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Holy Cannoli, the Warriors Are Back on Top

After a two-year fall-off, Golden State put a fourth ring on Steph Curry’s finger, finishing off the Celtics in Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Through the first three rounds of the 2022 NBA playoffs, the Warriors were seemingly content to take it easy in possible closeout games on the road. Against Denver, then Memphis, then Dallas, Golden State squandered each initial chance to finish the series, only to treat the home crowd to a victory in the next game.

But they weren’t nearly so patient against Boston in the Finals. With a chance to win another championship—their fourth in eight seasons—and complete a series comeback, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and the rest of the Warriors pounced early in Game 6 and never lost control.

Thanks to an early 21-0 run—the longest in any Finals game in at least 50 years—the Warriors raced to a 103-90 victory in Game 6. After losing in the 2019 Finals, the Warriors fell all the way to the bottom of the NBA standings. They struggled to rise beyond mediocrity the following season, then straddled a sometimes awkward line between competing in the present and building for the future. But now they’re back on the mountaintop, loudly proclaiming that their dynastic reign is far from complete.

There is almost no precedent in NBA history for the Warriors’ particular rise and fall and rise again. The Bulls split up their three-peats, but also remained competitive during Michael Jordan’s two-year sabbatical. The Spurs spread out their titles, too, but were contenders throughout Tim Duncan’s 19-year career. The only remote comp is the early Celtics’ dynasty, which took a multiyear hiatus after the retirements of Bill Russell and Sam Jones, only to emerge as champions once more with some of the original core—John Havlicek as player star, Tommy Heinsohn as coach, Red Auerbach as general manager—still intact.

The Warriors found a fitting venue for their return to power, then, as they lifted the trophy underneath the retired numbers of Russell and Jones, Havlicek and Heinsohn, Auerbach and all the old dynastic Celtics, hanging from the TD Garden rafters.

Someday, the numbers for Curry, Green, and Klay Thompson will hang from the top of the Chase Center, and this series provides just the latest evidence for why. Curry was the brightest star in the Finals, averaging an absurd 31 points on 48-44-86 shooting splits, but he wasn’t alone. Green rebounded from a brutal start to the series to dominate on the defensive end and contribute a near triple-double in the clincher.

And despite inconsistent shooting nights, Thompson averaged 17 points per game, while also playing occasionally stifling defense on Jaylen Brown. That he supplied that two-way performance at all is notable enough; that he supplied it after returning from a nearly three-year absence due to multiple debilitating leg injuries is the stuff of sheer legend. Until a few months ago, Thompson’s last appearance in an NBA game had come in the Finals loss against the Raptors, when he returned to the floor to shoot free throws after tearing his ACL; now, he’s back and still able to star on the same stage.

In addition to his on-court calm, Thompson also proved a prophet during this series, via his “big 2015 vibes” observation after Game 3—which the Warriors lost to fall behind 2-1 in the series, just as they had in the 2015 Finals, only to come back with three consecutive wins, just as they had in those 2015 Finals.

That first Finals win was a long time ago, all the way back when commentators still thought a jump-shooting team couldn’t win a title. Since then, Curry and the Warriors have revolutionized modern strategy, on both sides of the ball, and fully transformed the sport from the NBA down to youth levels. They’ve not only won four titles but fully defined the sport’s modern era.

Yet even as other teams try to mimic Golden State’s success, or even take its embrace of 3-pointers to further extremes, the Warriors still win with a unique offensive philosophy. They set the fewest on-ball screens of any team in the league this season, per Second Spectrum. They boasted the highest assist rate. They generated the most points off of cuts.

Such is the magic of Curry, still a nonpareil offensive engine even in his mid-30s, and the unanimous choice to win his first Finals MVP award. After the Warriors lost the 2019 Finals and then Kevin Durant, it wasn’t clear whether he’d ever have that chance again.

In the past 40 years, only two other teams have won a title the year after missing the playoffs. But both the 2019-20 Lakers (with LeBron James and Anthony Davis) and the 2007-08 Celtics (with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett) needed to add superstars to catapult up the standings. The Warriors kept the same core all the way through.

New arrivals helped, of course, with Andrew Wiggins—acquired in a controversial trade in the middle of their lost 2019-20 season—leading the way with double-doubles in games 4 and 5 of the Finals, along with stellar defense on Jayson Tatum. The depth also changed around the Warriors’ incumbent champions, with the likes of Jordan Poole, Otto Porter Jr., and Gary Payton II filling in around the edges of their stardom.

But the leaders of this group are still the same after nearly a decade, from the playing court and sideline to the front office and owner’s box. Before Game 6, Green reflected on the improbability of so many key pieces sticking together for so long in the modern NBA. “We were sitting on the plane yesterday,” Green said, “and Steph, Klay, and I, we sit at the same table, and [GM Bob Myers] walks past and he’s like, ‘Man, you guys are funny, y’all still sit together. … Guys are not even on the same team for 10 years, let alone still sitting there at the same table and enjoying each other’s conversation and presence.’”

(To be fair, Thompson remembered this quaint nostalgic scene a little differently. “I was half asleep,” he told reporters. “Draymond and Bob were chatting their hearts away for six hours on a plane ride. I was just trying to get some sleep.”)

Green continued, “I couldn’t imagine sharing this journey with anyone else. You know, we built this thing from the ground up. … Those bonds will last forever. We are linked and connected together forever.”

Their titles are forever, too, and Golden State is the first team in the 21st century with four in such a short span. This one didn’t give the Warriors a dynasty; they already had that designation, after winning three and setting the regular-season wins record all in a four-year span. But now the Warriors are extending their dynasty, with the three-man veteran core all still productive, younger players like Wiggins and Poole complementing them, and even younger players like Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody eyeing their minutes in the future.

The 2021-22 group wasn’t the best Warriors team ever. It didn’t need to be. It won the title anyway, while simultaneously finessing a path to further contention for years to come.