OAKLAND -- The Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets 104-90 on Wednesday night, and in doing so merely ended a 40-year drought. The Warriors are back in the NBA Finals. It's a sentence that's both true now and unimaginable in the very recent past.
"No, no, I did not see this coming," Warriors general manager Bob Myers conceded to ESPN.com when asked whether he expected this level of success so quickly. "It's not that I didn't think it was possible, but I didn't see this expedited path to where we are. I am surprised."
Expectations shift and update so quickly in this era that it's easy to forget how shocking this result is in the grand scheme. Actually, Golden State's Finals trip is also quite surprising in a smaller frame. This 67-win season was not expected to go this way. This group had a rookie coach and a dearth of deep playoff experience. The Warriors were the punch line of Las Vegas Summer League because they refused to swap Klay Thompson for All-Star Kevin Love. Now they stand as the West's lone representative, ready to face a Cleveland Cavaliers team that clawed its way to the Finals sans Love's services.
"The thing I'm most proud about tonight's game was that at the end of the game, we had the three guys we drafted in one year," Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob said.
Think back to that 2012 draft, when Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green were selected. In that summer, could anyone have sold you on the Warriors making a Finals before the Thunder got back to one?
Barnes, Ezeli and Green were tremendous in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night. Barnes' contributions were especially timely because they immediately followed a sequence that forced Thompson from the game with a bloody head injury. After taking a Trevor Ariza knee to the skull, Thompson was subbed out with 9:30 remaining. What followed were three straight Barnes baskets, including a 3-pointer.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," Barnes said.
"Trying to be aggressive" is an NBA cliché that Barnes actually seems to be living by in these playoffs, having expressed regret over not being forceful enough last season. On a night when Stephen Curry, nursing an elbow injury, struggled with his shot, Barnes' 24 points were needed.
Ezeli used the big stage to remind people of just how much he's progressed this season, claiming 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including two late dunks that simultaneously rattled the rim and the Rockets.
"That's what I'm saying -- you never know with this team, man," Ezeli said when asked about his big night. "The strength of this team is its depth and we play together. We play as a team. They just found me."
The Warriors just found Ezeli, back in 2012, too. And Green and Barnes and, a year before that, Thompson (20 points in 22 minutes). That homegrown talent is rapidly developing, meshing with a superstar in his prime, augmented by the efforts of ace veteran defenders such as Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Iguodala was especially brilliant in Game 5, reducing James Harden to a beard and a jersey. Houston's MVP candidate made two shots and coughed up an NBA playoff-record 13 turnovers, in large part because Iguodala enveloped Harden's presence more completely than his facial follicles.
There were two moments when the Warriors could have faltered, both Thompson-related. It looked precarious when Thompson picked up his fifth foul with 9:19 left in the third quarter, and it turned ominous when Thompson suffered his fourth-quarter injury. These Warriors were too deep and too talented to let it slip away, though.
The process of the Warriors' getting this deep and this talented has been a quick one -- accelerated improvement over the past five years or so. The process of their getting here has also been a four-decade saga. For the league MVP, it's somewhere in between.
Reflecting on a Golden State career that dates back to the bad old days, Curry said: "Six years is a long time to wait. Obviously, the Bay Area has been waiting 40-plus years. I think it's time."
It's their time right now. The Warriors reign over the vaunted Western Conference. Not the Spurs, not the Thunder. The Warriors. It happened unexpectedly, and don't be surprised if it lasts.