Here is a link to my Wednesday column about the Warriors winning the freaking NBA Championship. The full text runs below. Mrs. Cohn Zohn is cooking me tortellini in a butter and sage sauce whenever I get home Wednesday night. I’m thinking Warriors. But I’m also thinking tortellini.
With 10 seconds left in the game, with the game decided and the championship decided, Cavaliers coach David Blatt removed LeBron James from the game. James did not walk to the Cavaliers bench. He walked across the court, his head high and regal, to the Warriors bench.
He went directly to Warriors coach Steve Kerr and they hugged. Then James hugged Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry. This exchange of hugs was beautiful. It was a former champion admitting honorable defeat. Honoring the victorious opponent.
Seconds later, when the red lights flashed on the backboard indicating the game had ended and the Warriors were NBA champs, Kerr hugged Gentry. The Warriors players ran to the middle of the floor and jumped up and down, jumped in the other guys’ ballroom. David Lee and Stephen Curry hugged, the two who had been with the Warriors through the bad times. The Cavaliers fans stood at their seats and watched. They did not watch in anger. They watched in awe. Watched what winning a title looks like.
What you remember from all this is how easy winning the NBA Finals was for the Warriors. And how hard it was.
The Warriors beat the Cavs 105-97, won their third game in a row, took the league title after trailing in this series 2-1. They won their first NBA championship in 40 years, their first since the unexpected and glorious 1974-1975 season when the Warriors consisted of famous men named Al Attles and Rick Barry and Clifford Ray. Bygone names in basketball history.
This season — 2014-2015 — is the greatest season in Warriors history. They won a league-best and franchise-best 67 games and earned home-court advantage in each of their four playoff series. They broke other franchise records: 39 home wins, 28 road wins, 16-game win streak. It goes on.
Along with the San Francisco Giants, the Warriors are champions in their sport. The Bay Area, specifically Oakland and San Francisco, is the true north of major sports in America.
Warriors fans always had immense pride. Pride of place. Pride of team. All those years the Warriors were no good — they were no good for a long time — their fans supported the team. Call it a sports miracle. After the clinching game, Kerr recalled accepting the championship trophy, “standing up on that stage and hearing the Warriors chant from 500 yellow-clad Warriors fans.” The miracle continued in Cleveland.
As recently as three seasons ago, the Warriors had a dismal record of 23-43. They had not been in the playoffs since 2006-2007. That was the “We Believe” team that made it to the second round but lost its belief pretty fast. The Warriors were a perennial loser. Opponents actually said the Warriors were soft, passive, waiting for an excuse to lose. It’s all different now.
The world champion Warriors’ record in the long hard postseason — actually a second season — was 16-5. Five losses is a small number. But the 16-5 is deceptive. Winning the championship was hard. The Warriors fell behind to both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Cavaliers, had to face looming despair and then had to fight back. They grew from the experience, achieved championship mettle, showed their inner Warrior, if you will.
In the Finals they defeated a gallant team. Give the Cavs credit. If they were no good, the Warriors’ triumph wouldn’t mean as much. As everyone knows, the Cavs were missing three key players, two of them All-Stars.
Aside from James, the remaining Cavs were ordinary. They always had disastrous limitations against the Warriors. But they had James, self-described as “the best player in the world.” He is. And the Cavs made this series tough because of his will and refusal to lose quietly. He and his supporting cast might have beaten a less diversified, less unified team than the Warriors.
But the Warriors are special. This season’s team revolutionized basketball the way another local sports hero, Bill Walsh, revolutionized football. The Warriors are at that level.
Most basketball teams — especially in the playoffs — drive to the hoop for layups and try to get fouled. They play the rough shoving-and-pushing offensive game in the paint. See James. The Warriors refuse to be earthbound like that. They are the opposite. They shoot 3s as easily as breathing — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. Think of the Warriors as airborne.
All their 3s coming from so far pull defenders away from the basket. Once the basket is exposed — think of the King in chess — the Warriors go for the kill shot, checkmate. Tuesday was checkmate.
Here is Kerr on the Warriors’ style of play. “I know there’s been all this talk about the 3-point shot. Can you win shooting it? What was overlooked was the combination of great offense and great defense. We had the No. 1 defense in the league. When you get that combination, you’re going to be pretty good. It’s about the balance.”
The Warriors have two personalities — butterflies on offense and special-operative task-force killers on defense. Killer combination. Championship combination.
A note on Kerr. He came to the postgame interview room drenched. Champagne shower. His shirt was almost translucent and his wet hair stood on end. What Kerr did this season and in the playoffs justified management’s decision to fire Mark Jackson after last season and hire a rookie.
Kerr molded the Warriors into an intelligent, fast, exciting team. He put Andre Iguodala on the bench, a risky move. But Iguodala became the MVP of the Finals. “Andre sacrificed his starting role from the start of the season,” Kerr said. “He had never come off the bench in his entire career. That set the tone for our whole season.”
What Kerr achieved through brains and heart made the Warriors into the gold standard of the NBA.
And general manager Bob Myers put together this team the right way. Four of five starters in Game 6 came to the Warriors in the draft. Home-grown talent. The Warriors are a complete team, not a bank-breaking free agent — James — and his sidekicks.
So, yes, the Finals were a victory of team over superstar. Hail the team. Hail the champions.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.