Warriors return home to birthplace of modern-day dynasty in Cleveland

Warriors return home to birthplace of modern-day dynasty in Cleveland

For all but 10 celebratory days over 21 years, the Warriors spun a web of despair around themselves and their fans. Coaches and players, many disguised as rescuers, came and went, like cans of beer at a tailgate. Defeat was both expected and inevitable.

It changed on June 16, 2015 in Cleveland, at Quicken Loans Arena, the place they will visit Wednesday night. That’s where the Warriors shed the misery that for so long defined them, rinsing away the failures of the past with gallons of champagne and the sweetest sweat in sports.

The Warriors were, at long last, champions, confirming the end of the old Warriors.

They took down LeBron James and the Cavaliers in six games. The Warriors spent the night and the early morning hours reveling in their accomplishment, hugging and dancing and shouting and shattering the Cleveland quiet.

The Warriors have since become accustomed to success. They have gone back to the NBA Finals every year since, always in Cleveland, always against LeBron. They won three championships in a four-year span and are favorites to win another in 2019.

There is talk of a Warriors dynasty. Crazy, eh?

“I remember sitting in this room three years ago,” coach Steve Kerr said last June, after championship No. 3. “It seemed like a dream.

“This feels more like reality. And I hope that doesn't sound arrogant. It's just that's the talent we have, and that's the experience we've gained. But it's a very different feeling. It's still euphoric, but three years ago was I can't believe this happened, and now it's I can definitely believe this happened.”

Yet this transformation happened so fast. Eight years earlier, in 2007, the franchise bar was set so low that winning a first-round playoff series was cause for delirium. The “We Believe” slogan was conceived to convey faith that this was the year the Warriors would interrupt 13 years of ineptitude and dysfunction and actually reach the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

Yes, there was a time when euphoria was being one of 16 teams in the playoffs.

The “We Believe” Warriors accounted for two of those 10 celebratory days, the one on which they clinched a playoff berth (April 18) and the other on which they upset the No. 1-seed Mavericks to win that first-round series (May 3).

That was as good as it would get – until that June 2015 night Cleveland, which is the birthplace of the New Warriors and a site they will visit Wednesday night.

Only Stephen Curry, drafted in 2009, among the players and coaches could comprehend how far the Warriors had come. They were 60 games below .500 in his first three seasons. They were 52 games over in his sixth.

‘It makes it so much more special to have gone through some down years and injuries and transition from a roster standpoint,” Curry recalled after a 105-97 win in Game 6 gave the Warriors their first title since 1975. “And to be able to sit here six years later from my rookie year and hold this trophy, this is an unbelievable experience.”

Contrast that with Curry last June, after sweeping LeBron the Cavs and celebrating once more in the visitor’s locker room in Cleveland.

“I just know what we've been able to accomplish is really meaningful and something that not many players have been able to experience,” he said at the podium. “So wherever that puts us in the conversation in the history of the NBA or, you know, titles around dynasty and all that type of stuff, I'm a three-time champ.”

[RELATED: Warriors Outsiders Q&A: Kevon Looney’s development; Draymond Green’s timeline]

The Warriors between 1994 and June 2015 had eight other days of deep joy and achievement, the three days on which they clinched a playoff berth and the five days on which they won a playoff series.

They were an NBA afterthought, a team for which nobody longed to play. Curry was displeased upon being drafted by the Warriors. By the time Kerr took the job in 2014, enough had changed that he believed much better days were ahead.

“I remember coming into Oracle as a player year after year, playing against lousy teams and the fans were there every single year,” he said from the podium in 2015.

The fans are still there, and they have much more to cheer. They Warriors won the 2015 playoff series and experienced two more ultimate celebrations, one in Oakland and one more in Cleveland.

So when they walk into the Q on Wednesday to face the LeBron-less Cavs, they can pour one out for the rivalry that was while savoring memories that last forever.

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

[RELATED: How die-hard Warriors fans can stay optimistic]

Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.

Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain


Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain

Add another one to the list.

After leaving Friday night’s loss to the Celtics with a thumb injury, an MRI has confirmed a right thumb sprain for All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell.

Russell will not travel with the team on the upcoming four-game road trip and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Golden State’s already lengthy injury report adds another name, as the team now stands with just nine healthy players as the team embarks for New Orleans on Saturday to kick off the trip.