Faith in adversity: The Golden State Warriors are back on top

In a year when the world and NBA alike attempted to move past Covid and into normalcy, it is fitting that the Warriors are, once again, back on top.

Over the coming days expect there to be revisionist history as to how the Warriors got back on top, for their 4th title in 8 years. Some will say they were title favorites, while others try to discredit their “dynasty” title.

However the facts are right there for the world to see. So here is how it truly went.

But to see the full picture we need to rewind the tape to June 2018.

In the first moments after his team’s third NBA championship in a four-year stretch, Golden State GM Bob Myers was asked how he hoped to keep the Warriors’ dynasty going.

You’ve got to like each other,” he said then. “You’ve got to really like each other. You have to respect each other. You have to understand some days, you don’t have it, and your teammates have to pick you up. It’s the houseguest that stays too long. You try to find people who are decent people in the worst moments. Sometimes you just need space. And it’s nobody’s fault. You need to yell at each other; you have to tell each other how you’re feeling. There’s acrimony, there’s division, there’s everything.

“But as long as you don’t break. You have to view it almost as like a family — that no matter what happens, we’re blood, and we’re going to see it through. But that’s a challenge because you’re really not blood, but you’re as close as you can get, ’cause you’re with each other all the time. Sometimes you see people more than you do your own family. So you try to find people that are decent people in the worst moments, is all you can do. Because the worst moments come.”

And that was four years ago!

At that moment, Myers had no idea that Kevin Durant would walk, that he’d have to trade Andre Iguodala to help pay for it, or that Klay Thompson would tear an ACL in a futile defense of the Warriors’ title against Toronto in 2019, or that Thompson would tear his Achilles a year later, that 15-50 would be an actual Warriors regular-season record, or that Draymond Green would lose himself as the losses piled up, or that the Dubs would have to absorb D’Angelo Russell to take a flier on Andrew Wiggins.

But it all happened. Even as so much of the team’s core looked to be on the wrong side of 30 to contend for championships. There were the Suns and Clippers and LeBron and Denver and Utah and Memphis and Luka in the West, all hungry, all seeking to keep the Warriors from getting back to the top.

But here they are, again.

“We’re very stubborn,” Green said Thursday after Golden State won its fourth NBA title since 2015, vanquishing Boston 103-90 in Game 6. “And it has been tested. You go through injuries. You get punched in the mouth a couple times. And it takes an incredible amount of resilience and togetherness and trust in each other.”

Stubbornness was central to the miens of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. No matter how much they won, they were never satisfied.

And they never, ever turned down a seemingly untoward idea in search of more winning.

And if that means Stephen Curry, rehabbing his sprained foot at the start of the playoffs, comes off the bench, and Jordan Poole starts? Done and done.

The Warriors, like the great championship teams that preceded them, are a stubborn bunch.

“I like that word,” Curry said. “The narratives that you hear going into this season, especially coming off the two years prior, when we had the worst record in the league and a lot of injuries, and then scratching and clawing, trying to get into the Play-In Tournament, just to get a playoff berth. We definitely had that mentality, that belief and faith in what we could do. We kept saying it all year — our championship DNA. And the leadership of myself, Draymond, Andre, Loon (Kevon Looney), Klay. All that stuff mattered.

“And you carry that through the three years, not knowing how it’s going to end up. All you can do is control that belief, and behind the scenes, how you show up every single day, you embody that. And then, when it comes time to take advantage of an opportunity, things click.”

The Warriors no longer immolate opponents with prime Splash Brothers shotmaking or strangle offenses with the original Death Lineup. The core of Steph, Klay, Draymond and Steve Kerr remained in tact. As did the culture of Warriors basketball, and that is the key ingredient in championship basketball, a culture.

It is how they got the two tracks of current core and next gen core, to coexist and win a title.

Myers, Joe Lacob and the front office went teenager-teenager with both selections — Jonathan Kuminga at No. 7, Moses Moody at No. 14 — the loudest statement yet that, while financially devoted to the Steph Curry present, they also remained protective of the future. It was a commitment to the two-timeline plan that’d come to define the season.

