All along, everyone should’ve seen this coming.
It’s June 13, 2019. The Warriors are down 3-2 in the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. The third quarter of game six is an intense, punch-trading melee with the defending champs trying to stay alive on their home soil.
Near the end of the quarter, Klay Thompson goes down in pain following a layup attempt contested by Danny Green. His facial expressions and clutched posture serve as warning signs of what’s to come. He tries to return, and despite successfully draining his two free throws, he can’t push it.
He’s diagnosed with a torn ACL, just two days after Kevin Durant went down with a torn achilles in game five.
Down two stars, the Warriors fail to force a game seven, and they watch as the Raptors celebrate their first championship to cap off the legacy of Oracle Arena.
Following months of anticipation, Durant tested the waters in the summer of 2019 and ended a notorious tenure.
He joined the Brooklyn Nets, leaving after just three seasons in the Bay Area.
With that, the Warriors looked generally vulnerable for the first time in years. Losing Durant and Thompson were significant blows at the time, and the rest of the roster looked unprepared to aid Stephen Curry in chasing another run at the title.
That dream was fully erased with Curry breaking his hand early into the 2019-20 season. It was a critical injury that saw him miss months, and it was an ugly string of months for a barren Golden State team.
The COVID-19 pandemic ended their harrowing season in March 2020, and their final record was 15-50.
This happened a year after they fell two wins short of a three-peat, and it didn’t seem right that a powerhouse fell flat so quickly. It was clear that the splash bros’ absence made the difference between a dynasty and a lost group.
The cruel destiny
Thompson looked poised to return and help bring the Warriors back to dominance. Curry was also healthy and ready for vengeance.
That was until the injury bug bit even harder.
An achilles tear stemming from practice forced Thompson into another season-ending surgery. Now, nobody was worried about the Dubs anymore, and other great teams were taking the spotlight for the first time in a long time.
One thing was clear: the Warriors were shit out of luck.
Despite this, it was clear that the Warriors were solid enough with Curry and Draymond Green running the show, and acquiring Andrew Wiggins looked like a beneficial move that could bring the best out of a once-fabled prodigy.
A 39-33 record was a significant improvement, but it relegated them to the play-in round. They would lose those two games to the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively, booting them from the playoffs once again.
Change needed to occur, but that wasn’t going to happen until Thompson was able to stay healthy…
Or so we thought.
The injury required a long recovery, but the Warriors quickly lit up the NBA as they started the 2021-22 season on fire. They won 18 of their first 20 games and looked like a completely different class compared to everyone else but their division rivals in Phoenix.
From there on, the rest of the season was a breeze for Golden State, who ultimately locked up the three seed in a tight Western Conference.
This meant one thing: the Dubs were back.
But, this is without Thompson. So why were they this good when it seemed like not much changed from the prior year that saw them miss the postseason?
There are many answers. Curry is Curry. Green took a big leap forward and looked like his former self that defensively anchored a dynasty. Wiggins became an all-star STARTER. But there is one notable player that gives Golden State a new edge.
Jordan Poole burst into the scene. Following a pair of rather unspectacular seasons to begin his NBA career, he was pretty awesome this time around. Scoring nearly 20 points a night on 45-36-93 shooting splits is nothing short of impressive. But, not only can he shoot effectively now, he’s also creating his own shots from long range and gliding past defenders with crafty moves and exemplary finishing touches.
He’s become another bucket-getter for a team that rosters quite a few, but has also shown more worth defensively in his third campaign despite the room for further improvement. The same can also be said about Wiggins, who’s found his home in the Bay Area.
Long are the days of questioning whether or not he’s a good NBA player. He’s cemented his status as a mainstay on a team who has revived their identity. His improved shooting from three took another step forward, nearly reaching the 40% plateau for the first time in his career. He’s become a steady and reliable player off the ball.
Having these two makes sense. Wiggins provides the athletic small forward the Warriors were looking for, while Poole mans the bench and provides a legitimate number one option for the bench unit.
The common denominators
While there are other key contributors like Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr, Kevon Looney, and the return of Andre Iguodala, it’s the main three being back together that has driven this ship.
Curry was nothing short of himself all season. Sure, he may have shot a career-low in three-point percentage, but 38% from deep is still superb given the high volume of threes taken per game (almost 12 per night). Not only that, but it’s his off-ball positioning play and scheme operation that really elevates the team.
And it’s something that the other guys do exceptionally well, too. Thompson and Curry both read defensive sets perfectly, and are constantly improvising their positioning across the halfcourt. It’s like one minute they’re standing across each other on the court, and in the blink of an eye, they’re dismantling defences with their split action offence.
Given their all-time shooting abilities, it’s a necessity that defences do everything possible to ensure they have a man on them at all times. But, the reality is, that there is no defensive scheme in the world that makes guarding these two a less exhilarating task.
Having both of these guys automatically puts this team in title contention. Nobody has anchored a backcourt like these two. Nobody has changed the way the game is played like these two have. It’s a proven formula for success, and it still can’t be stopped seven years after their first NBA Finals appearance.
Green is an unforgettable piece in this equation. It’s critical to understand that without him, this team isn’t winning a title.
Defensively, he’s been their main guy ever since their dominance began. Whether it be captaining off-ball defensive sets, locking down a ball-handler on the perimeter, or shutting someone down at the rim in transition, he does it all.
While defence is his game, his offensive production is a necessity. While he won’t score at will, his flow is seamless. Knowing his spots every single possession, consistently setting successful screens, and mastering pick and roll plays with both guards and bigs, his versatility is sensational.
Everything just stated about these guys has applied for nearly a decade. They created a foundation of mastery intended for the long-term.
It doesn’t matter that Curry broke his hand. It doesn’t matter that Thompson underwent consecutive major surgeries. It doesn’t matter that almost the entire roster outside the core three is almost completely different than before. The results never changed.
Sure, they might not be winning an exorbitant quantity of games in the regular season anymore, but they remain a surefire bet to stretch their season into June when healthy.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done. The Dubs are the 2022 NBA Champions, following a complete mow down of the West, and a hard-earned victory against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
This title is the fourth for Golden State since 2015, and it might be the one most worthy of cherishing.
The series showed that their way of playing the game can be tested at the highest level at any time. Over the last seven years, the only two years where they didn’t go to the Finals were the ones where they missed Thompson’s production.
The reality is that this team will be capable of doing this for a couple more years so long as they stay healthy.
We’re witnessing greatness. It wasn’t that the Warriors’ run was over; they just needed everyone to count them out again.