The quest to bring history to its knees ended Tuesday night, not with fireworks but with a simple, steady drumbeat. The Golden State Warriors are the best team in their sport for the first time in four decades not because they lit up the Cleveland night, but because they didn’t need to do so. They won the NBA championship not by knockout, or by unanimous decision, but by a third option.
They won by fait accompli.
Oh, narrative junkies desperately wanted the Warriors’ 105-97 victory in Game 6 of the NBA Finals wanted it to be a forced passing of the torch from LeBron James to Stephen Curry. They wanted the Warriors’ 40-year wait to end in a hail of three-point rocketry. They wanted the big finish.
But that would not be the essence of these Warriors. They won because they had too many ways to keep from losing.
• They won with their usual strangulating defense, wearing down then wearing out the Cavaliers and holding them under 100 points for the fifth time in six games.
• They won because they dared the Cavaliers to beat them with James and Timofey Mozgov, just as they dared Houston to beat them with Dwight Howard and James Harden, and Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and New Orleans with Anthony Davis and . . . uhh, let me get back to you on that.
• They won because they had more players that contributed not only meaningful but even invaluable minutes, starting with Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, the first player to do so without ever starting a regular season game.
• They won because they are not just Stephen Curry’s team in the way that the Cavs had to be LeBron James’ team. Indeed, they won because they were at full strength from October until Tuesday, never played shorthanded even when a player or two produced a stinker, and because they did not squander the good fortune that was repeatedly thrust upon them.
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They simply were too good a team to ever know a bad stretch of play. This is an amazing fact, so it bears repeating. In 103 games over 10 months, they were too good to know a bad stretch.
That’s the most compelling historical event to play out here. Of all the records and never-before-oddities and all the years of wretched basketball that changed a franchise’s history, what these Warriors did was muscle their way into the photo of the best teams in the game’s history.
They didn’t beat the odds – they set them.
They didn’t invent motion basketball – they made it the new norm.
They didn’t defeat the notion that first-year coaches can’t dance unscathed through the minefield starting with Kerr slipping past the New York Knicks – they made it all the more amazing because they took a lot of firsts and made them seem almost standard operating procedure.
They didn’t turn the notions of stardom through raw numbers on their heads – they took them and advanced them.
They didn’t change the cult of the dominant player – they bent the hell out of it.
Or did you forget the fact that amid all the euphoria that Draymond Green had the triple-double that everyone expected would be James’? Or that Curry’s 25 and eight assists would not particularly stand out beyond Iguodala’s, or Green’s or even Festus Ezeli’s 10 minutes in the second half?
The Warriors won, as Kerr the surfer would surely appreciate, in waves.
James was by most analyses the best player of all those in the Finals, and his 32 and 18 rebounds in Game 6 would support that very traditional view. But even he said he wouldn’t want to be the MVP of a lost Finals, and the person who did win it, Iguodala, did so by coming as close as a single human being can come to neutralizing James’ effects.
In the end, Kerr looked like a nine-year-old who’d just gotten a pony for Christmas. Curry looked like the same nine-year-old who’d just been given an entire stable. Iguodala, whose first thanks were bestowed upon the league’s 30 chaplains (unquestionably a first), on the other hand, looked like the nine-year-old’s father, getting a satisfaction he could never have approached in Philadelphia or Denver. He gave honor to the notion of coming off the bench for the greater good, and forced people to rethink the true meaning of word “valuable.”
And ultimately, that was the statement that made this season the fait accompli it was. A team too good to know adversity while exploiting the adversities of others is hard enough to find is more than even Kerr could process immediately thereafter.
“I can’t tell you how many things are going through my mind because we’ve spent so much of our time competing,” he said. “But the one thing I’d forgotten was the grind. It had been 12 years since I’d last been here with San Antonio, and it’s a long, grueling two months.”
He can only guess at the 28 others that preceded that, and the grind that the place his team represents endured. But that history is history now, because these Warriors made their own.
They made a team that didn’t have to apologize for the luck they had because they did so many other things so gloriously. As Kerr said, “Someone has to win.”
And this team, these Golden State Warriors, had to win because they were simply better in all the areas that matter most in the new era – all the way down to the MVP who couldn’t get a start until the 101st game of the year but not only beat the best player in the world remembered to thank the chaplains afterward.