BOSTON — When the Memphis Grizzlies blew out the Golden State Warriors on March 28, as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green managed mounting injuries, 22-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr. tweeted, "Strength in numbers," mocking the original slogan of a dynasty once built with veteran depth.
"It pissed me off so much," Thompson said, months after logging it into his "elephant" memory. "Going to mock us? Like, you ain't ever been there before, bro. We been there. We know what it takes. Hold that."
The Warriors knew they still had the weapons, as long as the remaining members of their first three title teams could get healthy enough to play their best basketball in the playoffs, even if Jackson spoke for the many who came to doubt them in the three years since their last trip to the NBA Finals. And they were right.
The Warriors submitted a signature 103-90 win over the upstart Boston Celtics on Thursday to secure a 4-2 series victory and their fourth ring in eight seasons. The four years between titles and all that came with them led Curry to concede, "This one hits different." Analytics models gave Boston a better than 80% chance to win the series, but those calculations failed to account for Golden State's championship DNA.
"You talk about the fabric of this team throughout the last eight years, those three guys have had this league in a choke hold, in a headlock for a good period of time," said veteran Warriors forward Andre Iguodala. "You go historically, there aren't too many teams that have been able to do that. It's a handful."
The Warriors with Kevin Durant were a juggernaut, their championships in 2017 and 2018 inevitable. That all changed in the 2019 Finals, when in successive games they lost Durant and Thompson to yearlong injuries. Durant bolted for the Brooklyn Nets following their Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors three years ago, and Thompson suffered a second serious injury that delayed his return until this past January after 941 days.
"It was easier to accept 2019, because I had never been hurt before and that five-year run took a lot out of us," said Thompson. "But the second time it happened it was like, What the heck is going on, man? Just to stay with it, just calf raise after calf raise after underwater treadmill, so many days, not even touching a ball.
"Then to go through this season with the ups and downs, and even these playoffs, I'm just at a loss for words at times, because I knew this was possible but to be here in real time, man, I don't want to leave."
In between, Curry lost nearly an entire season to a broken hand, and Green was just lost, no longer the tie that bound these Warriors. Outside the Splash Brothers' spotlight, he was stripped of his All-Star and All-Defensive status, and the Warriors fell from the grace of five straight Finals to the bottom of the standings.
Curry's return for the 2020-21 campaign could not fully correct their course. The Warriors mustered no more than a play-in tournament exit without Thompson, but they built equity with a new set of strength in numbers over the last third of that season. Durant begot D'Angelo Russell, who begot Andrew Wiggins, the once miscast No. 1 overall pick who blossomed into a 3-and-D threat at the end of last season, an All-Star this year and ultimately the two-way force that swung the last three Finals games in Golden State's favor.
"Draymond, Klay, Steph, Andre, all the vets, they challenged me every day," said Wiggins. "Every time I stepped on the court, they challenged me, and that's motivational. Those are future Hall of Famers. Whenever they tell me to do something, I just want to get it done, prove to them and earn their respect."
The Warriors recalled Jordan Poole, their No. 28 overall pick in 2019, from the G League in March 2021, and he flashed a few months of the skill that ultimately made him the "Splash Nephew" who would net a momentum-shifting circus shot in Monday's Game 5 and 15 points off the bench in Thursday's clincher.
All the while, Kevon Looney, a 21-year-old part-time center when last the Warriors won a championship, battled back from a series of ailments that derailed his career to be a key cog for a resurgent defense.
Golden State general manager Bob Myers abandoned pure talent acquisition in favor of cultural fits around the players who transformed the franchise into a dynastic enterprise. He reacquired Iguodala, whose contributions as a veteran voice and brilliant tactician earned him a spot on the court with Curry, Thompson and Green as the buzzer sounded on their fourth title together. Myers also targeted the two-way abilities of Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II, who knew their limitations and fulfilled them further down the hierarchy.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr had seen championship teams restore their glory with experience as their guide. He won three titles with Michael Jordan and watched the Chicago Bulls win three more following a two-year sabbatical. Kerr won rings with Tim Duncan in 1999 and 2003 and more than a decade later accepted Golden State's coaching job shortly before the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth championship in 2014.
This was Kerr's task, to blend the old with the new and lead them all back to the mountaintop.
"Steph reminds me so much of Tim Duncan," said Kerr. "Totally different players, but from a humanity standpoint, talent standpoint, humility, confidence, this wonderful combination that just makes everybody want to win for him. ... Steph ultimately is why this run has happened. Much like Timmy in San Antonio."
Even within this Finals, Golden State's championship acumen was tested. When a Boston barrage beat the Warriors in Game 1, Green insisted, "We'll be fine." He was right. And when the younger, longer and more athletic Celtics took a 2-1 series lead, Curry reminded us, "it does help knowing that we've been through a little of everything the last eight years and can draw from that experience when you need to." He was right.
Or, as Thompson said after Game 3, "We've been in this situation before. Getting big 2015 vibes."
As they did then against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors won the next three games to win in six. The lottery picks that resulted from Durant's departure and two years in the tank — James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody — combined to play 19 minutes against the Celtics. Next season will present the challenge of incorporating them into the championship culture, but the Warriors will savor this one first, because they know how dramatically fortunes can change in the NBA. Light-years can turn dark quickly.
"All that stuff mattered," said Curry. "You carry that through the three years not knowing how it's going to end up. All you can do is control that belief behind the scenes and how you show up every single day. You embody that, and when it comes time to take advantage of an opportunity, things click. ... We 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 look like and what our chemistry was going to look like, because that's what the situation called for. But, damn, we did 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 says about us."
As Curry exited TD Garden with Finals MVP trophy in hand, his family trailing, Sonya Curry, matriarch of basketball royalty, stopped Hall of Famer Gary Payton, whose son joined his father as an NBA champion.
"Congratulations, dad," she said.
Payton responded in kind. "Congratulations, mama."
One last reminder. Championship DNA comes full circle.
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