The Golden State Warriors became the first team to ever surrender a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals when they fell to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. But even that historic collapse doesn't quite convey just how close they were to repeating as champions and beating Cleveland for the second year in a row.
Draymond Green, remember, missed Game 5 of the 2016 Finals after accruing enough combined flagrant foul points during Golden State's playoff run to warrant an automatic one-game suspension. The Cavaliers staved off elimination at Oracle Arena behind tandem 41-point outbursts from James and Kyrie Irving, taking full advantage of Green's absence while completely changing the tenor of the series.
Despite the strength of Cleveland's historic comeback, most assumed Golden State would've won another title if not for Green's ill-timed suspension. The Warriors' subsequent triumphs over the Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018 only added fuel to that fire. During his recent appearance on The Old Man and the Three, though, Green told host JJ Redick the Warriors would not have been able to dethrone Cleveland without the addition of Kevin Durant:
“I don't think the outside world gave Kevin enough credit,” Green said of his former teammate. “I think if you came within our organization, Kevin was given all the credit. But the reality is I don't think that teams win another championship if Kevin doesn't come. Now you may say, ‘Ah, yeah, but y'all won the fourth one without Kevin.' But there's a gap in there where teams started to figure us out…We would not have beat the Cavs comin' back around without Kevin.”
"We would not have beat the Cavs coming back around without Kevin"@Money23Green talks about how important @KDTrey5 was to the Warriors' success. @OldManAndThree pic.twitter.com/jdyjIOE64H
— The Volume (@TheVolumeSports) June 28, 2022
The relative ease of Golden State's back-to-back wins over the Cavaliers make it easy to forget just how good those Cleveland teams really were.
Not only was James still at the peak of his powers in 2017, but Cleveland was an all-time offensive juggernaut, posting a ridiculous 119.9 offensive rating in the playoffs, per NBA.com/stats. The Cavaliers weren't the same team a year later after Irving forced a trade the previous summer, getting summarily swept by Golden State despite James' epic 51-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist masterpiece in Game 1. Irving might have decided to stick around if Cleveland had won back-to-back titles, though, adding to the multi-layered impact of Durant signing with the Warriors in 2016.
Golden State's fourth title in eight seasons and his drama-filled tenure with the Brooklyn Nets has allowed the narrative to shift further against Durant, with some questioning whether the Warriors really needed him to get back on the title track after falling to Cleveland. Kudos to Green for setting the record straight.
Say all you want about Durant's decision to join a 73-win team, as well as Golden State's collective and individual brilliance during a renewed dynasty. Durant, a worthy Finals MVP in 2017 and 2018, played an absolutely indispensable role in the Warriors' success, though, convenient revisionist history be damned.