Thursday, June 15, 2017

NBA Champions GS Warriors Success Reminiscent of New England Patriots

NBA Champions Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison's Flickr page - Stephen Curry:

AFC Champions

New England Patriots

Just a few days ago, I realized that so far this year, sports has felt repetitive, in terms of producing familiar champions. Roger Federer won his 18th Grand Slam, taking the Australian Open, and Rafael Nadal won his 15th Grand Slam by taking his 10th French Open. The New England Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl of the Belichick/Brady/Kraft era. The Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row, and a third time overall during the Crosby era. And now, the Golden State Warriors won their second title of three consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

Yes, the Golden State Warriors are champions again just two years after taking the title, and I noticed that this coincided with the New England Patriots, who won their second Super Bowl in three seasons, overcoming a 28-3 Atlanta lead in the biggest game in order to do it. 

This got me to thinking that these two franchises seem to have some things in common. In fact, if you look at it, there are some eerie similarities.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Patriots have enjoyed being the envy of the NFL for years now, and have enjoyed remarkable success for an incredibly long time, considering that this is supposed to be the age of parity. And the Warriors only seem to now be emerging as a team that will enjoy huge success for a long time to come. Sure, they made it to three NBA Finals appearances in a row, and won two of them now. However, the Cavaliers also made it three straight times, and would have been in much the same position had they won.

However, Golden State won. And Golden State's success these last three consecutive seasons has transcended what other franchises managed to do for three straight seasons, at least in terms of the numbers, and this is also something that the New England Patriots, as a franchise, can appreciate.

Let me explain to clear up what I mean. The Warriors have been the winningest team for three straight seasons of any team that I have ever seen, at least in terms of winning percentage. They finished the 2014-15 season with a 67-15 record, tops in the NBA, and went 16-5 in the playoffs, en route to winning their first title in 40 years. 

Then, they finished the next season with a new standard of success for a regular season, going 73-9, beating the previous record held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. This is where the similarities between the Patriots and the Warriors start to really become glaringly obvious. Golden State breezed through the first round of the playoffs, winning both series with a combined 8-2 record, but then promplty fell behind three games to one against OKC. They came back to win that series and earn a trip to the NBA Finals, where they dominated the first two games, and held a commanding three games to one series lead, before Cleveland suddenly came all the way back to win.

Golden State's failure to win the NBA crown after managing to enjoy the most successful season ever to that point was an instant reminder of the 2007-08 New England Patriots, who had the equivalent of the same kind of major success with the bitter failure at the end. Remember, the Pats went 18-0 that season, and were still leading in the Super Bowl with less than a minute to go, on the verge of sports immortality, about to complete the incredibly rare perfect season. Then, there was that miracle play, with Eli Manning breaking out of what appeared to be a sure sack, and completing a wobbly ass to Dave Tyree, who caught the ball on the side of his helmet. It was a much needed first down for the Giants, and a few plays later, New York scored a touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game, essentially denying the Patriots their shot at immortality. Instead, the Patriots became known as the biggest goats in NFL history, and all of that earlier success, the historical level of dominance that made most experts feel that this was the greatest team of all time, now only reinforced how big the failure at the end of the most important game was. 

Following Golden State's rather epic collapse after enjoying the basketball equivalent of that kind of dominant season, and blowing a 3 games to 1 lead to boot, many sports pundits were suggesting that the only previous example of a sports franchise being in that kind of position were those 2007 Patriots. 

Just think of the level of dominance that both teams enjoyed. The Patriots became the first NFL team to start a season (regular season and playoffs) at 18-0, topping the 1972 Dolphins, who remain the only team in NFL history to have completed the perfect season, ultimately winning the Super Bowl to ice it. The Golden State Warriors became the first team to start off a season with a perfect 24-0 mark, and also set a new benchmark of success with a 73-9 record, the best the NBA had ever seen, surpassing the 1996 Chicago Bulls, who ultimately completed the most successful NBA season in history by winning the NBA championship. 

