The Golden State Warriors entered the NBA playoffs having spent months chasing basketball magic. As they overwhelmed a conga line of opponents, the Warriors went about the uncharitable business of obliterating records, each new number more impressive than the last.
Yet the Warriors have remained aware that all their feats would be meaningless without an opportunity to vie for another championship, their records reduced to footnotes of almost greatness. They have always wanted the whole package: the wins, the records and the trophy.
Golden State sustained the dream on Monday night by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena. The Warriors, the defending champions, are bound for the NBA Finals, where they will face the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James for the second straight year. Game 1 is Thursday in Oakland.
"You appreciate how tough it is to get back here," said Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors with 36 points. "That's the one thing I've learned."
Of all the Warriors' accomplishments, this one may have been the most impressive. They had to win the final three games of the series to outlast the Thunder, whose miscues could haunt the franchise for years to come.
Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Thunder star Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points. Curry made seven 3-pointers. Klay Thompson, his companion in the backcourt, added 21 points.
The Warriors trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half before overtaking the Thunder in the third quarter. Golden State conjured its usual brand of sorcery, draining 3-pointers and flying for fast-break dunks.
When the Thunder threatened late in the fourth, whittling the lead to four on a short jumper by Durant, Curry emerged.
With 1.8 seconds on the shot clock and 1:18 left in the game, Curry sold Serge Ibaka, his 6-foot-10 defender, on a pump fake and drew a foul as he hefted a 3-pointer. Curry made all three free throws to push Golden State's lead to 93-86.
"That kind of hurt us," Durant said, adding: "But hey, it's a lot of what-ifs. We could have said a lot of what-ifs throughout the whole playoffs."
Curry then sealed the game a few seconds later.
When Durant missed a three-pointer with 43.8 seconds left, Curry brought the ball up on a fast break, brought the ball out to the three-point line and put on a dribbling exhibition. After getting away from Thunder guard Andre Roberson, Curry pulled up and let fly with a three-pointer with 26.8 seconds left that dropped through the bottom of the net, giving the Warriors a 96-86 lead and ensuring that their chase for history would live on.
"I knew we were ready for the moment," Curry said. "We were a mature basketball team that tried our best not to listen to the noise when ... we were down, 3-1, and everybody thought the wheels were falling off and it was kind of the end of our run."
That this series came down to the final seconds was a testament to the resiliency of the Thunder.
"It wasn't easy," the Warriors' Draymond Green said. "That's a great team we just beat."
Contributing: New York Times, Washington Post, AP