BOSTON — There’s nothing really new about the latest NBA champion. The Golden State Warriors have been there and now done that — again. Not only is the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy in secure hands, but familiar hands as well. The Warriors set out to reclaim the title on this journey of redemption and got their just reward.
So, to commemorate the Warriors winning in six games, here are six takeaways from their triumphant Thursday and a fourth title in the Stephen Curry Era:
1. Warriors execute a dynasty redo
What better place to leave a permanent footprint on the championship sidewalk than here, under all the banners, before a deflated crowd, and somehow doing it while romping at first and eventually dancing?
The Warriors are not your grandfather’s dynasty — that would be the 1960s Celtics, and those ghosts are long gone, even from the TD Garden. The subject, once again, is about the here and now, about the Warriors and their ability to make the champagne bottle last for a fourth sip over the last eight years.
After a three-year delay caused by injuries and a noticeable free-agent defection — more on him later — the Warriors returned to the throne and carried on like they never really left. Because, after all, there’s still Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, coach Steve Kerr and the ownership/management group that claimed to be light years ahead of everyone else … and then made the decisions to demonstrate as much.
The Warriors had too much know-how and defense and, of course, Curry to be denied in 2022, and the Celtics were too powerless to prevent the outcome. It was Warriors 103, Celtics 90, completing the task in six games — on the road no less.
Truth be told, though, this version that raised the title trophy seems the least formidable of the four. And that’s not being disrespectful to the freshly-minted champs. Even Kerr admitted “this might be the most unlikely one of all.”
That’s because the Warriors didn’t even finish with the best record in the West, let alone the NBA. Draymond had issues against Boston for much of the series, Thompson never reclaimed the rhythm he had before his two serious leg injuries, the Warriors leaned on a former No. 1 overall pick who nobody wanted (Andrew Wiggins) and needed the services of another unlikely asset (Jordan Poole) who spent time in the G League last season.
“A lot of unknowns, a lot of young guys, a new group around our core,” Kerr said.
In the end, though, they had defense, and they also had Curry, and he carried this franchise through the playoffs like never before in his career, and in the closeout game the Warriors finally looked flawless and flexed like champions.
And so, salute.
2. Golden State proved bloodthirsty in Boston
The way Game 6 suddenly and drastically flipped was a more effective maneuver than gymnast Simone Biles ever executed. The Celtics, desperate as they were, started with a 14-2 bang, teased the home crowd and then … just like that, they were on their backs for good after absorbing a sucker punch they never saw coming or could recover from.
Draymond Green hit his second 3-pointer of the series, and then Jordan Poole banked in another, and the Warriors took the lead and kept it away from Boston for the next three tortuous quarters.
The Warriors were up 15 at halftime, 22 in the third and 10 entering the fourth. Save for a brief minute which felt more like a few seconds, the Celtics had no life. The scenes of this convincing wipeout were telling: Draymond hit another 3, this time in front of the Celtics bench, and he turned and glared at them with a smug stink-face. Curry hit a 3 from the corner with three minutes left and then did the put-em-to-sleep gesture by resting his head in his hands.
Curry didn’t even run down court on the Warriors’ final possession. He found his father, Dell, the man who put a basketball in his hands, and dropped tears with a courtside hug just before the buzzer sounded.
“It was surreal because you know how much you went through,” Curry said.
As for the Celtics, once again they were bamboozled by their own bumbling. Early foul trouble forced Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart to the bench, but when the Celtics reserves proved terribly ineffective, Tatum and Smart had to check back in quicker than expected. And that was the least of their problems.
The turnovers buried Boston under an avalanche, with too many errant passes and fumbled dribbles and crushing mistakes to overcome. They kept tripping over themselves and exited this series powerless to save them from themselves.
3. Steph Curry climbs higher on the legacy staircase
Let’s discuss, for a moment, just this season’s collection of goodies, because it amounts to more than most players will ever see in their lifetimes, and that’s if they’re lucky.
Curry collected the Kobe Bryant Trophy (All-Star MVP), Magic Johnson Trophy (Western Conference finals MVP) and finally, for the first time, the Bill Russell Trophy (Finals MVP). In addition to having those legends in his home, let the discussion begin about Curry belonging in their company for his career.
Because that’s really all that’s left to examine about this special player. Where does he rank all time? Top 15? Dare we suggest top 10? With a pair of Kia MVPs, four championships, the all-time record for 3-pointers made and now the elusive Finals MVP? Oh, wait: He isn’t finished playing yet. There could be more to come. Therefore, it’s all noise right now.
“Steph solidified himself as the best point guard of all time,” said Andre Iguodala, and even that will be argued because, ahem, Magic Johnson.