The 2007 Patriots had the most explosive offense ever seen to that point. Tom Brady threw more TD passes than any quarterback in NFL history to that point, and Randy Moss caught more TD passes than any other receiver in NFL history that season. The Patriots scored more TD's than any other team in NFL history to that point, and won by a greater margin than any other team in NFL history heading into Super Bowl XLII. The 2016 Warriors had the most explosive offense in history, scoring more three-pointers than any other team in NBA history, with Steph Curry getting more three-pointers than any player in any season in NBA history. Golden State started off by winning their first 36 home games, started off by winning their first 14 road games, both new league records.  They also became the first team in NBA history not to lose back-to-back games during the entire 82 game regular season. 

Yet, despite both franchises enjoying the highest standard of success imaginable during these peak seasons, all that anyone ever remembers these days from either season was the final moments of incredible, almost unspeakable championship losses. The Patriots looked more dominant than any other team in NFL history, yet all anyone remembers are those final moments when they looked almost like bystanders watching the Giants take the championship. And all anyone remembers of the Golden State Warriors last season was them walking off the court in huge disappointment, while LeBron and company got to hoist the trophy.

It is all the more remarkable that both the Patriots and the Warriors rebounded strong after these staggering disappointments. It took the Patriots years to fully recover, yet they remained one of the truly elite teams for many years, right up to the present. The Warriors managed to win the title the very next season, and thus allowed the pressure and disappoint surely to abate quite a bit.

As for the Patriots...well, we all know how that story has gone. The drought for Super Bowl appearances by New England has not extended longer than three seasons. Their first return to the big game came against the Giants, but once again, they lost. However, they returned a few seasons later, and seemed on the verge of losing to the Seattle Seahawks. But all everyone remembers from that game was 2nd and 1, and the Patriots seemed to steal an improbable victory to become champions again. And of course, this past Super Bowl, where the Falcons took a commanding 28-3 lead, then seemed almost to assist the Patriots in coming all the way back to win, against all odds.

Again, I do not want to go too far with this, because the Patriots have been winning since their first Super Bowl championship, back in 2001. They have enjoyed winning records ever since then, and have qualified for seven Super Bowls since 2001, winning five of them. The Golden State Warriors have enjoyed remarkable success these last three seasons, surely enjoying a higher winning percentage than any other team in NBA history during a similar three year stretch. After all, for most teams, a 67-15 mark would be tops in their history. The Warriors have achieved at least that in each of their last three straight seasons!

Both franchises still hold some incredible records that stand out. The Patriots enjoyed an NFL record 21 straight wins from the 2003-04 season to the start of the 2004-05 season. They won the Super Bowl for both of those seasons, and their record number of straight wins still stands. For the Warriors, their incredible 24-0 start in 2015-16 still stands as the greatest start ever by an NBA team (or any other North American sports franchise, for that matter).They enjoyed a 54 game home winning streak, also the best in NBA history, set the record for the most road wins in a regular season, and tied the Chicago Bulls for longest road winning streak in NBA history. They won 28 consecutive regular season games from the end of the 2014-15 season to well into the 2015-16 season, the second most in NBA history.

Of course, the main difference between what the Patriots have done and continue to do, and what the Golden State Warriors have done and continue to do, is in longevity. After all, the Patriots have been the model franchise for a surprisingly long time now, while the Warriors have enjoyed standing apart for only three straight seasons to this point.

That said, I would not be surprised if the Golden State Warriors continue to enjoy remarkable, perhaps even unparalled success for years to come yet. They have Steph Curry, and are showing that they will do anything, pay any price, to keep him (and they better!). They also have Kevin Durant, who just earned his first NBA Championship ring, and they will surely hang onto him for a long time, as well. That likely translates to championships for years to come, no matter who else may stay or depart the franchise, or other players who might join, at least for a little while. Personally, I would be willing to bet that we will see the Golden State Warriors right back in the NBA Finals very soon, quite probably next season, and likely hoisting the trophy once again, to boot. As for the Patriots, well, if you are counting them out after this last championship, then you really have not learned anything and are a glutton for punishment, because another championship ruin by Brady and Belichick and the boys up at Foxboro also seems like a very strong possibility, if not probability.

And in the end, that is why they remind me of each other very, very much!

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