Iron spine on full display in Game 3, Warriors on brink of historic finish

Iron spine on full display in Game 3, Warriors on brink of historic finish

You all remember the final 4:59 of Game Seven last year, don’t you? It’s been eating at your eyes, ears, tongues and souls all summer, fall, winter and spring. The Golden State Warriors missed every shot they took for five consecutive minutes, lost the NBA championship and ripped the crown from their own heads, of their own accord, by their own hand.

Well, life’s a funny old bastard sometimes, and now you can remember the last 3:13 of Game Three this year – when the Warriors did to the Cleveland Cavaliers what the Cavs did to them (and what they did to themselves) last June 18.

They are now, as a result of Wednesday’s 118-113 win in Game Three of these NBA Finals, on the verge of finishing one of the most frightfully impressive seasons in the history of the sport by rolling the team that wallet-lifted them a year ago.

And the difference – yes, yes, I know you know already – was the nonpareil Kevin Durant, whose 31/8/4 line was rendered nearly invisible by his work turning around a seeming Cavaliers victory by with a basket/rebound/26-footer in a 30-second span of the final 1:15 turned the game, the series, and a whole lot of narratives, flight plans and hotel cancellations.

In stopping the disintegration of their worst half of the series by seizing the final three minutes, the Warriors displayed the iron spine and the willful refusal to bow to the inevitable that they have rarely had to display this postseason.

Plus, unlike last year’s collapse, which was nearly matched by Cleveland’s own dreadful shooting, the Warriors did it by resuscitating themselves in crunch time, which is a refreshing change from their usual M.O. of stomping a team early and then staying safely ahead.

It was the win that fleshes out their very likely championship as one of the sport’s most well-rounded teams. They won Game 1 by preventing the Cavs form doing what they wanted, Game 2 by doing whatever they wanted, and Game 3 by showing their fullest understanding yet of the art of the gut-check.

“It was just an incredibly tough, resilient performance,” said incredibly tough and resilient head coach Steve Kerr. “It wasn’t the smartest game that we’ve played all year, but it was maybe our toughest in terms of our ability to just hang in there.”

It was also satisfying entertainment for all but the most strident of Cleveland fans. The best players on both sides – Durant, Klay Thompson (30 and six), Stephen Curry (26/13/6), LeBron James (39/11/9) and Kyrie Irving (38/6/3) – were brilliant, save Draymond Green, who was dogged throughout by paralyzing foul trouble, and Kevin Love, who couldn’t make a basket worthy of the memory.

But the final three minutes were the Warriors at their most incandescently obstinate. Having lost the initiative in a sub-optimal third quarter, they had to scramble from behind in the fourth, and did so as though they the outcome was exactly the one nobody had prepared for. In the immortal words of Kyrie Irving, “Diown the stretch they were just more poised.”

And bloodless. And supremely, defiantly arrogant in their certainty. And that’s arrogant as in utterly self-assured, not arrogant as in preening and dismissive. They needed the Curry 12-footer and the Green rebound the Durant rebound-and-run for the 26-footer, and the defense by Thompson ion Irving and the block by Andre Iguodala on James (another bit of turnabout from a year ago) . . . it was almost a tapestry of single mindedness and brilliance under the most difficult of circumstances.

But maybe they knew that the two most important Cavaliers, James and Irving, could not sustain themselves at their rate of play for an entire night.

“Those guys had to do so much for them and they were doing it tonight, and they got better contributions from their bench, but I think we have an advantage in our depth, they don't have as much depth as we do. But those guys can win you a game, and you almost saw it tonight in LeBron and Kyrie. It didn't seem like they got tired, and they might not show it, but it's hard to do that for 48 minutes.”

“We didn’t change anything,” Kerr said of the late-game adjustment that weren’t made. “We discussed making changes but didn’t want to change anything,. The way they play, LeBron and Kyrie had it going the whole game, but that’s pretty taxing, and we kept telling them they would get tired, and fatigue would play a role.”

For his part, James dismissed that as an excuse, as he would. But his voice would not be heard in the wake of the result of the best game of what is probably going to be a shamefully short series.

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."