Saturday, June 20, 2015

Dubs' Domination (and Other Thoughts on the 2014-15 NBA Season)

The Golden State Warriors owned the 2014-2015 NBA season.  Amazingly, they were first in defensive efficiency (98.2) and a close second (they only trailed by .1) in offensive efficiency (109.7).  They finished the regular season with a league best 67-15 record (which is also the franchise’s best).  They never lost three straight all season long.  Stephen Curry broke his own record for most three-pointers in a single season and then broke the record for most three-pointers done in a playoff run, as well as winning the regular season MVP along the way.  Klay Thompson broke the record for most points in a quarter with 37 (Curry and Thompson, the “Splash Brothers”, also broke the record for most three pointers by a pair of teammates in a single season).  Draymond Green nearly won the Defensive Player of the Year award.  There were All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defensive selections among the Warriors roster.  Throughout this season, it was fairly obvious that the Warriors this season was definitely a championship pedigree team.

The championship was principally theirs for the taking.  The only way they could have failed was if they have an epic playoff meltdown.  But throughout the playoffs, the Warriors basically played the way they did when they dominated the season: poised and purposeful.  Even when down 2-1 during the series against Memphis and in the Finals itself, I never ever felt that this team was going to lose (okay, maybe a bit during the Finals).  It is because throughout this season, in dealing with any conflicts or setbacks, the Warriors never lost cool and focus.  If there were any worries, internal squabbles, or voicing out of displeasure, it was quietly dealt in the locker room.  There was no drama.  No distractions.  This was a team that never showed any signs of implosion.

Moreover, the Warriors were a real team-centric team.  Sure, Stephen Curry is the face of the Warriors, but it can never be truly said that the excellence of this team was an extension of his individual excellence.  This Warriors team actually functioned similarly to last year’s star-less Spurs mold rather than a team revolving around a superstar.  Sacrifices defined this team as scoring opportunities, starting positions, and rotation minutes were willingly given up to provide match-up advantages and development of younger players; which led to different players stepping up at different points during the season and playoffs (that’s why there was an opportunity for another Warrior aside from Curry or All-Star Thompson to win the Finals MVP). The Golden State Warriors’ whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

The Golden State Warrior’s domination of the season and the first title for the franchise in 40 years tells us several things.  First, though their championship-clinching “small ball” lineup isn’t the first to show us that a “small ball” team can win a championship – that would be the Miami Heat three seasons back – this Warriors proved that a team using an offense that heavily relies on jump shots over inside scoring – as long as it’s complemented by a topnotch defense, fast pace, and smart ball movement – can win a championship.  Second, contrary to what LeBron thinks, this basic basketball truth is validated: championships aren’t necessarily won by the best player but by the best team.


Ever since his performance in the Warriors’ first round series against the Nuggets back in the 2013 playoffs and discovering that he’s a professing Christian, I’ve been a fan of Stephen Curry.  Hence, I was thrilled when Stephen Curry won the championship and the regular-season MVP.

First and foremost, as a Christian myself, it always cheers me whenever a Christian artist or athlete receives success since they are able to get the opportunity to direct the glory to God in front of the world.  And that’s what Curry has done amidst his accomplishments this season.  Being a Christian athlete, Curry displays the same attitude as fellow Christian NBA player Jeremy Lin to be the best basketballer he can possibly be so that the excellence of his talents would ultimately point towards the glory of God.  As Stephen Curry declared:
“I love that basketball gives me the opportunities to do good things for people and to point them towards the Man who died for our sins on the cross. I know I have a place in heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that’s something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top.  There’s more to me than just this jersey I wear, and that’s Christ living inside of me.”
Moreover, there is genuine joy in watching Curry play.  His skills in ball handling, passing, and – especially – shooting are so spectacular.  Despite his fragile stature, he has this noticeably formidable presence on the court.  Can’t help but be awed of the guy.


I’ve always liked Andre Iguodala.  A few years back, I was even hoping my Lakers would trade for him (instead, he was part of a multi-team trade that brought Dwight Howard to the Lakers and sent him to the Nuggets).  Hence, I really am glad that he got the Finals MVP.

This isn’t really the first time that someone unexpected won the Finals MVP, but Iguodala winning the Finals MVP is still a delightfully remarkable happening.  It’s quite ironic, actually.  He got this individual glory by sacrificing his pride and settling with a supporting player role.  At the start of the season, Iggy, a starter for his entire career, was asked by Coach Kerr to come off the bench and give his spot in the starting five to developing young forward Harrison Barnes.  And he unselfishly agreed to do so for the sake of the team’s success.  Throughout the season, he would play the role of the Dubs’ sixth man.

The voters could have gone the clichéd approach by awarding the Finals MVP to the winning team’s star player – in this case, regular-season MVP Stephen Curry – regardless of the fact that a teammate has been more consistently impactful as far as the games of the Finals are concerned.  Or the Finals MVP could have gone to LeBron (appropriately and interestingly, only Iggy and LeBron received votes for Finals MVP, with the former edging the latter 7 to 5) since his spectacular performance and stats had established him as the best player in this Finals and there was a legitimate cause to believe he was set to become the first Finals MVP belonging to the losing team since Jerry West in 1969.

