The Golden State Warriors’ celebration went so long into the night after they finished off the N.B.A. finals that team officials had to delay their flight home by three hours, pushing it from a Saturday-morning departure to the afternoon.
Their on-court reaction to a third championship in four years might have struck some as a bit restrained, but there would be no holding back at the after-party. Not after the Warriors had made it look so easy at the end, draining all the suspense out of the situation with a sweep-sealing rout of LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers that tied a finals record for margin of victory in a road game.
Golden State’s 108-85 cruise in Game 4 to clinch a second consecutive title almost made you forget how close this team came to becoming the reincarnation of the San Antonio squad that won championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007, which was better known as the Odd Year Spurs.
Those Spurs couldn’t win two titles in a row and, as such, were never quite labeled a dynasty. These Warriors came close to a similar fate by falling into a three-games-to-two hole against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals before overcoming a 17-point deficit in Game 6 and a 15-point deficit on Houston’s floor in Game 7.
Joe Lacob, the Warriors’ majority owner, will always remember.
“You can’t be human and sit there and be down big at halftime in Game 6 and Game 7 and not be nervous,” Lacob said in the early moments of Saturday morning as he headed for the loading dock at Quicken Loans Arena, having partaken only briefly in the Warriors’ champagne-drenched revelry in the visitors’ locker room.
“I was definitely very nervous. We’d never done that before — Game 7 on the road.”
The Warriors, of course, survived their very serious Houston problems and ultimately overwhelmed the Cavaliers, as many expected, to launch the dynasty debates in earnest. They easily could have lost Game 1 and Game 3 to the undermanned Cavaliers in these finals, too, but history tends to gloss over those sorts of details as time passes.
The Warriors have thus crept closer to the “light-years ahead” status Lacob prematurely proclaimed in an infamous March 2016 interview with The New York Times Magazine. But that’s not the bad news for the rest of the N.B.A.
The real worry for the rest of the league is that Lacob, sounding rather Steinbrenner-esque, does not seem satiated.
“Steve, Bob, all of our players — these guys should take a little break,” Lacob said, referring to his coach, Steve Kerr, and his general manager, Bob Myers. “But there’s no rest for me.”
That’s because, for all the talk that the Warriors ruined the N.B.A. by signing Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in July 2016, Lacob also remembers how the rest of the league reacted to the Warriors’ first title with Durant.
The off-season that followed in 2017 was perhaps the league’s wildest ever. A quick recap: Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving all changed teams. “Houston got better,” Lacob said. “Boston’s always getting better. Philadelphia’s getting better.”
The small clutch of worthy challengers in this league, at the very least, refuses to surrender anything to Golden State. So the Warriors fully expect another active July (and August) to come, fueled by the widespread belief that James is preparing to leave his home-state Cavaliers in hopes of assembling another constellation of ring-hungry stars — just like he did in Miami.
But the Warriors’ many injuries and their disenchantment with their 82-game regular-season obligations were real. Kerr’s health challenges — which he hates to discuss but are hard to miss when TV clips show him sitting down during pregame and halftime addresses — are even more real.
The Warriors also might never admit it publicly, but they were concerned at various points of the season, especially when they were shoved to the brink of elimination by the Rockets, that re-signing Durant was far from the foregone conclusion it looks to be now.
The Warriors’ world, in short, is not the impenetrable paradise that so many of us (including yours truly) have at times portrayed it to be. They have plenty of drama-filled days, just like everyone else. Maybe this is the better description: Golden State has built the closest thing to a basketball utopia that any team can reasonably expect in the N.B.A.’s social media age.