The Warriors Fight On

Klay Thompson has a brother named Trayce. That seems silly. Why wouldn't the second best shooter we've ever seen be the brother with "trey" in his name? Then again, Thompson's the second best shooter we've ever seen, and he's the second best on his own team. That doesn't make much sense either.

When Thompson regained his stroke in Game 7 after missing his first seven shots, the Warriors machine hit peak efficiency and the Thunder had no chance. After an incredibly hard-fought series of back and forth haymakers, the Warriors had solved another puzzle and looked like the 73-win, free wheeling regular season version of themselves that smiles while crushing souls.

It was so gradual, yet all so sudden. "We were not just down 3-1," Steve Kerr said after the game. "We had gotten blown out two straight games. So obviously everything started with Game 5, kind of rediscovering ourselves and our style. Then Game 6 was kind of magical. What Klay [Thompson] did that night, basically putting us on his shoulders and allowing us to have this opportunity tonight at home. It's a pretty remarkable comeback, and it shows, I think, a lot about our guys and their will and their grit."

Because that style is perimeter oriented and laced with perhaps more skill than we've ever seen on a basketball floor, many don't identify it as tough. The Warriors are as mentally tough as any team that's ever played. It's impossible to win 73 games otherwise.

The NBA schedule doesn't let a team win 73 games. It's just too hard. There are going to be nights where you just don't have it because you're on the last game of a road trip that's the 6th game in nine days and the second night of a back-to-back. Those hurdles, and the fact that the schedule is filled with the 30 best basketball teams on earth, should prevent a team from winning 73 of 82 games.

However the Warriors avoided those hurdles time and again, simply refusing to lose. Often it was Stephen Curry who single-handedly provided the magic in those moments. He's just that good, as we were reminded last night.

It's not just his shooting, but it starts there. The fear he creates with his ability to pull from anywhere opens up drives, as defenders jump at the slightest of head fakes that they think could be the start of a shot. Then, Curry's other skills come into play: the ball-handling to weave and create angles for either his supreme finishing skill at the rim or his pinpoint passing ability, specifically with one hand (and either hand at that, both as a passer and a finisher).

He is a singular offensive force that has powered them in times of need, including last night. In Game 7, Curry had 36 points on just 24 shots, including 7-12 from three point range. Don't just read through that without realizing how impressive that is, especially since you likely watched and know how difficult the shots he was taking were. He was 7-12 from three point range, and those seven makes are a Game 7 record. Curry also had 8 assists for good measure.

All in all, the Warriors outscored the Thunder by 18 when the MVP was on the floor. The next highest +/- were Festus Ezili and Harrison Barnes at +9 a piece. The Warriors win, powered by Curry, extends a remarkable streak. Teams with that season's MVP's have now won their last 18 Game 7's.

Of course, there is another side to Game 7. There is the loser. The loser is a Thunder team that's really freaking good, championship worthy and despite losing a 3-1 lead, has nothing to hang its head about. Should they be upset? Yes. Should they be disappointed? Yes. They played a part in their own demise, but this had so much more to do with the fact that they were playing THIS team. They got beat by a better team.

The Warriors are full of two-way players who have championship experience. The Thunder is not. Eventually those players were going to have bad nights because that's who they are as players. When Dion Waiters shot left him (it did in Game 7; he went 0-5 from three despite otherwise playing well), the Thunder didn't really have another option. The Warriors never run out of options. They're just better and deeper, and it's why beating them four times in seven games is damn near impossible and hasn't been done in the last two years.

This is about credit not blame, but no matter how you spin the loss, the Thunder suddenly enter the most important off-season in franchise history. Kevin Durant becomes a free agent on July 1st.

Oklahoma City should be the overwhelming favorite to re-sign him. Because they made The Finals in 2012, we forget how young both Durant and Westbrook still are. Each is 27, younger than Curry by a year and still at the start of their absolute primes. They're surrounded by a core that's even younger.

