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Appreciating Greatness After Exciting NBA Finals

AP Photo/Alex Gallardo

The Golden State Warriors capped off a historic season with their first NBA championship in 40 years by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night. And if you don’t think this Warriors season was historic, check this out:

It’s always difficult to compare teams across eras, but when you just look at the raw data, this Warriors team goes down as one of the best of all time. They were dominant in the regular season while losing just two home games, and that dominance continued into the postseason, a few hiccups aside.

Looking back on where the Warriors were at the end of last season and the journey they took to get here, it’s truly quite remarkable how this played out.

Several key decisions last offseason helped shape these Warriors. First, the decision to can Mark Jackson and hire Steve Kerr after Jackson helped bring the Warriors back to relevancy raised some eyebrows, but more and more has come out since then showing why getting rid of Jackson had to happen, as noted by Grantland’s Zach Lowe:

Kerr overhauled a team culture that had grown poisonous, for well-documented reasons, under Jackson and his assistants. In his zeal to motivate players, Jackson fostered resentment among them and toward the front office. He fired two assistants, requested Jerry West stay away from practices, and asked a younger front-office official to stop rebounding for players, sources have said.

When Ezeli was injured last season, Jackson and his staff told the healthy players that Ezeli was cheering against them — so that he would look good, according to several team sources. Players confronted Ezeli in a meeting, and he wept at the accusation — which he denied.

Kerr couldn’t have been much more different, establishing a fun and loose atmosphere while buying into a maintenance program for his players that had them fresh and healthy by the end of the season. Having two top-notch assistants in Ron Adams and Alvin Gentry (heading to New Orleans to be head coach) helped, and this coaching staff was never afraid to push the envelope.

Kerr made the decision to move Andre Iguodala to the bench and also made Draymond Green the full-time starter in the frontcourt, although it must be noted that David Lee‘s hamstring injury helped make that a much easier choice to make. Kerr and the coaching staff also played a role in the non-trade for Kevin Love, a decision that was criticized by many at the time. Green and Klay Thompson went on to have career seasons, validating the choice that was ultimately made.

Thompson teamed with Stephen Curry to form the best backcourt in the league, while Green morphed into a versatile Swiss Army Knife of a player, able to guard every position defensively and anchor small units as an undersized center. His capable outside shooting and playmaking skills helped take the Warriors’ offense to another level.

Of course, the main star of it all was Curry, the league’s MVP. Once known mainly as an injury-prone player, Curry has transformed into one of the most dangerous players in the league, and he could be the best shooter of all time when it’s all said and done. He’s a threat from anywhere on the court because of his shooting, but he’s also blessed with superb ball handling skills and has improved his court vision.

Curry and the Warriors faced adversity several times in the playoffs, but they overcame each time. Down 2-1 against both the Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State came back to win the next three games in both series in impressive fashion to take the crown. Sure, the Warriors also caught some breaks on the way to that crown, but that doesn’t cheapen their accomplishment at all. This was a special team that should be remembered as such, and they’re likely just getting started.

Speaking of special, how about LeBron James?

Some will wrongly criticize LeBron for dropping to 2-4 in the Finals because apparently there’s an inherent need to assign blame after losses, and also because of the obsession with comparing LeBron to guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. But instead of giving credence to the Skip Bayless types, we should just appreciate the greatness of the best player in the world.

Most saw the Cavaliers as the Eastern Conference favorite heading into the postseason, but things changed due to injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Cleveland remade itself on the fly into a defensive juggernaut that leaned heavily on LeBron for offense, and that strategy nearly worked. James eschewed his typically efficient self out of necessity, dragging a ragtag group to two wins shy of the Cavaliers’ first ever championship.

LeBron averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the Finals, becoming the first player ever to lead both teams in points, rebounds and assists. He shot under 40 percent and struggled to convert outside the paint, but that’s understandable given the huge burden and amount of minutes racked up over an intense postseason run.

There really wasn’t much more James could do, especially considering the historically great opponent. The Warriors had the best defense in the league this season, and they threw defender after defender at LeBron. Iguodala had the most success against him, and the job he did slowing the King helped him earn MVP honors, along with his offensive explosions in Games 4 and 6 after Kerr boldly moved him into the starting lineup in place of the ineffective Andrew Bogut.

Even if it wasn’t pretty at times, this was a wildly compelling Finals full of greatness on both sides. The Warriors were the best team all season and proved it with a championship. LeBron James put the Cavaliers on his back and delivered an unprecedented performance. Let’s appreciate that.

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