SAN FRANCISCO – The NBA has been defined by parity this season.
After a decade that was defined by juggernauts and super-teams – the Lakers, the Heat, and eventually (and especially) the squad in Golden State – the title is up for grabs this season. There is no one great team; no inevitable force on the march to the Finals in June.
The league thought it was done with the Warriors.
And yet, at the end of the 2022 season, it could well be Golden State holding the trophy.
Anyone who has watched these Dubs know this team is anything but a sure thing, unlike the Golden State teams from 2015-19 that created the greatest dynasty of the NBA’s 21st century.
The 2022 Warriors are a bit slower, a bit sloppier and not nearly as deep.
This is a team that has frequently flirted with mortality this postseason – something that only arrived with a state of shock after their Finals losses in 2016 and 2019.
But the Warriors have also flirted with greatness, sending out small (and frustratingly infrequent) reminders that no team in the NBA can match their ceiling.
No one – including the Warriors, it seems – knows which version of the team will show up on any given night. Often, we see both versions in the same game.
We do, however, know that something must be working for the Warriors. After all, they are heading to the Western Conference Finals yet again.
With Friday night’s Game 6 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors are four wins away from the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight years, something last done by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
The Warriors closed Friday night’s game and the series with one of those bursts of excellence. They stopped turning the ball over, focused on defense, and made a couple of big shots down the stretch.
Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson looked like world-beaters once again.
This, one game after they trailed by as many as 55 points and lost by 39. This, after a first half in which they committed 12 turnovers after having turned it over 22 times in the Game 5 debacle.
As stressful as the journey has been, the Warriors ’arrival in the Western Conference finals is a feat that cannot be ignored
Yes, this team came out of the strong gate in October, establishing high expectations. But ultimately this was a team whose three best players were on the court together for 0.02 percent of the season. It was a team that went 15-16 after the All-Star Game.
The Warriors entered the playoffs as an enigma. Any positive reputation they carried had been forged either early this season or three seasons ago.
They’re forging a new reputation now:
They’re basketball daredevils. Boom-or-bust artists.
They’re a hot mess, but it’s working for them.
Two series wins and only three losses, total – how can you argue with that in a results-based business?
And who’s to say what the Warriors have done so far isn’t good enough to win it all? This absolutely could be good enough. Although the Warriors have messed around, so too has every other team that fancies itself a title contender.
Don’t you just love parity?
In theory, this team’s toughest challenges lie ahead. Either Dallas or Phoenix loom in the Western Conference Finals, and the Eastern Conference can make a strong case for being the better half of the league this season.
But what happens if the Warriors cease to be their own worst enemy?
What happens if they stop messing around and actually find the cohesion that has eluded them since the winter?
It’s certainly not beyond their capabilities.
These Warriors might live on the edge now, but that cuts both ways. We’ve seen moments where this team looks as powerful and incisive as those Warriors teams that ruled from 2015 to 2019.
Yes, these Warriors are capable of enough self-inflicted wounds to end their season in an ignominious fashion, but as they did on Friday night, they could play their best basketball at the perfect time.
Call that late push procrastination or championship disposition – all that matters is that these Warriors are still playing ball.
And while the process of self-discovery can be painful to watch, the more these Warriors play, the more opportunities they’ll have to figure it all out.