Golden State Warriors’ forward Rick Barry pulls up for a jumper during the 1975 NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets. Barry and the Warriors would sweep Washington in an upset. (Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated)
Day 75 of our 100 Days of Hoops brings us to the Golden State Warriors. No, not the 2017 NBA champions.
Before Steph, Klay, Baron, Richardson and even Mullin, the Warriors pulled off one of the more stunning upsets in NBA Finals history. I know, hearing that in 2017 sounds crazy.
But the NBA was very different back in 1975. The league consisted of only 18 teams, and three-point line wouldn’t debut for another five years. NBA Finals games were still broadcast on tape delay – almost unfathomable now.
As the 1974-75 regular season concluded, two juggernauts sat atop the Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics and Washington Bullets each finished with a 60-22 record.
Both of those teams were the favorites heading into the playoffs. After all, the Celtics were the defending champions, and the Bullets boasted a front court of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
On the other side of the country, the Golden State Warriors had found themselves with the No. 1 seed in a weak Western Conference. They finished 48-34, a far cry from the Celtics and Bullets.
But just like today, the 1975 Warriors featured a potent offensive attack. They were No. 1 in the NBA when it came to points per game (108.5). Golden State shot 47 percent from the floor that season while taking more field goals than any other team.
Small forward Rick Barry led the Warriors in scoring with 30.6 points per game. The 6’7″ sharp shooter was able to score the basketball in a myriad of ways. Naturally, he would post up when he had the size advantage. But Barry also brought the ball down the floor and could score off the dribble.
His offensive versatility would be the difference in a short, but competitve, NBA Finals. Barry averaged 29.5 points per game on 44 percent shooting. The forward’s impact was also felt on the other ended of the floor, as he amassed 3.5 steals per contest.
Despite the star power of Washington’s front court, it was the Golden State post players who would win the battle on the glass. Power forward Jamaal Wilkes and reserve center Clifford Ray compiled an average of 19.8 rebounds per game.
Normally, that doesn’t sound too impressive. But both Wilkes and Ray averaged less than 30 minutes per game in the 1975 Finals. So in terms of efficiency, they outplayed Unseld and Hayes. Golden State finished the series with 215 rebounds. Washington struggled in this department, managing a total of just 171.
The Warriors would go on to sweep the Bullets. But it wasn’t a conventional sweep. Two of Golden State’s wins were by a single point.
Rick Barry might have been the MVP, but he couldn’t have done it alone. Just like the Golden State Warriors of today, the 1975 club was built on a familiar ideology.
Strength in numbers.