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Triumph over expectations links Golden State to surprise NBA winners of the past

No doubt about it, the Warriors had an exciting, dramatic, inspiring and, it must be said, terrifically overachieving playoff run. For a while, particularly among the most devout fans and enabling media types, there were even anxiously prayerful whispers about an NBA championship, something the Bay Area hasn't seen since 1975.

It was all kind of reminiscent of the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets.

Talk about your overachievers.

Mention of the 1975-76 Suns, even all these years later, can still evoke heartburn and heartbreak to older generations of Warriors fans, but here goes.

The Warriors went into that 1976 postseason as defending NBA champions and with a league-best 59 regular-season wins. Phoenix came into the playoffs almost apologetically, with a 42-40 record.

The Warriors, led by Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith, Clifford Ray and Gus Williams, ousted the Detroit Pistons, although laboring through six games to beat a team that had lost 10 more games than it had won might have been an omen.

The Suns, with Rookie of the Year Alvan Adams, Paul Westphal, Garfield Heard, Curtis Perry, Keith Erickson and John Shumate, ousted the Bill Russell-coached Seattle SuperSonics in six games.

In the 1976 Western Conference finals, thanks to wild wins in Game 4 (133-129 in double overtime) and Game 6 (105-104), both in Phoenix, the Suns pushed the Warriors to seven games. Still, Game 7 was in Oakland, where the Warriors had gone 36-5 in the regular season. But the Warriors went inexplicably cold in the fourth quarter, when Barry unfathomably became a non-factor, and the Suns earned a most unlikely berth in the NBA Finals with a 94-86 victory.

Phoenix continued to shock the pro basketball world, splitting the first four games of the 1976 finals with the Boston Celtics. In Game 5, the Suns and Celtics played one of the all-time classics, a triple-overtime thriller that finally went to Boston, 128-126. The still awe-inspiring individual statistics in that game weren't points or rebounds or assists, but minutes played: Heard, 61; Jo Jo White, 60; John Havlicek 58; Dave Cowens, 55; Perry, 52.

"You get yourself so worked up psychologically and physically, that you wonder at times if it's all that worth it," an exhausted Havlicek told sportswriters.


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