They built a record-breaking dynasty unlike any other in NBA history. But it took just six games — and 288 minutes to be exact — for it all to come crumbling down.
Hunting a third-straight championship, the Warriors first lost Kevin Durant and then Klay Thompson to injuries in consecutive games, leaving their title hopes in tsatters.
With Thompson going on to miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season, Golden State was then dealt a further blow when Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets.
And then, what already threatened to become a lost season later spiralled further out of control when Steph Curry went down hard just a week into the regular season.
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Only a few days before Curry’s injury, Golden State was blown out 120-92 by Oklahoma City, trailing by 33 points at halftime — the largest deficit for the Warriors since 1997.
“The reality is, we f***ing suck right now,” a frank Draymond Green said post-game.
And that was with Curry still on the floor. Without him, the Warriors faced an identity crisis.
For every team that does make it to the top, a fall is inevitable — but this was not just any team.
This was a Warriors side that had made it to the Finals for five-straight seasons and won three championships but it was no longer about titles and instead another, much dirtier T-word.
“It is against every single thing I and we stand for,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob told ESPN when asked if the organization would tank.
“We will fight like hell. Develop our young guys. Learn to win.”
But this was no longer the Warriors of old, the wins did not come easily and instead, coach Steve Kerr openly admitted the team did “not have a sense of who we are”.
“We haven’t established much,” he said after that loss to the Thunder.
“We’re playing without centers, and we’re playing with nine players. I realize I’m making plenty of excuses, but they’re real. We have to build that back up with these young guys, and it takes time.”
In reality, it only took 1,084 days for the Warriors to get back to the Finals, this time against the Celtics, adding another chapter to one of the most dominant dynasties in recent memory.
As much as Lacob refused to even respond to questions about tanking after the Curry injury, The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson said not everyone was as confident this was an easy fix.
“Not so blatantly but you heard the doubt,” he said on ‘The Zach Lowe podcast’ earlier this week.
“You could see it in the move to get D’Angelo Russell. Even while the superstars are saying let’s restock, let’s re-tool, there was a sentiment to say: ‘You know what, let’s rebuild’. There were definitely some backdoor concerns.”
As Thompson wrote in a column for The Athleticthis week, there was even an air of uncertainty surrounding the golden trio after the 2019 Finals defeat.
“Some, including many Warriors fans, prognosticated their demise,” he wrote.
But Green had known all along that if Golden State’s core three stayed on the court, it would not be long before the Warriors were back at the top of the league, where they belonged.
“I’ve always said, nobody has proven they can beat us yet when we’re whole,” Green said. “That is still the case. I never doubt what we’re capable of. I think as we saw the year go on, you can kind of see this team is capable of putting a great run together.”
He is not just saying that either. Just three teams in the past 10 seasons have taken down the Warriors juggernaut in a best-of-seven series with Curry, Green and Thompson all healthy.
Two of those losses came while all three were much younger and yet to taste championship success while the other came at the hands of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Cleveland.
Even then, Curry had been hampered by a sprained knee while Green was suspended in Game 5.
Put simply, this is a trio like no other in a team like no other. That is not to say that the Warriors have not undergone an evolution of some kind in the last few years though.
That all starts with Durant deciding to walk out the door. For starters, Curry, Thompson and Green have another chance to prove they can win a title without him.
Sure, they did it back in 2015 but the Cavs were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and regardless of how important it is to them, this is a chance to put that narrative to bed.
The Warriors deserve plenty of credit too for the way they went about re-shaping their squad after Durant’s exit.
It all started with a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell, which while not offering much in the short-term, ended up being flipped into a more prized asset.
Russell was signed onto a four-year, $117 million ($A163m) deal but flipped just seven months later to Minnesota along with Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman for Andrew Wiggins and two 2021 draft picks.
Once viewed as a bust, Wiggins has rejuvenated his career at the revitalized Warriors, no longer burdened by high expectations and instead playing his role to perfection.
So much so that coach Kerr called him the “key” to the Warriors recapturing their golden days.
“The Wiggins trade allowed us to start to rebuild that wing defence,” Kerr said.
“Wiggs has just been so good, he’s gotten so much better over the last couple years. He’s a perfect fit next to our guys.”
The obvious highlight came in the form of a thunderous dunk on Luka Doncic but it was Wiggins’ work on the defensive end that has made him particularly valuable.
Kerr said the Warriors would have been “dead” without Wiggins’ work as primary defender on the Slovenian superstar.
The Russell also trades came with the No. 7 pick in the draft, which was turned into forward Jonathan Kuminga, who Kerr has trusted to play bigger minutes this post-season.
Then there is the emergence of Jordan Poole, who was taken by the Warriors with the 28th pick of the 2019 draft.
Poole exploded to be a key contributor late in the season as Curry and Thompson shook off injury concerns, putting himself in the Most Improved Player discussion after averaging 18.5 points and four assists per game.
While Curry admitted to having “some PTSD” when he went down with a hand injury earlier this year, it ended up being somewhat of a blessing in disguise.
Poole took his place in the starting spot and made an immediate splash, to the extent that Kerr had the luxury of bringing Curry as sixth man in the first round of the playoffs against Denver.
Just a year ago Poole was playing in the G League. Now, he is looking at a big payday this offseason as the 22-year-old becomes eligible for an extension on his rookie contract.
Kevon Looney is another who has flourished in Golden State’s system, transforming into a rebounding machine who is making an impact on both ends this playoffs series.
The same goes for Otto Porter Jr, Nemanja Bjelica and Gary Payton II — all guys that the Warriors knew would buy into their culture and now they are seeing rewards on the court.
Which brings us back to coach Kerr. For all the changes, injuries and setbacks — he has been the one constant in this Golden State dynasty.
As Curry said of Kerr last year: “He makes everybody on the roster feel valued” and the results have been there to see, especially in the rapid rise of Poole and Wiggins.
“Steve is a leader of us,” Thompson said after the Warriors booked their spot in the Finals. “He’s just an incredible visionary when he comes to thinking basketball. There’s a reason he’s been around so much winning his whole life because he’s just that type of person who just gravitates towards greatness.”
And considering where they were a few years ago, could this be a new level of greatness for Kerr and the Warriors?
Perhaps. It will certainly be a different kind of feeling if they lift the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy this time around.
“In the regular season, we literally never got our main guys on the floor at the same time until game one of the Denver series,” Kerr said this week.
“So it was sort of a rocky path to get here, but I feel good about the process and our potential if we could get all of our key guys on the floor.”
“We’ve done it before. But in a different way, it was incredibly meaningful given everything that we’ve been through organizationally over the last couple years.”