The list of great teams that fell short of the ultimate goal of a championship is not where anyone wants to be.
Ask the 18-1 New England Patriots, who were upset by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Or the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings, who set the National Hockey League’s single-season wins record, only to be knocked out in the Western Conference Finals.
Or the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who posted the sixth-best winning percentage in the history of Major League Baseball, but lost in the American League Championship Series.
The Golden State Warriors came perilously close to joining that group before pulling away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday night. Instead of becoming the answer to the question “who was the best team in NBA history not to win a championship,” they became the answer to the question “who was the 10th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series?”
That’s not to say the Warriors’ job is done. Not by a long shot. Their opponent in this year’s NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers, are familiar in name only. LeBron James would love nothing more than to bring a title to the long-suffering fans of Cleveland, and this time, he has the supporting cast to do it.
But the Warriors have certainly dodged a bullet.
Monday’s victory is the kind that can bring a team closer together. For the first time all season, the Warriors had to face adversity in the Western Conference Finals. As much as Golden State doesn’t want to admit it, Stephen Curry is not at full strength. The Thunder gave them all they could handle.
And the Warriors overcame all of it. They overcame two of the game’s best players in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. They overcame the controversy that erupted when Draymond Green — whether intentionally or unintentionally — kicked Thunder center Stephen Adams in the groin.
They overcame back-to-back elimination games — the first of which was played at a packed Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, with the home team one win from the NBA Finals.
Is there any doubt that Golden State can overcome Cleveland?
In order to claim their spot as the best team in NBA history, the Warriors must beat the Cavs.
If they don’t, they’ll just be a footnote in history. A 73-9 footnote.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He recalls shedding no tears when the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII. New England fans angry at him for opening old wounds can email him at email@example.com.