The Warriors’ return to the NBA Finals is a remarkable feat of recovery | Warriors of the Golden State


With their 120-110 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, the Golden State Warriors secured the Western Conference championship and made their sixth NBA Finals appearance in eight years. History will remember this season as a continuation of the Golden State dynasty, especially as they capture their fourth NBA title in less than a decade.

But the Warriors have been through a lot in the 1,079 days since their last finals appearance.

Two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant left the team. Klay Thompson was sidelined for two and a half years with an injury. Hand surgery meant Steph Curry missed all but five games of the 2019-20 season, which saw Golden State finish with the worst record in the NBA. They were only marginally better the following season, sneaking into the first play-in tournament of the postseason where they were eliminated by a young Memphis Grizzlies team.

The story of the Warriors’ 2022 finals wasn’t a simple continuation of the previous success. It was a remarkable feat of regeneration and rejuvenation.

Golden State began this season with a clear intention to end their two-year playoff drought. They compiled a league-best 17-3 record in their first 20 games, fueled by Curry’s MVP-level form. The eight-time All-Star, who turned 34 in March, was the NBA’s top scorer averaging 28.6 points per game and shooting 42.3% from three-point range.

Not that this is a one man team. The Warriors’ resurgence is based on a typically strong defense. Steve Kerr has devised alternate schemes to unsettle opponents, as well as an intuitive approach to pick and roll defense, using hedges and drops to force opponents into bad shots. Draymond Green was a leading contender for the Defensive Player of the Year award before a two-month injury layoff, and Golden State finished the regular season with the NBA’s best defensive rating (106.9), matched only by the Celtics, who have given them credit could connect finals.

The Warriors’ return to the summit, however, was not accomplished solely on the backs of veteran stars Curry and Green.

Gary Payton II, the son of a former Defensive Player of the Year, had a nomadic career before signing with Golden State last year. The 29-year-old’s journey has included stints with G-League teams like Wisconsin Herd and Capital City Go-Go, never spending a regular minute in one location. But he found a home at the Chase Center. Payton has developed into an elite one-on-one defenseman and leads the Warriors in steals per game (1.4) this season despite averaging just 17.6 minutes per appearance. Had he not sustained a broken left elbow in the preliminary round against Memphis, he likely would have been used as Luka Doncic’s protector in the conference finals.

Draymond Green was once again a key defensive force for the Warriors
Draymond Green was once again a key defensive force for the Warriors. Photo:Jeff Chiu/AP

On offense, Jordan Poole was a revelation. The 28thth The 2019 draft pick split his time between the Warriors and their G-League partner, the Santa Cruz Warriors last season. In 2021-22, he became a candidate for Most Improved Player, playing 30 minutes per game and averaging 18.5 points and four assists. He acted as an invaluable bench scorer and Curry substitute.

However, the regular season did not go entirely smoothly. Curry’s initial form faltered as he finished with the lowest three-point percentage (38%) of any full season in his career and his lowest pointing average (25.5 points per game) since 2016-2017. Thompson returned midseason from a two-and-a-half-year layoff but still didn’t look like the All-Star he once was. Injuries appear to have hampered the athleticism that once made him one of the league’s best wingbacks, and like Curry, he shot under 40% from three for the first time.

Injuries to Green and Curry caused the Warriors to be skipped by the Grizzlies for the West’s second seed late in the season. But looking back now, Curry’s absence for the last 12 games of the season could have been a blessing in disguise. Poole continued to thrive in his place and the two-time MVP returned refreshed in time for the playoffs, first serving as the sixth Superstar against Denver in the first round and then resuming his regular role.

Andrew Wiggins’ second poster dunk of the playoffs. Gets Luka Doncic wilder than Brandon Clarke.

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 23, 2022

One of the main reasons for the Warriors’ improvement this year was the emergence of Andrew Wiggins as a main player. The former No. 1 overall was acquired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade for D’Angelo Russell in 2020. His February All-Star selection was perhaps more indicative of the lack of elite forwards in the West with LA Clippers duo Kawhi Leonard and Paul George absent, but Wiggins has fully embraced the Warriors’ defense and theirs this year used to constant offensive. The Canadian has also flourished in the postseason, using Doncic as a main defender and perhaps delivering the playoffs’ highlight so far as he dove over the Slovenian superstar in Game 3 of the Conference Finals.

In the postseason, Kerr has also entrusted significant minutes to teenage rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, hinting at a bright future for the franchise.

This incarnation of warriors is by no means perfect. They’re not the dominant juggernaut who’s fought (and mostly beaten) LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in four straight NBA Finals — as evidenced by their 39-point loss in Game 5 to Memphis in Round Two; Had Ja Morant not sustained an injury midway through the series, Golden State’s road to the Conference Finals might have been more difficult.

But through their regeneration, the new-look warriors have the characters to play in a style that’s clearly in tune with the Golden State dynasty, whether it’s going undersized with Curry and Poole sharing the backyard or to smother the opponents with their green-led defenses. And that playoff run showed that they kept all their lead.

Meet the new warriors. Just like the ancient warriors.

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