For the third year in a row, the Golden State Warriors open the NBA postseason as the top rated team with home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. Of course our beloved Dubs ended a 40 year championship drought 2 years ago and almost realized one of the greatest seasons of all time last year just to see it all crumble in Games 5 - 7. How will the Warriors fare this year? We don't have the bench we used to have but we do have a very essential player back in the starting lineup and if I have to mention who that is, then just stop pretending you are a Warriors fan and go back to your book club with mediocre wine from Trader Joe's and stinky/stale cheese and crackers!
If you consider the anatomy of a "typical" NBA Championship team, there are three essential components:
A good floor general with solid ball handling skills and long range shooting ability.
An athletic swingman who can nail jumpers even when contested and do all of the little things like rebound, pass, and play defense.
A big man who can be a dominant post-up player and assert himself as an enforcer in the paint.
Now, not all NBA championship teams have had these three components which is why I emphasize the word "typical". In fact the Warriors in 2015 did not have item #2 and was kind of lacking in item #3 except for the fact that Draymond Green played great defense inside the key. The 2004 Detroit Pistons is another team that comes to mind since they upset a Lakers team loaded with Hall of Fame talent by simply playing great defense with no true superstar.
However, an overwhelming majority of teams that take home the Larry O'Brien trophy in June usually have star power at the point, 2/3 position, and power forward/center. Look at LeBron James. He has been to 6 straight NBA Finals whereas prior to that run he had been to the NBA Finals just once in his first 7 seasons in the NBA. What changed? Well when he "took his talents to South Beach", what he was really doing was joining forces with an All-Star point guard and an All-Star power forward. The result, 4 trips to the NBA Finals and two titles. Then he came back home and guess who was there waiting for him? Another All-Star point guard and All-Star power forward. The rest of the roster is filled with role players but it's awfully hard to win a title without the three essential components just mentioned. In fact, the Cavaliers were a strong contender to win the title in 2015 until Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love got injured.
What made the Warriors championship run in 2015 so shocking is that they did it with pure shooting (much to Charles Barkley's chagrin) even though Stephen Curry was amazing as a ball handler, Green did all of the little things to disrupt the other team's big man, and of course Klay Thompson stepped up as a shooter and did some of the other things you expect from a swing player. However, the Warriors never had a player who can consistently drive to the rim to collapse the opposition's defense and ultimately draw fouls. LeBron does that consistently as well as Irving. No one did that better than the greatest player of all time: Michael Jordan.
Basically the Warriors didn't have all three components to win a title which is why you tend to see some NBA teams build these mini All-Star squads. Magic Johnson and his cohorts in LA had that. So did Kobe and Shaq. The Celtics from 2008 - 2010 had their big three with Allen, Pierce, and Garnett. Even the Spurs championship runs had all three components which is when Ginobili and Parker were spring chickens and Duncan was one of the best big men in the game at that time.
The Warriors last year were able to counter their lack of a true swing player by having amazing depth. The bench for the Warriors probably could have beaten 80% of the other NBA teams. Unfortunately the Warriors faced a healthier and pissed off Cavaliers team and ultimately ended the dream season we were having.
Fast forward to the NBA offseason last summer and we got a pleasant surprise on 4th of July when Kevin Durant decided to leave OKC and make the Warriors starting lineup a mega All-Star team. The result has been amazing even though there were a few hiccups along the way. The bench is not as deep as last year's but the Warriors still shoot the ball well, play solid defense, and pose so many matchup problems for the opposition. You can try guarding the perimeter but then Durant will draw single coverage as he drives to the rim. You can double Durant but then you leave an open shooter on the wings.
With Curry's injury in the first round of the postseason last year and not being able to shake defenders like he usually does, the Cavs wisely guarded the perimeter with big men like Tristan Thompson and Love. The toll of chasing 73 wins also didn't help as many of the starters for the Warriors were exhausted heading into the postseason by simply not getting the rest they would get in 2015. This season has been different in terms of resting players with no record to chase so that bodes well for the Warriors. In fact big news was made about how teams are resting star players a bit too often, especially on nights when fans are expecting to see their favorite players take the court.
Well now we are in the postseason. All of the stars will come out to play and the Warriors have all three components to win a title and those three components are healthy. The Cavs can say the same but of course don't have home court advantage for the entire Eastern Conference playoffs unless the Celtics get knocked out in the first or second rounds.
We are destined to see the Warriors and Cavs in the NBA Finals for a third year in a row. Surprisingly that has never happened in NBA history when you consider some of the dominant Celtics and Lakers teams from the 50's, 60's, and 80s. No other team is as strong at the point, 2/3, and 4/5 as the Warriors and Cavs are. For sure we know the formula for winning a title will stay true to form. Only injuries to key players to the Warriors and/or Cavs can prevent the third installment of this highly anticipated trilogy from taking place. Who wins between these two? Hard to tell but expect another epic series. The next two months will be fun!