Golden State Of Being: Ugly Win a Beautiful Thing For Warriors and Their Fans

The Golden State Warriors played a sloppy, disjointed, foul-filled, injury-affected game Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, but there was one phase of the game that they nailed. Defensively, they never allowed the Rockets to breathe, and because of that they’re on their way to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years.

Actually, it was the defense and one other thing: depth. Steve Kerr has played ten or more players in most games this season, and all of the experts predicted that he would have to shorten his bench considerably in the playoffs.

Well, he has shortened the bench – to nine. The Warriors would not be 12-3 in the post-season without every one of the four players that come off the bench for this team: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa have all had multiple stretches where they made big contributions to winning games. Number 10 (in more ways than one) is David Lee, who — while he hasn’t played as much as those other four guys — still collected some very important minutes in the Memphis series.


I was a fan of the 1975 Warriors in a way that only a 14-year-old in the pre-internet age could be, which is fully. 14 is a great age for this sort of thing: old enough both to understand and remember, but young enough to not have a job or a girlfriend to distract you.

I lived and died with that team all season, listening to most of their games (They had a very limited TV schedule) laying on my bed in my darkened room, letting Bill King show me what was happening with his incredible vocabulary and acerbic wit.

Prior to this series with Houston, the Warriors’ previous Western Conference final was 1976, against Phoenix. I was at Game 7 of that series, forced to watch in person as the dream of a repeat championship died, followed quickly by the dream of really ever being any good again.

There will be plenty of people eager to chronicle exactly how terrible the Warriors have been for most of these four decades. With a few notable exceptions, all of which were entertaining teams with no legitimate shot to go deep in the playoffs, it’s been brutal: lots of seasons with win totals in the teens, followed by blown draft picks.

I will let the chroniclers of past miseries handle that. I’m happy to celebrate the 2015 team, reminisce about the 1975 team, and enjoy a Finals between the MVP (Steph Curry) and the WBP (World’s Best Player).

May the best team win.


Let’s do some Game 5 notes:

No account of Game 5 would be complete without scratching your head and saying, “What in the world was up with James Harden?”

The runner-up for MVP looked like he was playing in quicksand, and although the Rockets had many chances to catch and pass the Warriors, most of those chances ended with one of Harden’s 13 turnovers. It was even worse than his Game 3 performance, which was pretty bad, and totally unexpected after a Game 4 that saw him score 45 points. I have to give the Rockets credit, though: It can be demoralizing for a team when their unquestioned best player is struggling, and they just kept coming at the Warriors. They just didn’t have enough offensive firepower (outside of their otherworldly shooting in Game 4) to hang with Golden State even when they weren’t sharp.


Deep down, I think the Rockets and their fans knew that when the ball rolled away from Harden at the end of Game 2, that was it. The complete no-show in Game 3 might have been an indication of their mental state. Then they put 45 points on the Warriors in the first quarter of Game 4, but the death knell had already arrived for this team.


I wrote after the Memphis series about Harrison Barnes, with the focus of the article being how he had contributed mightily against the Grizzlies. I made the point that he was probably the Warriors’ starter most fans outside the Bay Area would have the most trouble naming. That may still be true, but I think fans in Houston have it figured out by now. Barnes was dynamic in the fourth quarter, with Steph Curry struggling and Klay Thompson in the locker room shaking off cobwebs. Barnes scored seven straight points as part of a 9-2 run that pushed the Warriors’ lead to 15. He also had three phenomenal fast-break baskets, and wound up with 24 points.


There are some striking similarities between this Warrior team and the one that won the NBA Finals 40 years ago. One is obvious, that they have a singular great player and a total team concept. Part of that is the sudden new “job share” situation the Warriors have discovered at center.

Andrew Bogut played only 19 minutes Wednesday night, because his backup, Festus Ezeli, was having such a good game. Bogut had 14 rebounds in his limited playing time, and Ezeli added 9. Ezeli also scored 12 points, a couple of them very impressive putbacks. He took the fight to Dwight Howard on several occasions, and seemed to hold his own. He will be a very important piece in the Finals, considering the size problems Cleveland will present.

The 1975 team had starter Clifford Ray, a high-post passer and rebounder, and backup George Johnson, a great defender and shot-blocker. One or the other was always on the floor (nobody played “small” on purpose in those days), and while the minutes weren’t divided evenly, Johnson was on the floor for critical minutes on a regular basis. I can certainly see Bogut and Ezeli evolving into something like that.


Another similarity shared by these two teams, 40 years apart, is the ability to come from behind. The ’75 Warriors trailed often in their playoff run, most of the time by double digits. The 2015 edition has trailed by double digits in five of its 15 postseason games, and come back to win three of them, including Game 5.

I will be posting several articles about the 1975 team and the times they played in. Please check my author page regularly if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

About John Cannon

John Cannon is a former radio and television sportscaster. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.