With the emergence of positionless basketball and the increased emphasis on the three-point shot, the days of needing a dominant seven-footer on the low block to win a championship have past. As the NBA continues to transition to a more guard-centric style, the term “small ball” has become quite popular.
Teams across the league are looking to run more up-tempo offenses led by as many dynamic scoring guards and two-way wings that they can fit on the floor at once.
Although teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have thrived in this unorthodox style over the last five years, the 2007 Warriors were among the early adopters of this revolutionary approach. (Credit here also goes to the 2000’s “7 Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns for the pace, as well as Don Nelson’s previous “Run TMC” Warriors of the 1990s.)
Known as one of the greatest “Cinderella stories” in the history of American sports, the “We Believe” Warriors achieved what was once considered an unfathomable feat by defeating the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite having a roster where every player that logged major minutes was 6’10” or shorter, these Warriors sealed their basketball immortality by becoming the first eighth seed in NBA history to beat a one seed in a seven-game series. (The Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks had both achieved such feats in five-game series previously.)
But what gets lost in the historical memory is how they got there and what truly made this team so special.
Building something to believe in
Although the Warriors now bask in the glory of winning three of the last five championships, Golden State was not always a pillar of excellence.
In 2007 the Warriors had the weight of 12 straight postseason-less campaigns. Their last visit had come during the 1993-94 season where they were swept in three games by Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns.
With no real foundation and their best player at the time being 25-year-old point guard Baron Davis, the franchise looked far from ready to break its long playoff drought.
After going 34-48 in consecutive seasons, general manager Chris Mullin fired head coach Mike Montgomery in favor of Don Nelson during 2007. Nelson had previously been the Warriors’ coach from 1989-95, going 277-260 in seven seasons before moving on to the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks.
Mullin also acquired veteran journeyman Matt Barnes who was on his fifth team in four seasons.
Nelson had always deployed a run-and-gun offensive system during his long NBA career, and he quickly inserted Barnes into the starting lineup with Davis, second-year guard Monta Ellis, swingman Jason Richardson and center Andris Beidrins. Small forwards Mickael Pietrus and Mike Dunleavy came off the bench to start the season.
Unfortunately for these Dubs, the first half of the campaign did not start the way they would have liked.
After going 7-3 in their first ten, the team hit a handful of losing streaks. By the time they had 33 games in the books, the Warriors were only a game over .500 (17-16), having gone 5-5 in their last ten with blowout losses to the Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings.
Then, for a team with little direction and nothing to lose, Mullin made the trade that changed everything.
On January 17, 2007, Mullin engineered a dynamic, eight-player swap with the Indiana Pacers to acquire forwards Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Josh Powell and guard Sarunas Jasikevicius. Golden state sent forwards Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu and guard Keith McLeod to the Pacers.
With a new talent influx headlined by Harrington and Jackson, combined with Nelson’s innovative offensive style, the team had a new life to turn the season around.
But they had very little time to do so.
With only 38 games left, the margin for error was minimal. Team chemistry took time, and the losing streaks continued to pop up all the way until March 5 when the switch finally flipped.
The Improbable Push
Sitting nine games under .500 with a record of 27-35 and coming off a six-game losing streak, the likelihood of reaching the playoffs was slim to none for Golden State.
After a close 107-106 loss to the Washington Wizards, the Warriors went on a historic run by winning 16 of their last 21 games to end the season 42-40 and barely clinching the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
This stretch alone is what drew me to these Warriors.
In the world of sports, there are two kinds of things we love to see more than anything: dominance and underdogs. In a season with low expectations and the kind of start that would normally have franchises nowadays plotting for the draft, the Dubs doubled down on an opportunity to come together and make history by believing in one another.
Golden State was entering the playoffs on an emotional high by beating the odds with a handful of players logging overachieving seasons.
Lead guard Baron Davis had averaged 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.4 rebounds with 2.1 steals, which was the second-highest in his career. Monta Ellis was coming off a rough 2006 rookie season where he only averaged 6.8 points. Yet, he emerged as a dynamic young backcourt mate with Davis, averaging 16.5 points and 4.1 assists.
Then there was the infused scoring output of the newly acquired Jackson and Harrington, who both contributed about 17 points per game.
With the team firing on all cylinders and the weight of the franchise’s extensive playoff drought off its shoulders, the team adopted the mantra “We Believe,” selling out golden t-shirts with the slogan plastered across the front as they filled Oracle Arena.
Considered outmatched and under-talented, Golden State faced off against the reigning Western Conference champion, No.1 seeded Dallas Mavericks.
