This one was the sweetest
Sean Carroll illustration
Steph Curry had just been told for years that he doesn’t have the ‘it’ factor, that he couldn’t win a ring by himself despite pulling this team to glory in 2015.
Klay Thompson missed two full seasons with consecutive knee injuries and had to figure out how to play basketball again.
Draymond Green had to sit back and listen to people saying he was washed for two seasons, nobody thought he would be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate again.
Andrew Wiggins was salary dumped with a valuable first-round pick as the Minnesota Timberwolves wanted to get as far away from the former number one overall pick as possible.
Those four players, with some savvy veteran acquisitions and shrewd draft moves, just won the 2021-22 NBA championship and there is literally nothing that anyone can say now.
The Steph Curry haters on Twitter have been drowned out by the ‘greatest point guard of all-time discussions’. Wiggins might re-sign for more money. Klay grew into an excellent help defender this series. Draymond picked himself up after an early-series slump and finished off the Celtics with a signature Dray line: 12 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, two blocks and plus-16.
But it wasn’t the biggest win because of the familiar faces - that helps - this was the biggest win because of how hard the turnaround was. How Bob Myers entered multiple offseasons with his back against the hard cap and he returned with a title-worthy roster.
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On 27 December 2020, the 0-2 Golden State Warriors visited the United Center to play the Chicago Bulls. The Warriors had just lost to the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks by a combined 65 points and it was looking like a Steph Curry-led Golden State team wasn’t going to make much noise this season.
This was a must-win game for the Warriors and Curry was doing all he could, scoring 36 points alongside six assists. Kelly Oubre Jr. couldn’t buy a basket, Andrew Wiggins was trying to do too much with the ball and the James Wiseman experiment had just begun.
After copping a 41-point third quarter from the Bulls, it looked like the Warriors were going to fall to 0-3 on the season, a daunting early-season hole for a team that didn’t know how to play together yet.
A second-year Jordan Poole poured in ten pretty irrelevant points off the bench, Eric Paschall had an equally useless 15 points while an injured Kevon Looney looked helpless in the frontcourt behind Big Jim and Juan Toscano-Anderson.
On a non-basketball level, The Athletic had, at the time, shut down one of their Warriors podcasts (Warriors All 82) as the team simply wasn’t garnering the traffic worthy of two separate shows. I remember saying to myself, this is so fucking stupid but this is literally how it happens, isn’t it?
It was grim.
But the Warriors fought back in the fourth and had an opportunity to steal a win, down two against the Bulls with the ball and seconds on the clock.
Damion Lee dribbled around a Looney screen at the top of the three-point line and pulled up for a game-winning three.
Golden State had found a way to win. It wasn’t repeatable, it wasn’t the best in the league, but they had a win, they found some momentum and it was clear that this season wouldn’t be a waste.
But it wasn’t just Curry being amazing, Steve Kerr had leaned on his bench and gave the final shot to a bench wing. As corny as it is, ‘Strength in Numbers’ was still working.
As the season progressed, Draymond came back healthy, Poole had a stint in the G-League that turned him into the player he is today and Kerr found a nice mix of Steph/Poole and Draymond surrounded by shooters. They weren’t the best shooters, but it was the blueprint of the future.
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It’d almost be unfair to omit the Warriors’ ownership group in this article. No, I don’t know the first thing about Joe Lacob and Peter Guber and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re rich, like all owners, but they’re actually willing to spend money to make the basketball team better.
When I write about the Denver Nuggets for Nugg Love, I always have to factor ownership into any offseason hypotheticals. The Nuggets have a roster that’s ready to compete for an NBA championship, but they don’t have an ownership group willing to spend the money or pay the luxury tax.
As Bob Myers told Connor Letourneau, San Francisco Chronicle before the 2020 offseason: “Even if it requires a massive luxury-tax burden, Golden State will do what it can to capitalise on the rest of its core players’ prime years. Anything else would go against what this ownership group has come to represent.”
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This title was won in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
Golden State took both games at home and went into Dallas looking to finish them. It was the most grown-up trouncing of any team I’ve ever seen. Kerr was throwing the kitchen sink at Luka Doncic, forcing him to see several different defensive looks when he was out there with the primary matchup, Andrew Wiggins, was too much when locked in.
We won this series without Gary Payton II, our best guard defender who was nursing a broken elbow (fuck you Dillon Brooks). After bearing the brunt of a Dallas home crowd, a well-coached roster with plenty of tools and a 40-point Luka game, the Warriors won Game 3 and the question wasn’t if they’d make the Finals, it was if they could beat the Celtics.
If you’re a fan of The Deep Two NBA Podcast, you’ll know I picked the Warriors to make it to the Finals but to lose to the Celtics in six games. After Game 3 against the Mavs, I changed my prediction to GS winning in five games.
While it was bullish, I knew that this team had figured out their two major weaknesses: excellent perimeter scoring (Luka, Ja Morant) and athletic defenders (Jaren Jackson Jr., De’Anthony Melton) and there was nothing that could stop them now.
And it wasn’t just in one way. Kerr had reached deep into his roster to figure out how to win: Jonathan Kuminga’s athleticism against the Grizz, Moses Moody against the Mavs, Nemanja Bjelica against the Boston Celtics.
All these moves were risky, but they all paid off in their own way and alongside the growth of Jordan Poole, finding a role for GP II, signing the injury-prone Otto Porter Jr. and the development of All-Star starter Wiggins proves that Strength in Numbers still exists.
As long as Myers is finding the talent, Kerr is coaching and Steph-Klay-Dray are playing, you should never count out the Golden State Warriors, the greatest dynasty in sports history.