They changed the game.
The Golden State Warriors’ legacy extends beyond their four championships and six title appearances in the last eight years. It transcends their rags-to-riches story of the past two years. With the magical Stephen Curry leading the way, the Warriors have pushed the NBA, and basketball everywhere, into a new era, a new way of playing, and most important, a new way of winning.
We could start with the statistics, but the game is played on the court, by young and old, boys and girls, men and women. And down at the park, in a high school gym, on a college court, basketball is different than it was in 2014, the year before the Warriors won their first title.
Consider: In 2014, imagine a high school game on an anonymous court anywhere in America. A sharpshooting guard steals the ball and begins a two-on-one fast break. Instead of going all the way to the basket for a layup or a pass, he pulls up for a three-pointer.
After a stunned silence in the gym, the coach screams “What are you thinking?” and immediately sends in a sub.
Now, after watching Warriors win games and titles (by giving players the freedom to play the percentages), only the most old-school coach yanks the sharpshooter from the game. Now, make or miss, that pull-up three on a fast break is just part of the sport, taken and often made by girls and boys all over the world.
Let’s look at the numbers. The year before Golden State won its first title, in 2013-14, the NBA as a league took 1,766 three-pointers. In 2021-22, that number has jumped to 2,855.
In 2013-14, the offensive rating in the league was 106.7. In 2021-22, it was 112.
Pace? 93.9 then, 98.2 now. Assists? 1,804 to 2,021.
And most important, the percentage of shots that were three-pointers jumped from 25.9% to 39.9%.
The Warriors changed the game.
Oh, some might say it was the analytics’ revolution, the number-crunchers with Ivy League degrees grinding away on computers in back offices, but if the Warriors don’t win four titles, if they don’t get to the finals with clockwork regularity, the old school mentality would have ruled longer, and maybe still would.
Instead, we have more assists, small-ball lineups and a game that flows. The “Hey let’s throw it to the big guy and see if he can make a two-footer” style is a thing of the past. When Steve Kerr – an innovative risk taker – rolled out Otto Porter Jr. as a starter in the last three games of the Finals, it confounded the Celtics. Start an NBA Finals’ game with no player taller than 6-8?
Porter, though, can shoot threes. And the Celtics, even though they got off to a hot start, had matchup issues. Their two bigs – Al Horford and Robert Williams III – were drawn away from the basket on defense, spreading the court and creating space for the Warriors to go to work.
And the constant threat of the three-pointer was the key to Curry’s four drives to the hoop in the fourth quarter. The dogmatic response to the revolution the Warriors’ inspired has been to never leave the shooter open in the strongside corner, and have other defenders try to help when the point guard drives to the hoop. With Curry’s unworldly ballhandling and finishing skills, though, sticking to the shooters spotted up beyond the three just allowed him to get to the rim and finish not only the play, but the Celtics’ hopes of victory.
Of course other teams don’t have Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green. Of course, other teams can’t replicate the Warriors’ success just by shooting more threes.
But any coach or player with open eyes and an open mind has learned from the Warriors. They have watched the misses and the makes, they have seen the difference when the court is spread, and because they want to win, coaches and players have adopted the Warriors’ way.
So yes, the titles are impressive, and the dynasty will be celebrated as long as the game is played, but the true legacy of the Golden State Warriors is deeper and greater: They changed the game.