There are times in sports when someone really special comes along and you simply count your blessings that you were there to see it happen. Like when Lionel Messi broke into the Barcelona team and took them to unprecedented success. Or when Virat Kohli hit absolute miraculous form to single-handedly take India into the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals and Royal Challengers Bangalore, into the Indian Premier League final.
It is not just that these players were extremely good at playing the game. It was more the fact that they were reinventing the very way the game is played.
In basketball, that time was last season, and the player was Stephen Curry. A six-foot-three-inch point guard, "Chef" Curry took the Golden State Warriors to the United States NBA (National Basketball Association) championship last year. The Warriors employed the unconventional strategy of passing over chances to make two-pointers and, instead, passing out and allowing Curry to shoot three-pointers.
As Curry is the greatest three-point shooter in the history of the game, the tactic worked pretty well and he ended up taking home the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for the season.
However, the problem was that if you were already a basketball fan by then, you probably weren't supporting the Warriors. You were rooting for the popular teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Chicago Bulls or the LA Lakers. You were marvelling at the raw athleticism of LeBron James or the relentless scoring of Kevin Durant. Very few of us counted the Warriors as “our” team.
If however, you were lucky enough to start watching NBA this year, you really had no choice. The Warriors were playing the beautiful game and sinking shots from impossible distances. More important, they were winning.
You would have been well rewarded for your support, too, as the Warriors broke the NBA record for most wins in the regular season. They went past the record of 72 victories set by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, winning 73 games and losing just nine. This means that Warriors’ fans would end 90% of the matches they watched pumping their fists in celebration. Not a bad incentive for waking up early morning to catch those NBA matches live in India.
This season also made for some pretty exciting viewing. Curry didn’t just shoot from right outside the three-point line. He could score from two, three, even five steps behind the line. And then there were those Hail Marys taken from the half-court line that went in an alarming number of times.
More improbably, though, he had actually improved from his MVP-winning season. In fact, he had improved so much that he was in fourth position for the Most Improved Player award, which is generally given to an up-and-coming player.
The Splash Brothers
He couldn’t do it alone of course. He had his off-days and spent time out injured. Luckily, the Warriors also have in their ranks Klay Thompson, another great three-point shooter. Known as the Splash Brothers, Curry and Thompson bamboozled teams as they kept stepping back and sinking those threes.
They were backed up by Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala to form what came known as the Death Line-up. Practically diminutive by NBA standards (Barnes is the tallest at 6 feet 8 inches), the line-up relies on the Splash Brothers to score a high percentage of the three-point shots that they take. When needed, though, they can also call upon seven-footers like Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut to shut down their opponents.
Another part of the Warriors charm is that they are very likeable. Curry may be 6 feet 3 inches, but he has been described by Coach Kerr as looking like “he is 12”. The others on the team too are almost tiny when playing against the standard NBA behemoths. They look like proverbial Davids going up against Goliaths in most matches. The mismatch goes out the window pretty quickly, though, once the Splash Brothers start making three-point shots from everywhere.
Warriors versus Cavaliers again
In last season’s NBA finals, the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2. The Warriors went through a tricky Western Conference finals where they were down 1-3 at one point against the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, they dug themselves out of that hole and now face the Cavaliers again for the NBA Championship.
The Warriors are already 2-0 up with two games played, but the Cavaliers cannot be written off just yet. The Cavaliers also struck imperious form in the playoffs, losing only twice on their way to winning the Eastern Conference Championship.
The 2016 NBA regular season was a great time for the rookie – the rookie fan that is. If you still haven’t gotten in on the action yet though, Warriors vs Cavaliers would be a great initiation. At the very least, the early morning game-starts will ensure that your resolution to wake up earlier is fulfilled.