We can, for now, study what Curry did in this series. Remember, he came into the postseason dragging one of the most inefficient regular-season stretches of his career, but all that changed once the stakes rose. In the Finals, Curry was by far the most impactful player. In five of the six games he made five or more 3-pointers. He ripped through a Celtics’ defense that was among the league’s best, including Kia Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
And in the closeout, he had 34 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and six 3-pointers to resoundingly claim the elusive Finals MVP in a unanimous media vote.
“Some bozo said he needed it,” said Thompson.
Curry now has as many rings as Larry Bird and Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. And a reminder: He’s not done yet and, at age 34, still somewhat in his prime for a shooter. So his story, and the debate, isn’t finished.
“Without him,” Kerr said, “none of this happens.”
4. Jayson Tatum is not there just yet
There are necessary stages to conquer before someone earns the right to be labeled a superstar. It’s the rarest of basketball breeds and any member of that club earns all the flowers and spoils that come with such a level of excellence.
Tatum isn’t a card-carrying member just yet. This is what he learned about himself in the Finals, and there’s no particular shame in falling short. Plenty of others did before him and most turned out just fine. Keep in mind that Tatum is just 24 and only this season made All-NBA First Team. It’s a process, and a tough one.
To fit the definition of a superstar, you must be great on a consistent basis. Think LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Curry, etc. Tatum was not against the Warriors, and was especially exposed in Game 6, when he went out meekly. He made six shots, had five turnovers and scored just 13 points, his series low for a game. He was spooked by his constant mistakes, didn’t even attempt a free throw and wasn’t heard from in the fourth.
He will see Andrew Wiggins stealing his beach towel this summer.
It was rather weird to witness Tatum struggling with efficiency and failing to save the Celtics after seeing the growth in every round before this: Outdueling Kevin Durant, beating Giannis, outlasting Miami. All signs pointed to Tatum taking those talents to the Warriors, except it never really happened. He proved to be a poor passer out of the double-team, and the Warriors seized upon that weakness and exploited it time and time again. When his frustration reached a limit, he resorted to forced shots and desperate 3-pointers.
“It’s hard getting to this point, and even harder getting over the hump and winning it,” he said.
The only Tatum who celebrated Thursday was Mark — the Deputy Commissioner of the NBA who handled the trophy ceremony in the absence of Adam Silver, out for Health and Safety Protocols.
As for Jayson Tatum, all he needs is time … and maybe a purer point guard than Marcus Smart so he doesn’t need to constantly rely on isolation plays and creating his own shot. Doing so led to those annoying turnovers all Finals long. We probably haven’t seen the last of him in June.
5. Steve Kerr is one of the all-time great coaches
If the ultimate measuring stick is championships, than yeah, this is true and even his skeptics must concede as much.
He took over for Mark Jackson and won a championship, and then again eight years later, all without much experience on the bench prior to this job. Of course, the common denominator during this run is the luxury of having Curry around, but what great coach ever did anything without great players?
This season was perhaps Kerr’s finest. He groomed Jordan Poole while Klay Thompson was still on the mend, and then successfully found a place for both when Thompson healed. He helped elevate the confidence of Andrew Wiggins, dumped by his former team in Minnesota and mostly dismissed by the basketball world as an underachiever.
Best of all, Kerr made sure the Warriors were on the level defensively. That unit eventually won this championship because, other than Curry and Wiggins, the Warriors lacked consistency from the rotation.
Oh, it should also be mentioned that the Warriors had three (future) head coaches on the bench this season: Kerr, Kenny Atkinson (who will reportedly take over the Charlotte Hornets this fall) and Mike Brown (who’ll do the same for the Sacramento Kings).
6. What’s on Kevin Durant’s mind?
This is the reflexive reaction in the basketball world here in the wake of the Warriors’ fourth title. Durant was on two of those teams, won Finals MVP both times and then in the summer of 2019 bailed for Brooklyn in free agency, essentially trading Curry for Kyrie Irving.
We’re all still waiting for a rational explanation from KD about why he’d leave a team that was built to last, even with his and Thompson’s leg injuries. Curry wasn’t going anywhere, and neither was Draymond. Oh, and he also traded Kerr for Steve Nash.
Since then, Curry became the all-time 3-point leader, Thompson recovered, the Warriors returned to the promised land … while Irving refused to get vaccinated and James Harden bailed and Brooklyn couldn’t get to the East finals, although KD nearly helped pull that off last season all by himself against the eventual-champion Bucks.
The Warriors have now matched the number of titles won without KD as they won with him.
Durant is a constant on social media and maybe in the next few days he’ll break his Warriors’ silence. Until then … a penny for his thoughts? And where would he be had he stayed? Happier? Certainly more decorated, right?
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