ESPN’s “The Last Dance” already has made for some great television, but let’s be real. If Kyrie Irving doesn’t hit that 3-pointer, it’s Steph Curry’s 2015-16 Warriors that are widely considered the greatest NBA team of all time, and not Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Alas, Irving did sink that clutch shot, ensuring such a claim would not hold much water. The 73-win Warriors were the greatest regular-season team of all-time, but their lack of a 16th playoff victory left a blemish that cannot be ignored.
Though that team won more games (regular season and playoffs combined) than any other in NBA history, Golden State’s own Draymond Green doesn’t consider it the best one he has been a member of. Nor does he acknowledge the 2016-17 Warriors — who won 16 of 17 playoff games following a 67-win regular season — as such.
“Honestly, our 2017-2018 team probably would have beat our 2016 team by 20 to 25 points,” Green recently told ESPN’s Nick Friedell.
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The 2017-18 Warriors won the fewest regular-season games of any of Golden State’s recent title-winning teams, and their collective performance wasn’t nearly as statistically dominant as it had been in any of the previous three years.
As Green explained, however, that drop-off was the product of their enhanced superiority.
“If our 2015-2016 team completely locks in and say, ‘Listen, we are locked in, let’s go play this game,’ and the 2017-2018 team say, ‘We locked in, let’s go play this game,’ [the 2017-18 team wins by] 20 points, easy,” Green continued. “And [2017-18] was a much better, more talented team and, when we’re locked in and clicking, a much better team. But the thing about that 2015-2016 team was we were always locked in, and we were always clicking. There was never really a moment we weren’t locked in. There was games — we lost nine games. That’s absurd. … But the 2017-2018 teams were so much better than that team, but because we were so much better, we were never really locked in at all times.”
What was the biggest difference between the 2015-16 Warriors and the ones that won back-to-back titles? Two words: Kevin Durant.
Green acknowledged that it took some time for Durant and his new teammates to get used to one another on the court, but once they did, the sheer volume of talent lifted those squads above the one(s) that preceded them. However, that abundance of talent proved to be a hindrance of sorts.
“So the first year Kevin was here, which was 2017, we spent the beginning of that year trying to figure it out,” Green added. “… And so you figure, just with the beginning of that season, you can’t get to 73 wins just how that season started off. And then in 2018, once we finished 2017 as champions, we come back in 2018, we know no team’s going to beat us. And so we’re not taking that regular season serious.
“There was literally games during 2018 or times during the season where we’re like, ‘Yo, let’s go lock in on this game.’ And if we said we’re going to lock in, we’d beat somebody by 30. But we didn’t do that all the time. At times, we were just showing up, and we’re still going to win because we’re just better. But we weren’t necessarily locked in because we knew how good we were. That 2015-2016 team, we had to fight for everything we got at all times. It wasn’t like that [later]. We were so good, we didn’t have to fight, and so the focus was never the same with those later teams, but we were way better.”
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The 2015-16 Warriors fell this short of having rightful claim to the title of best team in NBA history.
Of course, if that blemish didn’t exist, neither would the superior Golden State teams that followed.