Serge Ibaka is just 26. He's turned into an outstanding perimeter shooter, but needs to improve defensively for this team to break through. He's an elite shot blocker, but got picked on in the pick and roll all series long. He also needs to develop an inside game offensively to punish smaller players who switch on him. He doesn't need to be able to post up players his size, but a guard should be a free bucket for him.

Steven Adams had a breakout series. He's everything a coach dreams of in a big. He plays incredibly hard. He's athletic. He's forceful. He's got great hands, a high basketball IQ and does all the little things that a team needs, and he's just 22 years old. The James Harden trade is one of the most controversial in NBA history in large part because it was made a year before it had to be and immediately following a finals run. However, if Adams keeps developing we all might owe Thunder GM Sam Presti some level of an apology. The pick the Thunder got from Houston turned into Adams and he's coming into his own right on schedule for Durant and Westbrook's prime. It's a long wait for a payoff, but this was all a part of Presti's plan.

Waiters, just 24, has developed into a solid bench player and could be a great 6th man if he decides to return to OKC (he's also a free agent) and the Thunder determine they can afford him. Andre Roberson is just 24 and will surely spend the summer locked in the gym shooting jumper after jumper. He just needs to be able to knock down wide open looks. His jumper isn't broken, it's just bad. He can get to a serviceable percentage. Enes Kanter (also 24) is Roberson's opposite. He needs to become serviceable on defense (he might be the worst defender in the league), but for now is an offensive and rebounding specialist who can change games. If he can just become "not abysmal" on the defensive end, he's another super valuable piece.

Of course Durant was asked about his free agency after the game. Of course he didn't really answer. Here's the exchange:

Q. Kevin, the loss is still fresh, but you have kind of an unknown future over the next month. How do you expect that to play out and when you'll start thinking about it?
KEVIN DURANT: I mean, we just lost like 30 minutes ago, so I haven't even thought about it. I'm just embracing my teammates and just reflecting on the season. I'll think about that stuff, I don't know when. But we just lost an hour ago, 30 minutes ago, so I don't know.

The question got a predictable answer because of the way it was asked. The tone from the Oklahoman's Anthony Slater was respectful and after initially slightly scoffing at it, Durant gave a respectful answer. It was early in the press conference too, just the third question in.

I would've waited until later, asking about the game first, letting Durant get his thoughts out about that. I also would've asked it very differently. Asking about free agency is an automatic trigger to that answer. I would've asked how he felt when the game ended instead.

"Hey Kevin, I know you haven't thought about free agency because the game just ended and you were focused on that, but I'm curious with your contract expiring this summer if it felt any different when the buzzer sounded compared to previous losses? In that moment was there any of that uncertainty that flashed through your mind or was it the same as any other season ending loss?"

It's long winded and probably wouldn't be approved by interview experts, but it allows Durant to share how he was feeling when reality set in. The goal would be to trigger an honest answer because he relives those feelings, while also opening the door for him to say anything he wants to about free agency if there was something to say.

The reality of Durant's free agency is that signing a one year deal with a player option for a second year (you'll likely hear it referenced as a 1+1 leading up to July) is by far the most likely outcome. It makes the most sense for him financially, able to re-enter free agency next summer when the cap jumps another $20 million (as it will this summer, $40 million total in two years) even if he intends on staying in OKC for the rest of his career. It also aligns him contractually with Russell Westbrook, whose deal expires after next season. 

That can wait. The Finals are here and they should be epic. With all due respect to Steph Curry, it is the best player in the world vs the best team in the world. LeBron James at his peak is still the best player in basketball, even if Curry has played at a consistently higher level over the last two seasons. However that gap is close and enough of that chatter might be enough to send Curry into another fireworks display or three over the next two weeks (as the Thunder laughing about his defense did). So might the prospect of another championship, or the fact that it's Thursday and he feels like it.

I'll preview The Finals tomorrow in podcast form tomorrow (ESPN's Dave McMenamin is confirmed to join), but for now we all wait together. 73 wins weren't enough. The Warriors have 12 more, with the goal of 16 in mind. Cleveland is waiting too, as they have been as a city since 1964.