CLEVELAND — By Golden State standards, this season was downright bumpy.
The Warriors won only 58 regular-season games, by far their fewest in this four-year run of excellence. They went 7-10 in their final 17 games of the regular season. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala all got hurt. They needed to win a Game 7 on the road to reach the NBA Finals, and they could have easily lost two of the first three games of this series.
Yet here they are.
Golden State is on the cusp of another NBA championship, holding a 3-0 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers going into Game 4 of the finals. The Warriors could be champions again as early as Friday night, and this crown — after experiencing plenty of turbulence this season — would most definitely be one to savor.
“Going into this season, I don’t think anybody could have guessed or predicted the ups and downs and the roller coaster we’ve been on,” Curry said Thursday as the Warriors prepped for the possible clincher. “So, definitely a different year, just overall, personally with injuries, as a team with dealing with injuries, dealing with the kind of expectations that have been placed on us from the outside and the noise around us as a team.”
They went 67-15 on the way to the NBA title in 2015, matched that record on the way to another title last season and went 73-9 — the best record in league history — in 2016 only to fall short in the finals against Cleveland. That series, one where the Warriors led 3-1, changed when they couldn’t finish the job while being presented with serious adversity.
This year, there’s been a toughness to go along with the finesse.
They overcame deficits of 17 and 15 points against Houston in the final two games of the Western Conference finals, the second of those on the Rockets’ home floor. They overcame an 11-point deficit in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Cleveland, and rallied from 13 points down to beat the Cavaliers in Game 3 on Wednesday.
They needed 27 starting lineups in the regular season, and five so far in the playoffs. But they’re one win away from getting their fingerprints all over another Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“You can never count out a champion, no matter what’s going on in the course of their season,” Cleveland star LeBron James said, lauding the Warriors. “It’s impossible to do that, because they’re built from a different cloth, and I know that firsthand. When you win a championship and you’re around guys for a long period of time, and you know what you’re capable of doing, all you need is to get healthy.
“If you can get healthy and guys are playing at the right level at the same time, then you can feel like you can beat anybody.”
They got healthy.
And they’re about to beat everybody.
They did it the hard way, without question. Houston finished seven games ahead of the Warriors in the regular season, earning the right to be the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. If the Rockets had Chris Paul for Game 6 or Game 7 of that series, if Paul’s hamstring hadn’t betrayed him at the worst possible time, then the Warriors could very well be on vacation right now.
“Every season is very different,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Every journey is a new one each season. Yet the cumulative effect on multiple journeys adds up, and we have felt that this year. I think it’s been our most inconsistent season. It’s been our most difficult season. But our guys sense the finish line, and they turned it on right from the beginning of the playoffs defensively.”
The finish line is now within sight.
If the Warriors finish this off — no team in NBA history has blown a 3-0 series lead — then all the hiccups of the regular season will be forgotten. There will be a parade in the Bay Area before long, championship rings to hand out and another banner to unfurl on opening night next season, and more free agents likely will take a look at signing with Golden State in an effort to add to their own jewelry collections.
But if things get rocky next season, the Warriors will also have the experiences from this year to draw upon. In short, not looking their best at times this season might ultimately make them better.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” Curry said. “So now we’ve just got to finish the job.”