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 league has happily accepted post-Warriorism.
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.
And yet it could be the Warriors who hold the trophy when this season comes to an end.
Anyone who has watched these Dubs know that this team is anything but a sure thing, unlike those 2015 to 2019 squads that created the greatest dynasty of the NBA’s 21st century.
No sir, these 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’ve seen both squads in the same postseason game.
We do, however, know that something must be working for them. After all, this squad is heading to the Western Conference Finals yet again.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 13: Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green (23) celebrates after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, May 13, 2022. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 110-96. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
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With Friday night’s Game 6 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors are four wins away from a sixth trip to the championship round in eight years, something last done by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
They closed Friday’s game and the series with one of those bursts of excellence. They stopped turning the ball over, focused on defense, and knocked down 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.
As stressful as the journey to this point has been, it cannot be ignored how incredible the Warriors’ accomplishment of another West Finals trip is.
Yes, the Warriors came out of the gate strong in October, establishing high expectations for the remainder of the campaign, but this was ultimately a squad whose best players were on the court together for 0.02 percent of the season; a team that lost more games than it won after the NBA All-Star Game.
These Warriors entered the playoffs as an enigma. Any positive reputation this team had was forged either earlier this season or three seasons and an arena 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 what’s to say what the Warriors have done so far isn’t good enough to win a title? This could absolutely be good enough moving forward. While the Warriors have messed around, so has every other team that fancies itself a title contender.
Don’t you just love parity?
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 13: Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson (11) sticks his tongue out after scoring a 3-point basket in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, May 13, 2022. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 110-96. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
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In theory, this team’s toughest challenges lie ahead. Either Dallas or Phoenix looms 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 squad looks as powerful and incisive as those Warriors teams that felt inevitable.
Yes, Golden State might create enough self-inflicted wounds to end their season in ignominious fashion, but like 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.