It could have been 2015, or it could be 2022 but as much as the league changes, the Golden State Warriors’ core remains the same.
The three-man engine that has driven and sustained their dynastic run remains intact and Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have propelled the Golden State Warriors to a sixth NBA Finals appearance in the last eight years.
After a hiatus of two years with complications of Covid, injuries to all three men – including a devastating two-and-a-half-year absence for Thompson – the Warriors are back as they proved with a 4-1 demolition job of the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, capped off by a 120-110 victory on Thursday night.
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The formula is proven and works. Klay Thompson catches the ball and shoots it with ridiculous ease and style, whilst being a pest on defense. Draymond Green anchors that staunch defense and is the general calling the orders on the floor, whilst doing little bits of everything else that make the difference to winning. And Stephen Curry is just Steph Curry: magical, inimitable.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry becomes first player to win the Western Conference finals MVP award
We knew that they would have another go at it – perhaps more than one, given the strength of the roster construction around them – what we weren’t entirely sure of is whether we would see them all together at the big dance again.
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You get the feeling though that this isn’t so much a last dance as a return to the party. And they’ll fancy their chances of adding a fourth championship in that eight-year span.
“Like I’ve said over and over again, I’m going to keep saying it: No one has proven that they can move us off that spot,” Green said. “That’s the mindset we come into this thing with. We understand what it takes to win a championship.”
Image: A younger-looking Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in action for the Golden State Warriors against the OKC Thunder in 2014
The triumvirate of Curry, Thompson and Green is in rarified air in NBA lore as the core of a team that has made it to six NBA Finals in an eight-year span. It’s an accomplishment only the greatest groups have reached with Bill Russell’s Celtics of the 1950s and ’60s, Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 1980s and Michael Jordan’s Bulls of the 1990s doing it.
Now the Warriors hope to add a fourth title to the ones they captured in 2015, ’17 and ’18 when the Finals start June 2 against either Boston or Miami. The Celtics lead the series 3-2 headed into Game 6 at home on Friday night.
“We’re happy to be here, but it would help our legacy a lot if we completed the mission and won the whole thing,” Thompson said. “We can be happy tonight, and we will be, I’ll celebrate tonight. But tomorrow when this Game 6 comes on, I’m turning the page and I’m scouting because we want to finish this thing off the right way.”
The last time the Warriors made it to the Finals they fell short, starting a two-year spiral filled with losing and injuries. Thompson tore his left ACL during a season-ending Game 6 loss in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Kevin Durant tore his Achilles’ tendon earlier that series and then left for Brooklyn that summer, leading to the Warriors finishing an NBA-worst 15-50 in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season.
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Thompson then tore his right Achilles’ tendon just before the start of the next season and the Warriors were unable to make it back to the playoffs, getting knocked out by Memphis in the play-in game.
But Thompson returned in January and the combination of the ageing trio of stars with an infusion of youth from players like Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and others has Golden State back at the top of the league again.
“We never lost the faith, but you understand how hard of a process it was going to be to climb the mountain again,” Curry said. “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.”
Thompson led the way in the clinching Game 5 win of the Western Conference finals over Dallas, making eight 3-pointers for a record-setting fifth time in his playoff career and scoring 32 points.
Klay Thompson dropped 32 points in Game 5 to help the Warriors reach the 2022 NBA Finals
Green added 17 points, six rebounds and nine assists to go along with his usual defensive brilliance and Curry had 15 points and nine assists as he was named series MVP.
It’s a level of play that reminds coach Steve Kerr of the Bulls teams he played on with Jordan and Scottie Pippen that won so many titles in the 1990s.
“The common denominator is just talented players who are fierce competitors,” Kerr said. “Whether you talk about Michael and Scottie, Steph, Draymond, Klay, it takes a special kind of athlete to have both dynamics. The skill and the athleticism and all that, but to also be just incredibly competitive and to want to win so badly.
“It’s the only way you can have a run like that because you get exhausted, you get tired, you get frustrated. If you don’t have that type of competitive desire and that type of skill combined, it’s just not going to happen six times out of eight years.”
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