As the 2016 calendar year comes to an end, the LWOS MCXM series captures the 10 most captivating moments and storylines from 2016 in each sport. For LWOPB, we take a look at the 10 events that drew headlines this past year, bringing drama, excitement, or intrigue to the NBA.
The third article of this series takes a look at the Golden State Warriors, who quickly went from the best team in NBA history to the first team to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
NBA Most Captivating Storylines of 2016: The Golden State Warriors Historic Season
The Golden State Warriors entered 2016 on top of the basketball world. They were the defending NBA champions, fresh off a record-breaking 24-0 record to start the 2015-16 season. The Warriors could quite literally do no wrong. They had the perfect team of shooters, defenders, and passers that made the Warriors the most entertaining team to watch. Golden State played an electrifying brand of basketball that the sport had never seen before, led by the reigning MVP Stephen Curry. Their offense flowed like magic, and the defense was anchored by the talented and energetic motor of Draymond Green.
A New Level of Basketball Dominance
While watching Curry and the Warriors play, it almost seemed as if it was too easy, as if the Warriors would somehow find a way to win every single game. Remember the epic matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 27th? The Warriors somehow escaped with a victory courtesy of a few Kevin Durant miscues, Andre Iguodala free throws, and one long heave at the buzzer by Stephen Curry.
The Warriors attempted more three pointers than any other elite team had. They played a free-flowing, relaxed style of basketball. They shared the ball with each other, playing as a true team. Not only did they have elite superstars, but they also had plenty of depth. All of this, in addition to the historic rate at which they won, contributed to what made the Golden State Warriors so unique.
The beginning months of 2016 were dominated by Stephen Curry’s ridiculous three point shooting that left everyone in awe. He consistently made shots that no one had ever dared to attempt before, showing off his unlimited range. It’s easy to forget now, but there was plenty of talk around the sport claiming that Curry had surpassed LeBron James for best basketball player on the planet. His career high seven three pointers in the first quarter against the Washington Wizards on February 3rd and the aforementioned game winner against the Thunder are just two examples of Curry’s sheer dominance. He finished the regular season as the first ever unanimous MVP, connecting on an NBA record 402 three pointers, shattering his own previous record of 286. The basketball world belonged to Stephen Curry.
Capping Off a Historic Regular Season
The Warriors were dominating basketball with precise analytics, a whole bunch of three pointers, and a pass-first offense led by head coach Steve Kerr. They finished the regular season with a 73-9 record, surpassing the previous NBA record of 72-10 set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They were literally automatic at home for nearly the entire season, until they dropped two games at Oracle Arena in the final week of the season.
The path to back-to-back titles seemed clear heading into the playoffs. I mean, who could stop them? They had only lost nine games throughout the entire 82-game season, so how could they possibly lose four times within a seven game series? It just didn’t seem all too realistic for the Warriors to not win the Finals. They were that good. And then something funny happened.
Barely Escaping the West
Golden State cruised through the first two rounds against the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, with the only setback being a relatively minor knee injury that caused Stephen Curry to miss a few games.
In the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder, however, the Warriors looked vulnerable. In fact, not only did they look vulnerable, but they had looked defeated. For the first time in two years the Warriors found themselves in trouble. If dropping Game 1 in Oakland wasn’t a sign that something was off, then losing Game 3 and Game 4 in Oklahoma City by a total of 52 points proved it was time to panic. The Thunder had completely demolished the Warriors in two consecutive games, appearing to put an end to the Warriors reign. Miraculously, in a comeback that is often overlooked considering what happened in the Finals, the Warriors came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Western Conference. Somehow, someway, Golden State’s magic re-appeared, and the Warriors rattled off three straight gutsy victories against Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Then the Warriors Blew a 3-1 Lead
Now that the Warriors rediscovered their mojo in the Western Conference Finals, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers for a second straight year in the Finals should be easy, right? Sure, the Cavs breezed through the East, but they did that last year, too. Many fans, including myself, had this mentality that Golden State would easily march towards another victory over the Cavs. And the first four games of the series did little to prove us wrong. Golden State took a commanding 3-1 lead, showing few signs of weakness.
Then Draymond Green got suspended for Game 5 for too many technicals in the playoffs. Without Green playing, the Cavaliers were able to sneak in a tough road victory in Game 5. All of a sudden, the Warriors commanding lead no longer seemed so commanding. All the Cavs had to do was win one last game on their home floor before heading back to the west coast for a decisive Game 7 with all the momentum. And they did exactly that.
With the Warriors unable to shut the door in Games 5 and 6, a legendary Game 7 awaited. The Warriors easy-going, historic regular season ultimately came down to one final game, a game in which they failed to show up. After 48 minutes of gutsy basketball, one LeBron James block, one Kyrie Irving dagger, and one last missed three pointer for Stephen Curry, the season was over. No fairytale ending for the Warriors. Instead, stunning defeat.
The historically dominant 73-9 Golden State Warriors unfathomably went 15-9 in the playoffs. There really were no answers to how the Warriors, who at the time were 8-1 in their last nine games against the Cavaliers, managed to lose three straight to Cleveland. Six months later, and there still are no answers.
For all the compelling storylines that came long with the Golden State Warriors in 2016, the basic principle of becoming the best regular season team in NBA history, going up 3-1 in the Finals, and still failing to cap off the year with a championship, tops them all. Followed by the addition of Kevin Durant, which will indeed be a separate MCXM storyline, the ups and downs of the Warriors in 2016 is certainly one for the record books.
The failure to finish off a 73-9 season with a title will forever be known as one of the biggest collapses in all of sports. Golden State quickly went from the lovable darlings of the NBA to easily targeted villains.
OAKLAND, CA – JUNE 19: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)