The Golden State Warriors caught a break when Kyrie Irving went down for the rest of the NBA Finals with a fractured kneecap. Already minus Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers will now be missing two of their three best players the rest of the way, putting even more of a burden on LeBron James. The general consensus is that this series is over and the Warriors will be champions.
But something that’s bugged me since the Irving diagnosis is the notion that the Warriors should have an asterisk next to their name if they win the title. I saw it on Twitter and Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel even devoted a whole column to the topic.
To me, that’s just completely ridiculous and takes away from just how good the Warriors have been this season.
Is it true that Golden State has been lucky this season and throughout these playoffs? I don’t think anybody can question that. The Warriors have been mostly healthy all season, with Andrew Bogut the only starter to play less than 77 games in the regular season, and he played 67. Key reserves Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights missed 15 games between them. Last year’s starting power forward David Lee got hurt at the start of the year, but that helped lead to the emergence of Draymond Green, and Lee is out of the rotation now anyway.
In the postseason, Speights is the only normal rotation player to miss extended time with an injury, and he wasn’t even playing that much before he got hurt. Nine players on the roster have played in all 16 games, and the head injuries to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson turned out to be not all that serious when those injuries appeared to be bad when they initially happened.
Meanwhile, when you look at the Warriors’ playoff opponents, all of them dealt with injuries to key players. Tyreke Evans battled a knee injury throughout the first round of the playoffs. Jrue Holiday didn’t play at all. Mike Conley missed a game and had to wear a mask when he returned, while also dealing with other nagging injuries. Tony Allen was slowed down by a hamstring injury. The Houston Rockets made it to the Western Conference Finals down two key players in Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas, and Dwight Howard played through a knee injury.
Golden State was also lucky to avoid the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, two teams that likely would’ve given them a monster test. The devastating injuries to the Oklahoma City Thunder helped eliminate another legitimate threat in the conference. And now the Warriors have caught a banged-up Cavaliers team in the Finals.
But so what? Golden State can only play who’s in front of them, and they were impressive in reaching the Finals, that two-game lull against Memphis notwithstanding. The Warriors were historically dominant in the regular season, and I’m pretty confident in saying they would’ve beaten any of their three playoff opponents at full strength.
Perhaps the Spurs or a healthy Thunder team would’ve beaten these Warriors in the postseason, but history is littered with these kinds of hypotheticals. Even looking at LeBron, do his titles come with asterisks because he got through a weak Eastern Conference that didn’t include the Chicago Bulls at full strength because of Derrick Rose‘s injuries? Does LeBron’s first title get an asterisk because it happened in a shortened season?
Winning a championship is hard, and often times it requires a bit of luck, whether it’s good health, bad health for opponents, bounces going your way or all of the above. The Warriors have been blessed with that good luck this season, but that doesn’t mean we should discount their greatness with talk of asterisks. This is a squad that has performed at an all-time great level this season, and if they go on to win the title, they should be remembered as an all-time great team.