But I believe the voters got it right picking Iggy.  A bench player from the start of the season until Game 3 of the Finals, Iggy proved to be the piece on which Warriors’ success in the Finals was hinge on.  The Cavs’ defense dared him to shoot, and he obliged, making them pay dearly, contributing heavily on offense.  But what made him Finals MVP is being able to be an impact in defense as much as offense.  He was given the task to guard LeBron, but though LeBron was a dominant force in the Finals, Iggy was able to defend him well enough to prevent his dominant play into translating into wins.  LeBron did score a lot as well as assisted on much of the Cavaliers’ points, but Iggy made him work hard to get them – depleting his energy down the stretch.  Also, LeBron had to take a lot of shots to get his points, and Iggy made him miss a significant amount.    Meanwhile, other Warrior defenders like Barnes and Thompson always got bullied whenever they found themselves guarding James.  Basically, if Iggy wasn’t around, the already dominating LeBron would actually have dominated much more, and could have probably carried the Cavs to a championship.   As someone who loves defense, I really appreciate what Iggy accomplished on the defensive end in this Finals.


I have always known that Steve Kerr has a brilliant basketball brain.  When he was still an NBA player, he got the chance to be coached by Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich – arguably two of the greatest coaches of all time – and this definitely contributed much in giving him the deep understanding of the game that he possesses.  He was my most favorite basketball writer/analyst when he still worked for Yahoo! Sports, and his basketball smarts were apparent by how his articles oozed with thoughtfulness and insight.  He was also pretty sensible and eloquent when he worked as a TV analyst.

Hence, when he replaced Marc Jackson as head coach of Golden State Warriors, I was intrigued.  I felt that this team under Kerr could become something special.  Employing the principles he learned from his mentors – Jackson and Popovich – as well as the principles of his assistant coaches Ron Adams (one of the best defensive coaches now) and Alvin Gentry (known for his up-tempo offense), Coach Kerr did just that, developing the Golden State Warriors into a team that excelled in both ends of the floor.

Moreover, he successfully established a culture of sacrifice and teamwork (as mentioned earlier) in the team.  He willingly listened to suggestions, and give credit to whom is due.  Thus, his players and staff considered Kerr “the best boss in the world” (words of assistant coach Luke Walton), and trusted him enough to completely invest into every detail of whatever game plan he would prepare – even if it was pretty unconventional or perplexing.  And since Kerr’s decisions and adjustments generally proved to be masterful and yielded results, the team would trust him some more.

Unfortunately, Kerr lost to Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer in consideration for Coach of the Year.  Nevertheless, a championship is much more important.  And by leading the Warriors through a history-making season, Kerr has established himself as the most successful rookie head coach in NBA history and a legitimate, elite head coach to be reckoned with in the future.

* * *

Miscellaneous thoughts about the 2014-2015 NBA season:

  • Interesting trivia and image from Bleacher Report: Stephen Curry is the first player in history to beat every other member of the All-NBA First Team on his way to a title.
  • For a while there, the depleted Cavs had me worried a bit that they could actually pull off an epic upset of the Warriors.  LeBron James on “basketball god mode” putting up phenomenal numbers in the Finals made it seem that Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova were enough to fill in for injured Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.   Nonetheless, even when the Cavs were up 2-1, I was confident the Warriors would still win for two reasons: a.) Coach Kerr’s knack of making successful adjustments kept the Warriors from losing three straight all season long; and b.) exhaustion should eventually set in on the Cavs’ short rotation.  As it had proven to be in Game 4, I was right in both counts.
  • I’m first and foremost, an LA Lakers fan.  But as an NBA fan as well, I need a team to root for in the playoffs, and after I became a Stephen Curry fan, I have always rooted for the Warriors come playoffs time since the Lakers are unavailable in the playoffs in the past few seasons.
  • I’m happy with Kawhi Leonard winning Defensive Player of the Year.  At last, a perimeter defender wins for the first time since Ron Artest in 2004.  I was tired of big men winning the DPOY year in, year out. 
  • We never saw what Julius Randle – the pick Lakers earned for their awful 2013-2014 season – can do since he was brought down by a season-ending injury at opening night.  It was an indication on where this Lakers team was going for the rest of the season.
  • The 2014-2015 Los Angeles Lakers turned out to be the most horrible team in franchise history.
  • It’s official: time and wear-and-tear have already caught up with Kobe Bryant, and he’s simply isn’t the player we have been spoiled of knowing.  He no longer has the capacity to carry a subpar roster by himself as he did during the 2005-2007 seasons.  He still averaged 22.3 ppg but got there at 37.3 FG%.  I would love to see him back to elite form next season, but that looks unlikely at this point.    
  • During the season, Kobe overtook Jordan as the 3rd all-time leading scorer, but he also earned the record for missing more shots than any other NBA player in history. 
  • Thank God for Kobe Bryant’s Muse, however.  
  • And there’s some nice silver linings resulting from another failure of a Lakers season.  First, Jordan Clarkson, the 46th pick of last year’s draft, was given ample playing time and proved to be a promising Laker.  And by being part of the All-Rookie First Team, Clarkson is basically the fifth best rookie of the batch at least.  Not bad for a second-rounder.
  • Also, the Lakers’ awfulness earned them the second pick for this year’s draft!  With that draft expected to turn out being a talented center in Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns, the Lakers’ future looks bright with a trio of young potential franchise players in Randle, Clarkson, and whoever the result of the 2nd pick be (just don’t mess it up, Mitch and Jim).
  • Of course, I want the Lakers to win the championship next year.  But if that won’t be the case, I prefer the Dubs to repeat.

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