When the Brooklyn Nets lured former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge to the team, it formed the idea that the Nets are likely favorite to make the NBA Finals. Perhaps, the team has enough ammo to win it all. Their opponent could be the Utah Jazz or either the Los Angeles team in the Lakers or Clippers.
Not so fast though. The absence of Klay Thompson has put a blake eye on this year’s Golden State Warriors team, who is barely contending for the last few playoff spots. If the team was fully healthy, there is plenty of reason to believe that the Warriors would be back in the NBA Finals after making five straight appearances from 2015-2019.
Out of four of the five players in the potential playoff starting lineup, Steph Curry and Co. have had great success. Outside of a first-round playoff win in 2014 headline by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and an NBA Finals championship by Kyrie Irving with the Cavaliers in 2016, the Warriors have dominated this starting lineup.
Let’s take a look at history when the Warriors were fully manned.
2017 Conference Finals (Warriors vs. Spurs 4-0)
2018 First-Round (Warriors vs. Spurs 4-1)
The San Antonio Spurs were three years removed from winning the NBA Championship in Tim Duncan’s final season. Stable members of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were still a part of the team, while former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was trying to become the next star player in San Antonio. The 2017 season was Aldridge’s third season with the Spurs and his first trip ever to the Conference Finals after many failed attempts with Portland.
It was a short time in the Conference Finals though. To start the sweep, Curry narrowly led Golden State 113-111 in Game 1 with a 40-point effort. Curry then led the Warriors with 29 points in a lopsided 136-100 victory the next game. The Spurs never recovered after Leonard suffered an injury in Game 1, losing the next two games by a score of 120-108 and 129-115, where Curry led the team in scoring in Game 4 with 36 points.
The following season was Leonard’s infamous injury that led to his departure from the team. Still, the Spurs had enough on the roster to make the postseason but were quickly eliminated. Aldridge played well in the Conference Finals, averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, but it was nowhere near the elite level of play.
2016 Conference Finals (Warriors vs. Thunder 4-3)
This series should hold near and dear to Oklahoma City Thunder fans. It was the series that cost OKC a trip to the NBA Finals, but also the rest of Kevin Durant’s career. After the Thunder led the Warriors 3-1 in the Conference Finals, the Thunder lost the next three games, and then Durant teamed up with Curry and Thompson after the duo led the Warriors to 73 wins.
After losing Game 1 of the series, the Thunder rattled off three straight victories, two of which were led by Durant who scored 29 and 33 points. Despite scoring 40 points in Game 5, the Warriors defeated OKC 120-111, and then the Splash Bros awakened in their time of need. In Game 6, Thompson scored 41 points in a 108-101 win, and then Curry scored 36 points in a 96-88 victory to send Golden State back to the NBA Finals.
The rest is history after that. Durant won two NBA Finals MVPs after joining the Warriors but his legacy has been tainted ever since. Maybe next year when the Nets and Warriors are healthy, he will get his shot at redemption.
2015 NBA Finals (Warriors vs. Cavaliers 4-2)
2017 NBA Finals (Warriors vs. Cavaliers 4-1)
Irving, paired with Kevin Love and LeBron James, met the Warriors in the NBA Finals three straight seasons. The Warriors and Cavaliers met a fourth time but Irving had left the team for the Boston Celtics in 2018. Irving hit a clutch three-pointer in Game 7 that gave the Cavaliers the lead and helped the team win their first NBA championship in 2016 but the Warriors hold the record for when it counts.
The 2015 NBA Finals was fun to watch. After the Warriors took Game 1 108-100, the Cavaliers fought back to take Game 2 95-93. The Cavaliers rallied to win Game 3 with a score of 96-91, but the Warriors won the final three games of the series. In a Game 4 blowout win (103-82), Curry led the team with 22 points. Curry then scored 37 points in Game 5 and added 25 points in Game 6.
The 2017 NBA Finals will be remembered as the year that LeBron James was considered for NBA Finals MVP despite the team losing in five games. LeBron became the first player in NBA history to record an average of a triple-double in the NBA Finals after he averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 10.0 assists. Irving didn’t play too bad himself, averaging 29.4 points per game in the five-game series.
However, the Warriors easily did away with the Cavaliers. In the first three games of the series, Golden State won by scores of 113-91, 132-113, and 118-113. After a Game 4 dud, the Warriors took Game 5 by a score of 129-120.
2015 Conference Finals (Warriors vs. Rockets 4-1)
2016 First Round (Warriors vs. Rockets 4-1)
2018 Conference Finals (Warriors vs. Rockets 4-3)
2019 Second Round (Warriors vs. Rockets 4-2)
There’s no player in the league that would love another crack at the Warriors than James Harden. Curry owns Harden’s number and has consistently outdueled the three-time NBA scoring champion when the stage is at its highest.
Starting in 2015, Harden’s best teammate was Dwight Howard and Josh Smith. Harden averaged 28.4 points per game but Curry outscored Harden three of the five games. That included 34 points in Game 1, 40 points in Game 3, and 26 points in Game 5. This was the starting trend that Harden couldn’t finish in meaningful games after shooting a dismal 2-for-11 from the field in the Game 5 loss.
The following season, the same Houston team ran it back but were knocked out easily by the Warriors. Curry, 24 points in Game 1, and Thompson, 33 points in Game 2, led the Warriors to easy victories in the first two games. Harden’s 35 points led Houston to a thrilling 97-96 win in Game 3 but Golden State responded with a 121-94 win in Game 4 and a 114-81 win in Game 5. Harden played well in Game 5 with 35 points, but it led to eventual changes in the franchise.
The 2017-2018 season was the first of Chris Paul and it was potentially the closest chance Harden was going to get to making the NBA Finals. In Game 1, Harden outdueled Curry with 41 points but the Warriors took the win 119-106. Then Kevin Durant outdueled Harden with 38 points but Houston took the win 127-105. In Game 3, Curry led the Warriors with 35 points in a blowout 126-85 victory.
The back-and-forth series continued and was knotted up at 2-2 after Harden’s 30 points led Houston to a 95-92 win. After that win, Harden’s shooting percentage’s dipped. Despite winning Game 5 99-94, Harden scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Harden rallied with 32 points in Game 6 but the Warriors blew out Houston 115-86. In Game 7, Harden scored 32 points but shot just 12-of-29 from the field, including 2-of-13 from the three-point range. Curry closed the final two games of the series with 29 and 27 points, shooting a combined 12-of-29 from three-point range alone.
The following year, Houston had a chance to knock out Golden State again but faltered despite Harden leading both teams in scoring three of the six games. Harden led all scorers in the final three games, scoring 38, 31, and 35 points, but Golden State won 112-108, 104-99. Over the final three games, Curry still produced at a high level with point totals of 30, 25, and 33. In the end, Curry and Co. proved to be superior.
Credit for idea: Dunk County