OAKLAND (California) • The Golden State Warriors entered the National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs having spent months chasing basketball magic.
As they overwhelmed a conga line of opponents, the Warriors went about the uncharitable business of obliterating records, each new number more impressive than the last.
Yet, the team have remained aware that all their feats would be meaningless without an opportunity to vie for another championship, their victories consigned to the dustbin of near renown, their records reduced to footnotes of almost greatness.
They have always wanted the whole package: The wins, the records and the trophy.
They sustained the dream on Monday by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder, 96-88, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors, the defending champions, are bound for the NBA Finals, where they will face the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year.
PROVING DOUBTERS WRONG
We were a mature basketball team that tried our best not to listen to the noise when, six or seven days ago we were down 3-1 and everybody thought the wheels were falling off and it was kind of the end of our run. But in that locker room, the talk was positive. It was, 'Let's figure it out'.
STEPHEN CURRY, Warriors guard, on his team coming back from a 1-3 series deficit to win the Western Conference Finals.
Game 1 is in Oakland tomorrow.
"You appreciate how tough it is to get back here," said Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors with 36 points. "That's the one thing I've learnt."
Of all the Warriors' accomplishments, this one may have been the most impressive.
They had to win the final three games of the series to outlast the Thunder, whose miscues - missed shots, turnovers and wasted chances to advance - could haunt the franchise for years to come.
Curry shot 13 of 24 from the field and made seven three-pointers. Klay Thompson, his companion in the backcourt, added 21 points, including six three-pointers.
The Warriors, who became just the 10th team to rally from a 1-3 deficit to win a play-off series, shot 17 of 37 from the three-point line.
They also set an NBA record for three-pointers in a seven-game series with 90, and Curry broke the individual record by sinking 32.
In the series finale, the Warriors trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half before overtaking the Thunder in the third quarter.
They conjured their usual brand of basketball sorcery, draining three-pointers and flying for fast-break dunks.
When the Thunder threatened late in the fourth quarter, whittling the lead to four points on a short jumper by Kevin Durant, Curry emerged.
With the shot clock set to expire, Curry sold Serge Ibaka, his 2.08m defender, on a pump fake and drew a foul as he launched a three-pointer.
Curry made all three free throws.
"That kind of hurt us," Durant said, adding: "But hey, it's a lot of 'what ifs'. We could have said a lot of 'what ifs' throughout the whole play-offs."
Curry sealed the win with another three-pointer.
As the final buzzer sounded and confetti fell around him, he cradled the ball with his left arm and pumped his right fist.
"I knew we were ready for the moment," he said. "We were a mature basketball team that tried our best not to listen to the noise when, six or seven days ago we were down 3-1 and everybody thought the wheels were falling off and it was kind of the end of our run.
"But in that locker room, the talk was positive. It was, 'Let's figure it out'."
Coach Steve Kerr said: "We survived by the skin of our teeth. We were able to pull it out, and we're moving on."
Durant admitted that surrendering the 3-1 series lead was painful.
"You've got to give credit to them," said the player who led the Thunder with 27 points and pulled down seven rebounds. "They came out and played well the last three games."
Russell Westbrook had 19 points and 13 assists, but connected on just seven of 21 shots from the field.
Overall, the Thunder shot just 38.2 per cent from the field - which doomed their bid to become the first team in NBA history to beat two 65-win teams in the same post-season.
The Thunder had eliminated Western Conference second seeds San Antonio Spurs in the semi-finals.
"This could have played out entirely differently," coach Billy Donovan said.
"There was opportunity for us to close the series out in (games) five and six and seven, and we came up a little short."
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE