Warriors

Comparing Warriors' 2-0 Finals lead in 2016 to 2-0 Finals lead in 2017

Comparing Warriors' 2-0 Finals lead in 2016 to 2-0 Finals lead in 2017

CLEVELAND -- Even as the Cavaliers return to the warm embrace of Quicken Loans Arena, the scene of their NBA Finals revival one year ago, it’s apparent the Warriors in these NBA Finals not like the Warriors of those NBA Finals.

Indeed, the only similarity is both Warriors teams entered Game 3 on the road with a 2-0 series lead.

The Warriors of 2016, however, came into Game 3 with a hobbled Stephen Curry, a far too emotional Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes at small forward and a sense that perhaps a back-to-back championship was in the cards.

They proceeded to lose four of the last five Finals games, and the series, collapsing as much under the weight of their own shortcomings as the relentlessness and increasing swagger of the Cavaliers.

The 2017 Warriors come into Game 3 Wednesday night with a healthy Curry, a more stable Green, Kevin Durant at small forward and, above all, a rock that has lingered in their collective gut since last June, when they infamously became the first team to lose a 3-1 lead in The Finals.

It’s not easy to discern which of these four factors is most significant, even if Cavaliers superstar LeBron James believes he has the answer: “KD.”

The presence of Durant, instead of Barnes, is the most visible difference between the Warriors of last June and the Warriors of today. Durant has been the best player in the series, fantastic on defense and provided more offense in two games than Barnes did in seven. He is completely neutralizing James.

But Curry’s health cannot be underestimated. One year after bad wheels undermined the mind-blowing agility that sets him apart, those physical gifts are on full display. Unable to shake the lumbering Kevin Love in 2016, Curry is back to embarrassing anyone with the gall to challenge him on the perimeter.

And Green’s head has leveled to such a degree it’s darn near flat. He apparently learned from his mistakes of last year, when his firebrand ways blazed so hot he found himself suspended for Game 5. He took it hard, blaming himself for the Warriors failure to win it all for the second consecutive year.

Yet the overall drive exhibited by these Warriors is unlike anything they have shown before. It’s stronger than that which pushed them to the championship in 2015, even stronger than that which pushed them to win 73 games last season, shattering the single-season NBA record.

[RELATED: Draymond: 'Guys are locked in like I've never seen before']

“You just see a certain amount of focus,” Draymond Green said Tuesday. “You see a competitive level of where like it hasn't been matched. That's a good sign. But just the way guys have been locked in, focused on the task at hand, I mean it's been a special thing.”

It’s a focus that is sharpened by bitter memories of last June, even if some of the names have changed.

“That was last year,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Half the guys on the team this year are new.”

Zaza Pachulia and David West and JaVale McGee and Matt Barnes are, along with Durant, the new veterans. Pat McCaw and Damian Jones are rookies. The roster was renovated last summer.

But the most important new member, the team’s new superstar, Durant, can identify with what the Warriors went through. He was a leader of the Oklahoma City team that last May coughed up a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

Leads are history, right. The Warriors went up 2-0 on Cleveland last June by posting a 15-point win in Game 1 and a 33-point rout in Game 2. They’re up 2-0 now after winning Game 1 by 22 and Game 2 by 19.

The numbers are similar numbers, but the vibe is different.

“I think guys are locked in, like I've never seen before, understand the task ahead and know that this is going to be the hardest game of the series,” Green said.

If Games 1 and 2 are any indication, everybody who takes the court for the Warriors in Game 3 of these Finals will bring the appropriate level of concentration. They’re different now, and potentially much better than a year ago.

“As a team I think so,” Klay Thompson said. “We're moving the ball great, we're shooting the ball at a high clip, and our defense has been unbelievable.

“So, I mean, it's easy to draw back on last year because it was a tough series for us. We obviously had a lead and we lost it. We just got to learn from it and not try and make the same mistakes twice.”

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

OAKLAND – They don’t celebrate 50-win seasons around here. Not anymore. Not when it’s a mere signpost along the way to something worth cherishing.

That’s what 50 wins has become for the Warriors. When they hit No. 50 on Sunday with an indistinct 121-114 victory over the Detroit Pistons, there was but the slightest few moments of reflection.

“Pretty impressive,” coach Steve Kerr said.

“It’s special to be a part of something so great as these last six of seven years have been for us,” Draymond Green said.

Beg pardon? Impressive? Special? For a franchise that reached 50 wins four times in its first five decades in the Bay Area to string together six consecutive such seasons is right out of the late Franklin Mieuli’s wildest fantasy.

Mieuli owned the Warriors for the first 24 years (1962-86) of their Bay Area existence, first in San Francisco and then in Oakland. The Warriors reached 50 wins twice in that span.

Mieuli sold the team to Jim Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane, who owned the Warriors for nine seasons (1986-95), during which there were two 50-win seasons.

The Chris Cohan ownership lasted 15 seasons (1995-2010) and never saw a 50-win season. The most successful team under Cohan was the 2006-07 “We Believe” squad that finished two games over .500 (42-40) – enough to be revered for eternity.

Among the few employees remaining from the Cohan era is Stephen Curry, drafted one year before the current ownership group, led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. The Warriors were 25-56 in Curry’s rookie season, 36-46 the following season and 23-43 in his third season. So there was a time . . .

Curry knows, as do the team’s longtime fans, how absurd this turnaround has been.

