Published On: Sat, Jun 9th, 2018

Warriors' title run was far more grueling than it looked

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CLEVELAND – The Golden State Warriors finished off a four-game sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals with a convincing 23-point win Friday night. The stench of champagne was still evident to anyone walking the hallways of Quicken Loans Arena an hour after most of the players had left to celebrate elsewhere.

Klay Thompson took selfies of himself at a postgame press conference while Draymond Green answered questions. Thompson even googled himself to make sure he was listed as a three-time NBA champion. Kevin Durant, now a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, compared the experience to Kanye West releasing his critically acclaimed album “Late Registration.”

From the outside looking in, this Warriors team did exactly what everyone expected them to do. They assembled a collection of talent the league has never seen before. But it wasn’t a season without trying times.

The Warriors spent the regular season fighting the malaise of being the defending champions, and romping through last year’s postseason with a 16-1 record. Green admitted at practice Thursday that it was at times difficult to get up for all 82 games.

To combat the championship hangover, coach Steve Kerr, who’s had plenty of experience as a player on title teams, tried to keep things fresh, allowing his players to diagram plays during timeouts in one game. The Warriors had to win without Steph Curry in the first round of the playoffs, and fell behind 3-2 in the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets. Every championship run is different, and this one was the most difficult, according to Kerr.

“Yeah, it was definitely the toughest from the standpoint that it’s the fourth year in a row that we’ve attempted to get back to The Finals,” Kerr said. “I remember sitting in this room three years ago, 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.”

The Warriors trailed by 17 points after one quarter in an elimination game at home in Game 6 of the conference finals against the Rockets. “I thought there was a moment in that Houston series when we thought we would win 4-1,” Green said. “Then Andre (Iguodala) got hurt, and no one seemed to talk about that loss, because we had it all figured out. They couldn’t stop our Hampton Five lineup. It was kind of about to be over. Then Andre went down, and we had to figure that out.”

They did. The game they trailed by 17 points after 12 minutes? The Warriors won it by 29. They won Game 7 on the road against the Rockets to advance to The Finals. They survived a 51-point performance from LeBron James in Game 1 of this series, and never looked back.

For Curry, the challenges only add to the feeling of being a champion.

“It feels so fresh,” he said. “When you get on the podium and you realize all the hard work that you put into it and all that you’ve been through led to that moment, it never gets dull, it never gets boring. … Everything that goes into me being able to do what I do for a living and to aspire to win championships, all of those emotions kind of come crashing down in that moment, and that’s why I’ve got a big smile on my face right now. I’m going to try to hold on to it as long as I can.”

Curry might not have to let go anytime soon. Durant confirmed during The Finals that he intends to re-sign with the Warriors this summer, with only small details to figure out before the contract is ready for his signature. Thompson is eligible for an extension and has made it clear he intends on staying as well, even if it requires him to make a financial sacrifice.

The Warriors fought malaise in the regular season, overcame their toughest rival yet in the Rockets in the conference finals, and proved once again they are better than every team in this league, and they don’t intend on ending their run anytime soon.

The future, though, wasn’t something Curry wanted to consider Friday.

“You don’t want to cheat the moment,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of time over the summer to talk about what next year’s going to look like and what it’s going to take for us to get back to this stage next year.”

Though the Warriors faced their ups and downs all season, Kerr made sure to remind everyone the championship feeling is still just the same, no matter the path.

“It’s still euphoric,” he said. “But three years ago was, ‘I can’t believe this happened.’ Now, it’s, ‘I can definitely believe this happened.’ But it was hard, and it gets more and more difficult as you go through. Next year will be even tougher. I may not show up until All-Star break, because they’re not going to listen to me anyway.”

Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Vice Sports, and Complex, among other publications.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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