The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight years. The last team to pull off that feat was Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
The Warriors dynasty is definitely not over, and one of their main guys is making sure everyone knows it.
“After being counted out, dynasty being over, and all those things. To get back [in the NBA Finals] is fantastic. It’s a testament on hard work and dedication. This one feels great,” Warriors forward Draymond Green told the media after Golden State eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in five games in the 2022 Western Conference finals.
“I’ve always said all along, no one has proven they can beat us yet when we’re whole,” Green continued. “That is still the case.”
The Warriors have arguably the best trio in the NBA in 2022 conference finals MVP Steph Curry, comeback player of the year Klay Thompson, and first-team all-defensive player Green. The triumvirate has been powering Golden State’s machine for a decade, winning three NBA championships in a five-year span. The Golden Trio have an opportunity to add to their Hall of Fame credentials by winning a fourth title and adding the Boston Celtics to their hit list.
The Dubs being back in the Finals stage is one of the best stories of the NBA’s diamond anniversary season. Most basketball pundits thought the Dubs’ dynasty was done in 2019. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn and Thompson was dealt with two devastating injuries. The last time the Warriors’ Big 3 were in the NBA Finals together, Thompson had to be helped off the floor after suffering an ACL tear. Thompson’s comeback was derailed the following year after he tore his Achilles’ tendon during the offseason. It took almost three NBA calendar years before Curry, Green, and Thompson were finally reunited on the court, but once they were whole again the Warriors became the Warriors again. Just like Bruce Wayne became the Dark Knight again after climbing out of the pit.
Golden State finished with a 53-29 regular-season record and earned a No. 3 seed in the West. Even though the Warriors didn’t finish ahead of Phoenix or Memphis, they were clearly championship contenders and used the regular season as a warm-up act for a big playoff push.
“I can’t say coming into this season that we’ll be in the NBA Finals, but we always believe with us three we have a chance,” Green said.
Green and the rest of the Warriors understood the bigger picture. They know what it takes to win a championship, and their mindset has always been that they’re still one of the best teams, if not the best, as long as they avoid the pitfalls of an 82-game grind.
“Most teams in the NBA just aren’t that good,” Green said. “You can win games in the regular season, that means nothing. We understand that. We don’t chase wins during the regular season, we chase improvement during the regular season.”
The Warriors posted a 42-17 record prior to the All-Star break, but faded down the stretch and went 11-12 without Green and Curry. Green suffered a lower back injury in January, while Curry sprained his ankle in March that forced him to miss the last month of the regular season.
Green told Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill that the last two years have been “miserable.” Despite being cast aside like an aging rock band, Green and the Warriors never wavered and stuck with the plan. The plan was to lean on Curry’s offense and Green’s defense while Thompson worked his way back into the rotation, and prepare Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole for bigger roles.
The constant figure in the Warriors’ rehabilitation was Curry. The NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers — who has put together back-to-back MVP-worthy seasons — said the team never lost faith despite a mountain of injuries and an overhauled roster, understanding the difficulty of the climb to the top after falling off it.
“I think internally we are all extremely proud of what it took to get back here. Yeah, it’s definitely sweet based on what we went through,” Curry said.
Curry believes the Dubs started climbing out of their two-year dark hole late in the 2021 season, winning 15 of 20 games and making the play-in game. Even though the Warriors lost both play-in games, the foundation was established for the next season.
Thompson returned to the lineup in January after two arduous rehab seasons from ACL and Achilles surgeries. In 32 games this season, Thompson averaged 20.4 points per game and shot 42% from the field. Those numbers are just a shade under what he averaged (21.5 PPG and 46.7% FG) in 2018-19 when he played 78 games.
Thompson is still not completely back to All-Star level, but the old Klay is starting to return as we get deeper into the 2022 playoffs. He punctuated the Warriors’ domination of the Mavericks in the conference finals with 32 points in the series-clinching Game 5, including eight 3-pointers. After the game, Thompson was just grateful to be back on the big stage after missing two full seasons.
“I’ve dreamt about this every day,” Thompson said about being back in the NBA Finals.
“I got really in touch with music [during rehab],” he added. “It would help me through a lot of those sessions. Just the appreciation of moving my body again. I thought about those days I couldn’t run or jump, how lucky we are to do what we do.”
Green, Curry, Thompson and Andre Iguodala are in rarified air in NBA lore. Advancing to six NBA Finals in eight years has only been done by legendary teams. Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics teams won eight straight titles from 1959-66. Jerry West’s L.A. Lakers teams made seven appearances in The Finals in nine years. Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 1980s reached The Finals eight times during the decade. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams won six championships in eight seasons in the 1990s.
As Curry previously stated, this year’s trip to The Finals is sweet because of it it took to get to this point. Only four players remain from their first championship roster in 2015. Key pieces on their title teams like Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut are no longer around. And Kevin Durant’s heart is no longer in San Francisco. It’s in Brooklyn.
The faces may have changed but the core players and the standard they set for themselves remain the same. And a fourth championship for the remaining members of Golden State’s “Death Lineup” will surely put them on a different stratosphere in the NBA pecking order.
“We’re happy to be [in the NBA Finals], but it would help our legacy a lot if we completed the mission and won the whole thing,” Thompson said.