“It’s surreal, to be honest, when you talk about the history of the organization and how hard it is to win NBA games, win championships and string together year after year after year,” he said. “It takes a collection of talented guys, a commitment to trying to put together the best team possible every year. And that’s the front office, the coaching staff, all the way down.”

The Warriors and their fans have evolved from the years of praying for the playoffs to the annual expectation of championship parade. They once hoped for satisfactory. They now anticipate excellence.

“When I came here, I think there was a 23-win season the year before that,” said Green, who was drafted in 2012, three seasons after Curry. “The next year was my rookie year and we made the playoffs and we won (47) games. To have the run that we’re currently having, it’s a special thing.

“But in saying that, we get the opportunity to do it with a special group of guys, a special organization, a special coaching staff, a special ownership group, a special front office. It’s more about the people that you come work with every day. That’s what makes runs like this possible. That’s what makes runs like this sustainable.”

[RELATED: Kerr's message after Mavericks loss]

The Warriors were 51-31 in Mark Jackson’s final season as coach. They’ve since won 67, 73, 67, 58. Here in Year 5, they are at 50 – and counting.

Which is why, in part, Kerr says he didn’t sweat that putrid performance the Warriors laid down Saturday in a 35-point loss to Dallas at Oracle.

“It’s hard for anybody to understand what these guys go through physically, emotionally and spiritually, trying to defend the crown, trying to win the title, trying to stay on top of the mountain,” Kerr said. “It’s hard. And last night they had nothing. They had nothing in the tank.

“The great thing about this team . . . is they always bounce back because they have so much pride. What they have accomplished – this team has the best record over the last four seasons (265-63) as any four-year run in the history of the NBA. What they have done is just remarkable. Last night was tough, but it’s really tough to do what they have done, too. We’re going to give them a pass and we are going to move on.”

Understand, 50 wins guarantees nothing in the postseason. The NBA graveyard is replete with headstones marking the first-round demise of 50-win teams. In the first of their six 50-win seasons, 2013-14, the Warriors were such a team, ousted in seven by the hated Clippers.

[RELATED: KD, Kerr on six-shot night]

Here’s the one thing a succession of 50-win seasons can assure: Respect. That’s something the Warriors had to earn.

“I have a true appreciation for what we’ve been able to do,” Curry said. “But I want to continue this for as long as we can.”

How Draymond Green's defense set tone for Warriors in win vs. Pistons

How Draymond Green's defense set tone for Warriors in win vs. Pistons

OAKLAND - Ten minutes into the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Pistons, Draymond Green found himself in the post against fellow forward and former adversary Blake Griffin. With 10 seconds left in the shot clock, Griffin took a couple of jab steps, trying to make room along the baseline, but not before Green's defense forced the All-Star to fumble the ball, allowing the shot clock to expire.

Green then tapped Pistons head coach Dwane Casey and held a blank stare to the crowd. The play, like his one-on-one battle with Griffin on Sunday night, set the tone Golden State's 121-114 victory over Detroit.

"I thought Draymond's energy and defensive effort sparked us all night," Steve Kerr said following the game.

From the onset of Sunday's matchup, Griffin, who finished with 24 points on 6-of-14 from the field, seemed to be playing the memories of yesteryear as much he played Green. For his first several possessions he sought out the Warriors' forward in the post, hoping his array of powerful post moves would beat the former Defensive Player of the Year.

Instead, he shot just 3-for-8 in the first half.

“At some point, somebody gotta figure it out," Green said. "Like, don’t target me in the post. I’ve been dealing with that my whole career. It used to piss me off, now it's like whatever. If y'all are going to do that, you'll probably lose.”

As Green's reached championship heights over the years, it's important to remember Griffin's role in Green's career. It was Griffin, then a member of the Clippers, who got under Green's skin in 2013 on Christmas Day, when both were ejected late in the second half of a Warriors win. It was Griffin and the Clippers who provided a stage for Green, then a role player, to break out in the 2014 Western Conference playoffs four months later, when Green averaged 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. And it was Griffin whom Green looked to as he hit a 3-pointer in the final moments of a Warriors win in 2014, one of the lasting images in the rivalry and the beginning of Golden State's current run.

This season, Griffin has been fantastic, averaging 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists, earning his sixth All-Star appearance last month. Now, years later, Green still gets up for the matchup against Griffin, even as he plays more than 2,000 miles away from Los Angeles.

"I enjoy playing against great players and taking on a challenge," Green said. "Blake is a great player, he's gotten a lot better since the last time I faced him and I try to be physical. Very strong, likes to go bully ball from time to time, just staying my ground and trying to make him take tough shots."

Green's performance also helped whip the stain of a 126-91 loss to the Mavericks on Saturday night. In the first half, the Warriors held the Pistons to 44 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from 3-point range. The outing came as the Warriors are trying to stay atop the Western Conference with nine games remaining.

[RELATED: Kerr on plan to rest Curry]

This season, Green has battled injuries, sideline shouting matches with superstar teammates and the expected failure to reach his goal of the Defensive Player of the Year award. But, at least for a night, the Warriors' heartbeat set the tone guarding the Pistons' best player.

"He takes the challenge when he faces Blake (Griffin)," Kerr said. "They have been going head to head for many years and its a hell of a challenge, Blake is tough as anybody to guard and Draymond was fantastic."