After four games of the NBA Finals, Golden State were cruising 3-1 ahead of a Cleveland Cavaliers team which looked lost and devoid of ideas. It seemed that Steph Curry and co. only had to give LeBron James' franchise the slightest nudge to topple them down into a world of crying Jordan memes and criticism.
However, three games later they were in pure shock as a rejuvenated Cavaliers team fought back to take the NBA Championship in the most dramatic of fashions. Instead of taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy for the second straight year, Steve Kerr was left to pick up the pieces of a loss more surprising than anything we’d ever seen before in the Finals.
But, how do Golden State go about recovering from their defeat at the hand of the Cavaliers?
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Don’t Have a Knee Jerk Reaction
Whenever a team goes through a situation like an NBA Finals loss, there is often a temptation to react in one way or another to try and immediately improve somehow. Be it a change of style, trading a big name player for another or by altering the coaching situation.
This would be the worst decision the Golden State Warriors could make.
The fact of the matter is, Golden State were 48 minutes from a second straight championship three times in a row. On top of that, their regular season 73-9 record is the best of any NBA franchise in history – that’s not a recipe you should be changing on a whim.
Steve Kerr’s starting five should be kept in exactly the same shape as he found it when it gets around to pre-season, and the bench shouldn’t be a whole lot different either. Sure, make some moves with the inactive players on the roster; the likes of Ian Clarke and James McAdoo for example – who barely saw the court can be freed up if necessary. However, under no circumstance should any other change happen, unless it’s guaranteed to be a good one.
A good example is Kevin Durant’s current free agency talks. If there is a serious opportunity to bring Durant to California, then there’s no doubt that Golden State should pull the trigger – he’s undoubtedly able to further assist their quality. Whilst the likes of Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa have been sparks, losing them for KD is a no-brainer.
However, if the back office is seriously considering any other moves for a free agent – they should seriously reconsider.
Give the Stars a Rest This Season
Golden State’s regular season was no walk in the park. Unlike the sensibility that tends to be shown by Gregg Popovich or other NBA head coaches, Golden State went all out to get that historical record – and it arguably hindered their post-season efforts.
Stephen Curry was noticeably restricted through the playoffs, failing to recapture the form he showed throughout the regular season. Many claimed this to be down to the injuries he picked up, but playing so hard over the entirety of the regular season won’t have been any help, regardless of how many fourth quarter blowouts he sat through.
Curry himself has reviewed his off-season to ensure he gets necessary rest; avoiding commitments to the Team USA Olympic efforts to guarantee he’s in sufficient shape for the 2016-17 season with the Warriors.
“My previous experiences with USA Basketball have been incredibly rewarding, educational and enjoyable, which made this an extremely difficult decision for me and my family. However, due to several factors - including recent ankle and knee injuries - I believe this is the best decision for me at this stage of my career. It's an incredible honour to represent your country and wear 'USA' on your chest, but my primary basketball-related objective this summer needs to focus on my body and getting ready for the 2016-17 NBA season." Curry said via a statement regarding the Olympic team.
What’s more, focusing on breaking records should no longer be at the forefront of Warrior minds. Such emotional commitment was no way to prepare for a testing post-season, and although the fans loved the historical record, an NBA banner would’ve been much more appreciated at the Oracle Arena.
Of course, it isn’t fair to blame this on any one person. Kerr would’ve been the first to rest players if they showed signs of fatigue, but like the rest of the world – he’s human, and wants to win records. Similarly, the entire roster - from Draymond Green to Brandon Rush - all wanted to see the 73-9 record attempt come good – meaning they weren’t likely to bench themselves.
Now, that shouldn’t be the case – the Warriors will almost certainly put winning ahead of accolades from now on.
Learn from the Loss
Golden State were the winningest team of last season – no questions asked. That sounds like a good thing, right?
Whilst the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers were battling through losses, learning their weakest points and putting their minds to improving, Golden State were left blowing out teams for fun. This was hardly a good warm up for a much more competitive post-season – and as shown against all of their playoff opponents it was clear that they hadn’t faced this kind of adversity before.
When up against it, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers and even the San Antonio Spurs knew how to battle it out to the end. Golden State had some experience of this (especially toward the end of year run-in), but nowhere near the amount their competitors had.
Golden State only lost more than once in a row twice all season long – and both of those runs came in the latter stages of the post-season. Learning from these losses is key to further improving their game, and will be much more useful than 50 blowout victories.
This isn’t to say that the Warriors should go out actively trying to lose games or slowdown in any shape or form, but they should hope for more challenging games next season if they hope to improve. Although losing these Finals just gone should offer more than enough of a bitter taste to make them want to avoid failing a second time around.