The Golden State Warriors are headed to their fifth consecutive NBA Finals. Coach Steve Kerr, with this season's trip to the championship series, becomes the first coach in the history of American professional sports to lead his team to a championship berth in each of his first five seasons with that organization. As for the franchise, Golden State is now the second of just two teams in NBA history to reach five consecutive Finals appearances (the Boston Celtics being the first).
Looking back over their 2019 postseason run, thus far, the Dubs dispatched the Los Angeles Clippers in the opening round in six games — somewhat surprisingly. Then, after looking vulnerable in that LA series, Golden State moved on to face their formidable rivals from Houston. Those Rockets had ended the regular season strong and taken care of their first-round opponents — a strong Utah Jazz team — in just five games.
With the series all tied-up at two games apiece, following back-to-back Rocket wins, the series shifted back to the Bay and Oracle Arena. Then the unthinkable happened: Kevin Durant came down awkwardly after a jumpshot and clearly injured his lower right leg. Up to that point, KD had been the best player in the postseason, leading the Dubs through the rigors associated with playoff basketball. However, with one of their "Big 4" relegated to being a spectator in the locker room, the Splash Brothers would once again need to become the elite playmakers that NBA fans and media figures have come to enjoy and expect.
In Game 5 against the Rockets, when their team absolutely required it, both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson came alive, leading the Dubs not only to victory in that game, but also carrying them through Game 6, on the road, in Houston. Curry's epic 33-point second half answered the critics who had been doubting the team's ability to win meaningful games in the absence of KD.
Then it was on to the Western Conference Finals and the Oakland native-Damian Lillard-led Trail Blazers. Coming off a dramatic Game 7 win in Denver, Portland was confident in their ability to hang with Golden State, especially sans Kevin Durant. While that confidence may not have been quite misplaced, the world saw what Curry, Thompson, Green, and Co. can do when the doubters come out. In a series that saw the Dubs come back from three consecutive 15-plus point deficits (two of which were on the road) and a blowout Game 1 victory, coach Kerr had to be pleased with the response he got from his battle-tested team. Not only did the stars do what stars do, but the bench players elevated their effort in light of their injured teammate, often playing crucial minutes down the stretch in tight games.
Now the Warriors await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. After Toronto's Game 4 victory, Tuesday night in Canada, the series is tied at two games apiece. Regardless of which team comes out of the East, by virtue of both teams possessing better regular season records than the Dubs, Games 1 and 2 of the Finals will be road tests for Kerr's squad. Against the Bucks, this season, the Warriors split a pair of games (1-1), while the Raptors fared better versus the back-to-back defending champs, defeating Golden State in both of their meetings (2-0).
While no official word has been put forth regarding the status of either Kevin Durant or DeMarcus Cousins, ahead of Game 1 of the Finals on May 30, the team still remains optimistic that both stars will return to action in the NBA Championship series.
Photo: Jon Evans