at length before, and there’s not much more I can say. Objectively, he’s combining volume and efficiency at a historically unprecedented level. Subjectively, I’m just hoping my first child is a girl so my son doesn’t have to deal with the androgynous ignominy of being a non-African-American male named ‘Steph’.
If you’re not on board with Steph Curry by now, you’re not living. He’s the perfection of Steve Nash that we always dreamed of but didn’t think was possible.
His passing wizardry makes Harry Potter look like a schizophrenic wannabe, and his jump-shot is so sweet that you want to eternally lick the wrapper. He’s Barack Obama delivering the State of the Union and he’s Lil Wayne spinning decks at the club. He’s basketball’s hope and the opposition’s despair. Steph Curry is life, man, and he’s making America a better place.
Not a bad leader for your 2015 champs to be.