Long before the Golden State Warriors would dominate the 2014-15 regular season and win their way into the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers that start on Thursday, co-owner Joe Lacob wrote his goals for the coming season on a piece of paper and hid it inside his office desk.
“I thought we were a lot better than a 51-win team,” Lacob, whose team entered the playoffs with a 67-15 mark, told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday night while celebrating his team’s Western Conference Finals win over the Houston Rockets. “I didn’t write 60 (wins on the paper), but it was damn close. It was high 50s. Our goal, as I’ve said all along, was to get to the Western Conference Finals. That was our goal, to get to the Western Conference Finals. Anything beyond that, I think we exceeded our goal.”
But here’s the thing about these Warriors, who made it so clear they wanted to take their program to the next level when they swapped Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr at the head coaching spot last May after a 51-31 regular season and first-round series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers: they’re getting greedy now, and with good reason. They’re more than capable of winning the franchise’s first championship since 1975.
“I’m happy to get to the Finals,” Lacob continued. “I think it’s a great achievement, and I told all my owners in here, no matter what happens from this point forward, that’s a great achievement. But I’ve got to be honest, I think we’re the best team, and I want to win. I think every single one of us is going in there with the goal of winning this thing now.”
Here are three reasons why they can pull it off
So much for the idea that Curry couldn’t carry his team in the playoffs like James Harden did for the Houston Rockets in the regular season.
Because the reigning MVP had his minutes managed so much during the regular season – they dipped from 36.5 minutes per game in 2013-14 to 32.7 per in 2014-15 – it was only natural to wonder what would happen when he had to carry a heavier load. Not to mention one that came with all the pressure of the playoffs.
But with Curry averaging 38.1 minutes per game, only Anthony Davis has scored at a higher rate than him in the playoffs (31.5 points per game to 29.2). Of course because Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans were swept by the Warriors in the first round, there was a much smaller sample size (four games compared to Curry’s 15). Curry’s playmaking has remained a big part of his game (6.4 assists per game), but his long-range game has been historic.
He already set a new NBA record for three-pointers made in a single postseason, hitting 73 of 167 (43.7%) to far surpass Reggie Miller’s mark of 58 that was set in 22 playoffs games in 2000. Curry’s fellow Splash Brother, shooting guard Klay Thompson, is a distant second in postseason three-pointers made with 45 (on 106 attempts, for a 42.5% clip).
Curry will have his hands full on the defensive end, as his counterpart, two-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, is more than capable of taking over a game no matter how big the stage. Irving missed two of the four conference finals games against the Atlanta Hawks with left knee tendinitis, but has said he expects to be ready for Game 1. Curry will certainly be looking to be more effective than he was the last time he faced the Cavs, as they limited him to 18 points on five of 17 shooting (three of nine from three-point range), six assists, three rebounds and four turnovers in a 110-99 Cavs win in Cleveland on Feb. 26.
The Warriors haven’t been quite as sharp on the defensive end in the postseason as they were in the regular season, but it’s close. Their playoff mark of 98.9 points allowed per 100 possessions is fourth of the 16 postseason teams, and just a shade below the leader (Chicago Bulls at 98.1). Golden State led the league in defensive rating during the season with a mark of 98.2.
The bottom line: they still have big man Andrew Bogut and forward Draymond Green anchoring this stingy and versatile unit, and they still have their health. Anyone who still sees the Warriors as a finesse team simply isn’t paying attention, and there have been a number of instances in the playoffs in which they’ve had to win with defense when their offense had stalled.
The matchup against the Cavs comes at a convenient time for the Warriors in terms of style, as the Rockets ranked fourth in three-pointers attempted during the regular season (27.5 per game) and Cleveland was second (29.1). Yet the Warriors made a concerted effort to run the Rockets off the perimeter and force them to take midrange looks or attack the basket, and the strategy clearly worked. Houston attempted just 25.2 three-pointers per game during the conference finals, hitting just 33.3% (they shot 34.8% in the regular season). Which brings us to…
When Thompson struggled to contain the wildly-talented Harden, the Warriors tried Harrison Barnes. When that wasn’t working to their liking, they tried Draymond Green, and then Andre Iguodala. The list of long, athletic and well-rounded players on the Warriors roster goes on…
While Golden State certainly wishes it had someone like, say, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard to try to slow down LeBron James, they have the next best thing when it comes to taking the collective approach. This was all part of the design when the Warriors went to work putting this roster in place, and it doesn’t stop there.
Reserve point guard Shaun Livingston can help on this front, too, as his 6-foot-7 frame and savvy veteran ways certainly come in handy. In the frontcourt, reserve big man Festus Ezeli has picked a fine time to play well in light of a calf injury to Marreese Speights that kept him out of the last eight games.
If there is a weakness for the Cavs to exploit, it’s the Warriors’ tendency to come up short in their search for a third scorer beyond Curry and Thompson. It could be Green one night, then Barnes the next, but the consistent shooting from the non-Splash Bros members of the Warriors is, well, not consistent at all. And with Cavs defenders like Iman Shumpert and James available to try and make life tough on Curry, the margin for offensive error could become quite thin for this Warriors team that ranked second in the league in scoring during the regular season (109.7 points scored per 100 possessions, trailing only the Los Angeles Clippers at 109.8).