Game winners are fun.
They count the same as 115-92 victories, but the excitement garnered from a well executed dagger is one of the great feelings the NBA produces on a nightly basis. Sometimes, your team is on the opposite end of one which, conversely, produces one of the emptiest feelings the NBA has to offer. But, if you’re lucky enough the possession arrow points to your team’s side and the basket is drilled. The crowd goes berserk, players celebrate like they won the championship and for just one night, the team can’t be touched.
That goes for any team in the league, but for a team as well supported as the Warriors are, the feelings don’t compare. Whether it’s the crowd at Oracle Arena, social media or simply family and friends in the living room, the Warriors bring out the crazy in people. In year’s past it’s been for all the wrong reasons, but now that the Warriors are contenders, the want for more has never been higher. The team is close, but still distant from seriously contending for an NBA title. Regardless, it’s in these important seasons that bring about the most in fans and pundits alike.
The team is good and the stakes are higher. This makes last season’s game winners not only exciting, but important. Monta Ellis’ finishers were pleasant, but empty. Vladimir Radmanovic’s were fun, but meaningless. This season, there was a sense of stability, a sense of togetherness that will stick with this particular team for years to come. Stephen Curry is the franchise, Klay Thompson is Robin and Andre Iguodala is the shiny new toy. This past season was full of surprises, intrigue and satisfaction.
These game winners enhanced the ride:
5) The Boy’s first game winner (1/10/14)
Any made shot against Kris Humphries deserves some type of recognition. This one happened to come from our very own Stephen Curry to ice the game against the depleted Boston Celtics. Curry caught Humphries on the switch, who did the best he could do to stay in front of the All-Star and put his hand in his face. It didn’t matter for Curry, who used his handles and quickness to create just enough space to get the shot off.
This was Curry’s first game winning shot in the NBA, which seemed odd considering his sudden superstardom. Regardless, if there was one player not named Kobe Bryant that fans would’ve chosen for Curry to hit a game winning shot over, Humphries might’ve been the next best bet. I know it was mine, and the saddened former reality star-by-default was sent home with another loss.
Nothing was the same.
4) #FullSquad rolls on in Atlanta (1/3/14)
The #FullSquad shall forever live in Warriors lore. Their run that turned the year was equally impressive as it was enthralling. It wasn’t easy, however, as the team looked on the cusp of breaking their seven-game winning streak in Atlanta. Once again, it was Andre Iguodala who benefitted from the added attention to Curry to garner an open look and subsequence three to continue the greatness that was #FullSquad.
After Pero Antic moved to double Curry off the inbounds, that left Iguodala free beyond the arc and just like in November, was forced to quickly heave the shot another effort to put the team on his back. This was one of the rare instances where an open shot from a teammate is the higher percentage shot from Curry. Iguodala was open, kicked his legs out and soared for the dagger.
He continued to run off the court a la Derek Fisher, but this one wasn’t in doubt.
3) Welcome to the Golden State, Andre (11/14/14)
In only his ninth game as a Warrior Andre Iguodala proved himself worthy. There’s a certain rite of passage with any new acquisition, and this game winner proved to be Iguodala’s “Welcome to the Golden State” movement. With 2.3 seconds left, he caught the inbounds from Klay Thompson and opted for the quick turnaround, a shot he said post game he practices but was very much an in-the-moment play. Iguodala could’ve drove to the rim, possibly drawing a foul charge to put him to the line. Thankfully, he chose the tougher shot over an admirable defender in Thabo Sefolosha in what was the ultimate “it went in” scenario.
Russell Westbrook had just hit a deep trey to put the Thunder on top in what was an extremely competitive game between two of the most exciting teams in the league. Westbrook was Westbrook, opting for the more difficult shot instead of hitting Kevin Durant with any sort of pass. Both Westbrook’s and Iguodala’s shots were similar in that sense: the best player on their respective team’s didn’t touch the ball, acting as powerless complements during the game’s waning seconds.
Iguodala officially became a Warrior that night, celebrating the victory with his new teammates with the roars gracing the Oracle Arena rafters as the backdrop. The opponent was elite, the shot was difficult and the result was extraordinary. For at least one night, Westbrook had nothing to say.
2) Stephen Curry’s overtime step back (4/1/14)
Goaltending? Maybe. Made shot? Definitely.
The NBA came out in the days days following this game to announce that Jermaine O’Neal did in fact goaltend, but that’s besides the point.
The Warriors have three people to thank for this made basket, which propelled the team to a 46-28 record and pushed the Mavericks back outside the playoff picture: Jermaine O’Neal, Vince Carter and Stephen Curry.
O’Neal was the one who sparked the transition bucket for Curry with a “block” against a floater from Monta Ellis. Just seconds later, Vince Carter chose not to double Curry in favor of shading towards Draymond Green, leaving Jose Calderon in a one-on-one matchup. Finally, it was Curry who executed the patented step back, which has become his go-to move for a quick shot.
Mark Jackson’s also chose not to call a timeout which ended up — in this instance — working in the Warriors’ favor. The defense failed to get set and they found the matchup they wanted. Multiple factors contributed to this shot, which speaks volumes to the team’s chemistry that they built as the season progressed. The Mavericks were working on their own campaign towards the playoffs, so the stakes were nearing the highest of levels.
A beautiful shot from Curry that left everyone at a loss for words.
1) Klay Thompson’s turnaround over George Hill (3/4/14)
Thompson’s turnaround shot to end the game against the (then) highly touted Pacers was a career-changing play. In his short career, Thompson had built a reputation for missing layups, not passing enough and the boneheaded plays. Last season, Thompson put all those criticisms aside and cemented himself as a future star. The one trait that Thompson was missing from his repertoire was the ability to become a dependable player when the game is on the line. He had hit clutch shots before, but none with the importance of his shot in Indiana that March night.
“It proves to people I can make that shot. I wanted that shot,” said Thompson, who scored 14 of his 25 points that night in the final stanza to lead the team to victory.
Thompson enhanced his game in every way possible last season. You don’t want Thompson taking shots away from Curry too often, but the point-guard was struggling in Indiana. The question became whether you can depend on Thompson to take (and make) the final shot. We hadn’t seen much of it during his early career, but given the high stakes and the fact it was on the road, that shot in Indiana will go down as the most important shot his career to date.
Honorable Mention: The King’s heave over Andre Iguodala (2/12/14)
There are some plays you just have to accept.
LeBron James’ step back three to beat the Warriors at Oracle is one of those shots that is simply absurd, yet in the large collection of incredible plays from James it might not even be near the top. Andre Iguodala was named a starter on the NBA All-Defensive team, has been touted as an elite defender nearly his entire career and was the key cog for the team’s vastly improved defense. So, naturally, he was tasked with the impossible task of guarding James one-on-one, and does as admirable a job any single human could do on the best player in the world.
Greatness reigned supreme, and the King didn’t even graze iron as he drills it right in Iguodala’s grill. The chesty, knee-raising celebration follows in what was one of the best shots of the season for the Heat, who continued to get embarrassed in the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The celebration might’ve been as fun as the shot itself, as the collective mouths of Warriors’ fans stayed ajar for the duration of the sequence. Did the fact James made the shot surprise anyone? It shouldn’t have. Did the sequence ooze NBA royalty?