Splash Champs: The deep Golden State Warriors splash their way to 2015 NBA Championship
By the end of the 2015 NBA Finals, there was only one real mystery: who would be chosen as the Finals MVP. Some believed that LeBron James – he who led both teams in points (35.8 ppg), rebounds (13.3 rpg), and assists (8.8 apg) – would win the award even in a loss. Some believed that reigning regular season MVP Stephen Curry (26 ppg, 6.3 apg) had done enough to lead his squad to a trophy. Ultimately, the award went to a surprise name: Andre Iguodala, who was celebrated for his all-around play and defence as he changed the series after Game 3 in Golden State’s favour.
Postgame, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr was satisfied with this choice because it represented what the team symbolized as a whole. “For us, it’s really fitting that the award went to Andre,” Kerr said in the Game 6 post-game conference, “Because he sacrificed… That set the tone for the team for the entire season.
This isn’t a story about Iguodala, it’s a story about the team. Iguodala – as the man surprisingly in the centre of the 2015 NBA Finals – was the perfect individual to give identity to the NBA’s latest champs.
The first component of that identity is sacrifice. After starting all 806 games of his nine-year career, Iguodala – a former All-Star – was asked to come off the bench this season. So was David Lee, a two-time former All-Star, who gave up his starting spot after injury to Draymond Green, and stayed on the bench for the remainder of the season. In the Finals, the Warriors’ defensive anchor Andrew Bogut sat down after Game 3 and barely got off the bench for the rest of the series. All three players sacrificed their roles to allow the team to play the right way and still provide options for versatility when necessary.
The next component is depth. Iguodala, a former All-Star and the Finals MVP, was a bench player until Game 4 of the series. The Warriors felt comfortable digging deep into their bench to find their match-winner. All series, the Warriors reserves – which also comprised of Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, David Lee, and Festus Ezeli – regularly outplayed their counterparts in the injury-riddled Cavaliers. LeBron James could match or better the Warriors’ starters almost single-handedly, but Golden State’s backups proved to be too much for Cleveland to handle.
Iguodala, respected around the league as a selfless ‘glue guy’, also represented the relationships that the Warriors’ team and coaching staff enjoyed with each other. All season, the Warriors have been one of the happiest teams in the league: enjoying everything from their plane rides to their bench celebrations together and not allowing the ego to get over the self.
Iguodala is also one of the most versatile players in the NBA. The Warriors proved this season and in the Finals that it was their ability to field different players with the talents of playing various roles that truly elevated them from the rest. With guys like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Iguodala, and more on the roster, the Warriors could afford to go big or small depending on the opponent and dominate them on both ends of the floor regardless.
A former two-time All-NBA Defensive Teamer, Iguodala’s Finals MVP trophy was also an appreciation of his defence on LeBron. The entire team was an elite unit defensively all season, finishing top in the NBA in defensive efficiency. The likes of Green, Iguodala, Bogut, Barnes, Thompson, Curry, and more all played a major role in staying disciplined on defence even as they invited organized chaos on offense.
And finally, there’s the most important component of this year’s title-winners: the shooting. Even though the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – the team’s Splash Brothers – are the primary reason why the Warriors have been one of the greatest shooting teams in NBA history, it was surprisingly Andre Iguodala who led the NBA Finals in three-point shooting percentage with 40 percent shooting from behind the line.
All season long, these Warriors have been proving false the belief that “jump-shooting teams can’t be successful”. Curry broke most three-point shooting records that existed in the regular season and the playoffs. Thompson was only second to his teammate and once had a 37-point quarter thanks to his outside shooting exploits. Green, Barnes, Barbosa, and of course Iguodala added to Golden State’s dangerous expertise from deep.
All in all, the Warriors won 67 games in the regular season, a franchise best and the best record in the NBA this season. In the playoffs, they swept the Pelicans 4-0, bounced back from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Grizzlies 4-2, took care of the Rockets in five games, and survived a superhuman effort by LeBron James in the Final to bounce back again and win 4-2.
Warriors showed no signs of nerves despite lacking big-match experience
The Warriors didn’t have a single player with Finals experience on their roster and their Coach – a five-time champ as a player – was technically a coaching ‘rookie’. And yet, they showed no signs of inexperience or nerves on their route to the championship and ended the franchise’s 40-year wait for the trophy.
Iguodala won the Finals MVP, but the man of the season was Stephen Curry. Curry was the deserving MVP of the regular season and led the NBA’s best team in points and assists all year. His explosive shooting, dribbling, and passing talents gave the Warriors their identity and he became the engine behind their roaring success. In the process, he became one of the NBA’s most popular players and inspired a whole generation of youngsters to take after his game. It was a magical season for him and it ended in the most fitting way possible, with his hands clutching the Larry O’Brien trophy.
After the win, Curry, Green, Thompson, Kerr, and the rest of the team came to Iguodala’s support, praising him as the deserving Finals MVP and marvelling his influence on the team. This camaraderie further proved what we already knew of this team as a whole: in this memorable season, they became brothers on the court and shared their success with each other.
For the future, there are many who believe that the Warriors’ success will legitimize ‘small ball’ forever and influence many more to take after their footsteps. But building a true contender around shooters isn’t as easy as Curry and co. made it seem. The Warriors were able to do so because they had historically great shooters, amazing versatile defensive players, and a great deal of sacrifice. It’s a rare formula that will be difficult to replicate.
But can the Warriors themselves splash all the way to another title in 2016? I guess we can only wait and see.