James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody didn’t break through into regular rotation minutes down the stretch, but they got a taste. Poole was an erratic, irreplaceable bridge between the old guard and the young guns. Thompson finally got back on the floor after missing more than 900 days rehabbing. Steve Kerr and his staff may have done their best coaching jobduring this championship run.

The day after the draft, at the Kuminga and Moody introductory news conference, Lacob fought back against the idea that, by using the picks instead of trading them, the Warriors were sacrificing Curry’s last best chance at a championship. His belief was that the current roster had enough to win it.

“If we can’t, then you should look at Joe Lacob and Bob Myers and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins and say you weren’t good enough,” Lacob said then. “You’re paying all that money, and you weren’t good enough. They need to be good enough, and they should be. They’ve won before. They’re a little older, but they’re still really good. Klay will be back. That’s the key. I think we’ll be good enough. Yes.”

In the late-night haze on that Celtics floor — having absorbed the full impact of Thompson’s return and Jordan Poole’s emergence and Wiggins’ ascension and the combo brilliance of Curry’s offense and Green’s defense — it’s easier to look backward and script the path. But when Lacob belted out that confidence last July, it was an unpopular opinion.

“I intend to own this team for a long time,” majority owner Joe Lacob said on the TD Garden floor, waiting to do a TV interview, “and I intend to win as many championships as possible. It’s all about winning. That’s it. That’s all I care about. We’re going to do whatever it takes. The truth is, we’ve got really smart people who work in this organization, and we are, usually, going to figure it out and be real good. I mean, we still had great players coming back (after the 15-50 season). And we believed in the Wiggins deal. I know a lot of people didn’t. But we thought he would fit. We needed to get all our players back. Really, we didn’t have everybody back until the playoffs this year. Eleven minutes of what we were trying to put together the last few years. Steph was injured. All these guys were injured.”

Wiggins, in retrospect, was the key to the win-now, develop-now plan succeeding. He was the 27-year-old bridge between the two eras. Curry, Thompson and Green needed a fourth high-impact playoff player to get back to the top. The external thought was that Wiggins’ salary, attached to assets, could be used as a vehicle to get that fourth player. But the internal belief was that Wiggins could become that player.

Wiggins averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 22 playoff games. He shouldered the lead defensive assignment against Luka Dončić in the Western Conference finals and Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals, holding both to their least efficient series. He had big scoring nights at massive moments. He hammered the dunk of the playoffs on Dončić. He had 35 rebounds over the three-game stretch that put away the Celtics. He was a two-way force worth every penny of his max deal.

Yet in a moment of wanting to celebrate the unexpected contributors, and discuss the improbable becoming over achievers, Steve Kerr helped put things into perceptive.

This has always been about Steph Curry, even when he took a back seat to Kevin Durant for the better of the team. But don’t ever forget Steph Curry is the Warriors, the way Duncan was the Spurs.

“Steph, ultimately, is why this run has happened,” Kerr said — and one of the greatest winners in league history. And he’s just as competitive and greedy as his predecessors, who dominated the league just as he, once again, is doing.

“Two months ago, I was injured,” Curry said. “We were sliding in defensive rating. We kind of limped our way into the postseason. And we clearly said we have to peak at the right time — not knowing what our rotation was going to be like, not knowing what our chemistry is going to look like, because that’s what the situation called for. And damned if we didn’t do it. It’s crazy to think about. All that talk paid off. Manifest your destiny in a certain way, and that stubbornness of who we are matters more than what anybody is saying about us. That’s why we’re here.”

In the even larger picture, this finals was a legacy play for both Steph and the Warriors. It is laughable that a tiro who had 3 rings, records and all had to further validate their legacies, but critics said they did. So like the champions they are, they did.

Steph got his Finals MVP. Klay fought back from not one but two career threatening injuries. Draymond navigated a media career while still playing a pivotal role in winning a championship. And Steve Kerr just did his best coaching on the way to 9 rings, when you combine his playing and coaching career.

The Warriors are an all-time dynasty, even if I and everyone wrote them off after the Klay Thompson achilles. I was wrong but I can still appreciate greatness.

Oh and I don’t think the window is closed yet.

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