People talk about the Golden State Warriors like the New York Yankees. As if some monocle-wearing rich asshole deviously rubbed his hands together and plotted to buy all the best players and gain an unfair advantage over the rest of the NBA. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If I asked you ten, or even five years ago, “What are the odds that a largely irrelevant franchise with no history that hasn’t sniffed a trophy in forty years will be a championship contender and break the Jordan Bulls single season record of wins along with every other record in the book and be a league leading defense and offense with a bunch of jump shooters and no true center and only one undersized top ten draft pick who spent the first three years of his NBA career injured?”, what would you say? Never gonna happen.
The Warriors have four all-stars, yes. Three unlikely all-stars, developed through a system like we’ve never seen, with a mental and physical focus that far exceeds their athletic abilities, breaking every ceiling we thought they had. They built something so unreal that it attracted the best free agent in a decade to join them. Think about that. Golden State did not buy greatness by picking up Kevin Durant. They built greatness out of the discarded pieces of other team’s draft day. Kevin Durant, already playing alongside another MVP caliber star, left to join this machine.
The machine was built organically. It was built through the draft, but not with tanking and stacking number ones. It was built with intelligence, and above all those most elusive and underappreciated aspects of any team: culture and chemistry.
The two C’s that make the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs perennial powers despite having less flashy talent than nearly everyone else. Golden State created it out of thin air in just a few short years while Steph was getting injured and no one was looking. They were never supposed to get past the talent-stacked Clippers, let alone the Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, or the rest of the historically powerful Western Conference. But they did. Back to back seasons. Shattering every record and expectation along the way. With a bunch of guys nobody would ever try to build and NBA team around.
That’s what Durant joined. And it was a gamble for him and the Warriors. How often does a superstar join a system and both get a little worse? How often do the two C’s remain intact when another ball-dominant player joins a cast that came up together and earned it?
I was skeptical of the KD acquisition. I loved what the Warriors built and thought they needed more backups in the paint before more scorers. In the regular season, my fears were borne out. Steph looked like half of his killer self when KD was on the floor, and the very weaknesses (minus the bogus Draymond Green suspension and a few injuries) that made them vulnerable the previous postseason seemed no better. Now it looks like my fears were unwarranted, and KD’s iso ability and defensive growth more than made up for what was sacrificed.
That makes it even more amazing. KD became a better defender – first-team caliber defender – and passer. Steph, and to a lesser extent Klay, struggled to find their game in the regular season with the addition of KD, but they never showed mental frustration. They never checked out. They never became victims or blamers. When KD went down with injury, Steph showed why he was back to back MVP. Those last 14 games of the regular season, he was the best player in the NBA. Then the playoffs started, KD came back, and somehow they both managed to play like the best player on the team. Then Klay got back in sync.
Dray and the bench still haven’t gotten it going at full speed in the finals, and Zaza has been a downright liability. Yet they are up 3-0 against one of the greatest rosters I’ve ever seen, and a team that in many ways is their opposite. Cleveland has more top 10 draft picks than any team in NBA history. They have the most expensive payroll in history. They have three guys who were all full-blown team leading all-stars before they came together. They didn’t build an unlikely machine with culture and chemistry, they bought all the best pieces they could with a singular focus on beating the Warriors. Cleveland doesn’t have to worry about getting to the finals in the East. They could bench two of their big three and cruise past their ridiculous Eastern opponents. They can build entirely for the finals. Golden State doesn’t have that luxury in the West.
The reason Durant joined this unlikely superpower – culture and chemistry – is the reason they’re up 3-0. You never see Golden State lose their defensive focus, no matter how many bad calls or bricked shots or big runs or rowdy crowds happen. They never stop passing to each other. They never stop pushing the ball. They never visibly shrug in defeat when the opponent hits a clutch shot (yeah, I’m calling you out LeBron). They just stay so…composed.
Game one was all interior basketball. Fluid movement, no turnovers, get to the rim. Game two was sloppy and loose, but both Steph and KD outplayed LeBron, and Klay outplayed Kyrie. Dray was Dray while Tristan disappeared for Cleveland (a sign of lacking the two C’s). Kevin Love did all he could, but it wasn’t enough. Game three was all about hitting enough dagger threes to stay within arms length as Cleveland went on a tear in front of the home crowd. Then, in the clutch, it was culture and chemistry that toppled the bitter, eratic, weirdly passive choke job of the Cavs down the stretch.
Call them a superteam if you want. Say it’s unfair that KD joined. When I look at Golden State I see David, not Goliath. I see an unlikely undersized crew who built something no one ever thought we’d see and used it to attract a top-flight star to a franchise no one would’ve expect him to join a few years earlier. If it’s so easy, why doesn’t another irrelevant franchise like Minnesota just draft a few small, injury-prone late first rounders and build a team that attracts the best free agent in the world?
KD didn’t make this monster team, this monster team created stars out of thin air in Steph, Klay, and Dray, and their once in a lifetime culture and chemistry attracted KD. It not only attracted him, it has elevated him to the best player in the league today.
Success is the second greatest threat to culture and chemistry. Let’s see if they can finish an historic sweep this year, and keep that magic going for many years to come. This is something we’ve never seen before. We are all witnesses.