Led by 2007’s NBA MVP, German forward Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas entered the playoffs with a 67-15 record on the back of Nowitzki’s 24.6 points and 8.9 rebounds. With a shooting splits of 51.5 percent from the field, 50.2 percent from the three-point line and 90.4 percent from the free-throw line, Nowitzki had put the league on notice as he continued his redemption tour (after falling short to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals).
The Warriors were already seen as a footnote before the series’ first tipoff.
In Game 1, coach Nelson went with an even smaller-than-normal lineup of Davis, Ellis, Richardson, Jackson and the 6’9” Harrington at center. Barnes and Pietrus were to play big minutes off the bench as Nelson looked to keep ball handlers that could shoot the three on the floor at all times.
With an up-tempo style predicated on athletic finishes in transition and a barrage of three-point shooting, the Warriors surprised the much more conventionally-operating Mavericks and went on to steal the first game, 97-85, on the back 33 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists from Davis.
Dallas would go on to take Game 2 despite Stephen Jackson going off for 30 points, but Game 3 is where Golden State and the fans at Oracle Arena would take over the series.
The trio of Davis, Jackson and Jason Richardson combined for 70 points on their way to giving Golden State a 2-1 advantage. Dominating the first half 61-48, Davis and the Warriors never let off the gas as they would go on to win 109-91 and snatch the series lead.
Although Game 4 was more nip-and-tuck, the Warriors would not fold under the pressure. While key contributors like Ellis and Harrington only combined for 14 points, it was Davis who stepped up to save the day.
With 33 points on 11 of 20 shooting, nearly every basket Davis made was crucial. None may have been more clutch than his 49-foot prayer of a heave to tie the game up at 49 and swing momentum in Golden State’s favor after being down for the majority of the entire first half.
Talk about irony. The Warriors would go on to close the game 103-99 with a handful of big-time free throws down the stretch from Davis and J-Rich.
After 13 years of missing the postseason, the Bay Area throng was decked in Warriors yellow as they fueled their team to back-to-back victories at home. Fewer arenas have ever seemed louder in NBA history.
Unfortunately, the Warriors were unable to close out the Mavericks in Game 5, losing 118-112. But that simply left them the chance to finish things back in San Francisco.
In arguably one of the franchise’s most memorable games, it was Jackson who took over.
Leading the team with 33 points and a franchise-playoff record seven threes, Jackson single-handedly fended off the Mavericks by scoring 13 straight points during a 24-3 run in the third quarter that put the game out of reach.
Winning 111-86, the Warriors secured their first playoff series victory since 1991.
Although they would go on to be a “gentleman’s sweep” in five games at the hands of Deron, Williams, Carlos Boozer and the Utah Jazz during the second round, the “We Believe” Warriors were the spark plug that the franchise needed to re-energize its fan base into what has now become one of the league’s best.
With an entertaining, up and down style of play, the “We Believe” Warriors may not have revolutionized the league, but they were proof that their style could beat conventional teams and win in the playoffs.
As a ragtag group of castoffs, journeymen and role players, the “We Believe” Warriors created a culture of togetherness and embracing one another’s strengths. They may not have had any of the era’s superstar names like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, or Dwayne Wade, but they had a collection of guys who bought into a system that made them each stars in their own way.
“We Believe” was not just a mantra to get the fans riled up to buy some t-shirts.
“We Believe” was a symbol of hope that helped put the whole city of San Francisco on the movement’s back and instill the belief that the Warriors could overcome a long history of disappointment.
It represented a new era of basketball for the Golden State Warriors.
Even today, current Warriors like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green continue to pay homage to the “We Believe” Warriors and continue to embrace what they represented.
Tough-minded players that forged a brotherhood as an embodiment of the tough San Francisco streets, this team will always be remembered as a group that did things their own way, embraced the challenges that came with it and had fun beating all the odds.
Hello, my fellow hoop fans! My name is Jalon Dixon, but my friends call me Jay. Basketball is a 24/7 obsession that I can never get enough of. Whether it be NBA, WNBA, college hoops, high school basketball or even AAU, I watch it all. My passion is to create conversation for the forever-growing basketball community. Expect a handful of hot takes, some mock drafts, player/team breakdowns and plenty of quality content. The recipe is the perfect balance of analytics, the eye test and a sprinkle of opinion just to show the writer’s inner fan. My motto is “Always embrace conversation”, so my DMs and inbox are always open for a fiery barbershop-style basketball debate or two.