The Kevin Durant Era Golden State Warriors won their second straight NBA Finals by completing the sweep of the Cleveland Cavilers in game 4 with a 108-83 victory. Durant earned his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP, leaving Steph Curry and Klay Thompson never earning that honor in any of their three titles. Curry’s nine 3-pointers in game 2, and 37 points in game 4 could arguably make Curry deserving of this year’s Finals MVP, but it was Durant that was the consistent, unstoppable force that allowed for the sweep to be completed. Durant’s performance in game 3 might be his best game as an NBA player, where he recorded 43 points (on 15-23 shooting, 6-9 from 3), 13 rebounds, and 7 assists. Curry and Thompson combined for 21 points, with Curry shooting 1-10 from 3 in that same game. Considering 2 of the 4 Golden State All-Stars decided not to show up, and still come out with a victory is testament how historic this team really is. But it also raises a question: why is it nearly impossible to win the NBA Finals when your top 2 players are guards?
Since 1980, there are only two teams that have relied on their point guard and shooting guard to carry their respective teams to the championship. That is the 1989 and 1990 Pistons, and the 2015 Warriors.
These two teams were oddly similar but played opposite styles of basketball. The Warriors were led by Curry and Thompson, while the Pistons had Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Each team had their defensive alpha dog that made first team All-Defense in Draymond Green and Dennis Rodman. Each of these rosters were built with depth. Nine different players recorded at least 15 minutes a game throughout each of the playoff runs. The Warriors and both Pistons teams ranked first in opponent points per game in their respective championship seasons.
Although the two teams were built similarly, their styles could not have been any different. The Warriors played with finesse, spacing, and shot a high volume of 3-pointers made at a high percentage. The Bad Boy Pistons knew they were the toughest SOB’s in the NBA, and it showed on the court every game. Bill Laimbeer and Rodman set the tone every game, and Thomas was the true alpha dog of the bunch.
These teams were historic and memorable in their own ways, but the reason that these teams have their spot in NBA history, and have banners in the rafters is because each of these titles were at a time where the league had a gap to fill.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the league was transitioning from the Celtics-Lakers dynasties, and the dominance of Michael Jordan. There was a gap that needed to be filled. This is where we get the Bad Boy Pistons. These Piston teams ended the Laker dynasty, and delayed the beginning of the Bulls run of 6 titles in 8 years.
The 2015 Warriors fell in between the LeBron James era ending in Miami, and the present-day Warriors, which includes Durant. The Warriors were dominant during the 2014-2015 regular season, and not many expected them to win a championship so soon. But you know what helped that team achieve that goal this early into their dynasty? Well, they got tested by an underwhelming Memphis Grizzles team, beat down a Houston Rockets team that just finished a series where the Clippers had them dead to rights until a Cory Brewer and Josh Smith three-point frenzy, then it took 6 games to take down LeBron James without his two best teammates. Not taking away the achievement of winning an NBA championship, it is hard to do no matter what the circumstances are, but the next year they ran it back against a healthy Cavs team, and lost in 2016 after winning an NBA record 73 games.
Are we sure if Kevin Durant did not sign with the Warriors after the 2015-2016 season that they would’ve won the last 2 titles? That Cavs team was even better in 2017, and the Warriors would have had to get through Durant and Oklahoma City again that year. The Warriors squeaked by the Rockets this postseason that did not have Chris Paul for the last 2 games of that series. Does this team without Durant even take it 6 games against the 2017-2018 Rockets? Durant is a 7-footer that now should have the game to game expectations LeBron gets. That is what great forwards and centers are called to do, and when they do not reach those expectations, the ridicule is overdelivered. When Curry and Thompson lay an egg in game 3, no one says a word. Curry scores 33 points while making 9 threes is a life changing achievement, while Durant continues to be the key to the present Warriors’ success.
Having elite guards can win you championships, but if not paired with an elite forward or center, the chances of conquering the NBA for that given season are slim. The 2015 Warriors, and 1989 and 1990 Pistons are the outliers, and they are forever cemented in the NBA record books. But if you are teams in today’s NBA like the Trail Blazers, Wizards, and Raptors deciding on how to go forward with their current rosters, just remember: Only 3 out of the last 38 NBA champions have had their best players at point guard and shooting guard. That is not a coincidence.
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