Heading into this year after adding Kevin Durant to their star-studded roster and coming off of an historic 73-win regular-season mark, the Golden State Warriors were the clear favorites to cruise to the NBA Finals despite playing in a stacked Western Conference.
With Durant back at full health during the current playoff run, the Warriors became the first NBA team to ever go a perfect 12-0 to start the playoffs, sweeping their first three opponents with relative ease.
After Kawhi Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot, re-aggravating an existing ankle injury in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs were not able to contend with the Warriors in any way, as their superstar missed the following three games and watched his club become the latest victims of Golden State’s well-oiled machine.
As you may expect, Spurs players had a unique first-hand experience matching up against the best of the West in the conference finals. A few of them spoke to Courtney Cronin of the San Jose Mercury News about how hard it is to match up against such a dominant opponent in a playoff series.
“I said in Spanish, you go to war with a bat,” Manu Ginobili said. “You can swing, swing, swing, maybe you’ll hit somebody, but it isn’t fair. They were so much better than us, so much stronger.”
Losing Leonard certainly was a huge blow, especially considering the fact that the Spurs blew a 25-point Game 1 lead after he exited the game. Additionally, they had already lost starting point guard Tony Parker to a ruptured Achilles earlier in the playoff run.
“We had a tough break when you lose your point guard leader and your main scorer and player. It’s hard to go because it feels unfair,” Ginobili added.
Backup point guard Patty Mills, who took over the primary ball-handling role after Parker went down, offered the following advice for whoever takes on the Warriors in the NBA Finals:
“Stay healthy, for one. That was our biggest battle throughout the year. We didn’t make any excuses. We didn’t cry when guys went down. We gave everyone an opportunity to come in and make an impact.”
Shooting guard Danny Green foresees a great series between the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, apparently not giving the Boston Celtics a fighting chance in the Eastern Conference:
“They’re a great team, but Cleveland’s a great team, too,” Green said. “Cleveland’s done it before. Do I think they can do it again? It’s possible. I wouldn’t say anything’s impossible. It’s a really good team and they have pretty good chances if they stay healthy and keep rolling like they are to win again.”
But it was veteran big man Pau Gasol who offered the most complimentary take regarding this year’s Warriors team. Having played against the other Golden State teams in past years, he thinks that this team is superior.
“They’re in a groove,” Gasol commented. “They know what it takes to win and obviously they’ve been champions, they’ve established records that have never been set before and they’re on a path to get another championship. In all my years in the league, they’re playing at the highest level right now.”
The Warriors will square off against either the Cavaliers or Celtics on June 1. While they’ve had amazing success so far, the true test will come in the Finals, where anything but a Larry O’Brien Trophy will be considered a failure.