Stephen Curry didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as the seconds ticked by at Boston’s TD Garden on Thursday night. He seemed to be ecstatic – grinning broadly, dazed – a natural reaction to winning a fourth NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors. Yet, in an instant, Curry collapsed to the floor with just two seconds left in the 2022 NBA Finals. He rocked himself, dropped his head, put his knees on his elbows and cried.
Draymond Green said Curry would be livid when he stepped onto the court in Boston for Game 6 on Thursday after a 0-for-9 performance from 3 in Game 5, and that prophecy was correct. Thirty-four points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, 6 of 11 from range is the appropriate expression of anger from a man who keeps his emotions in check but knows how to shoot. At the sound of the buzzer, teammates, opponents, photographers and family spilled onto the field. Curry stood up, placed his hands on his head, then let them go again as the tears flowed.
The Warriors restored their dynasty on Thursday night with a 103-90 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 6, but never since Curry’s first championship in 2015 has Golden State entered the season with lower expectations. The Warriors endured a two-year hiatus in the NBA wilderness following the departure of Kevin Durant and the extended absence of Klay Thompson through injury, while Curry dealt with his own string of illnesses. Given the Warriors’ pedigree, their return to the top of the NBA is no surprise — but it was unlikely.
After another moment of solitude, Curry was cheered on by Thompson, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee and rookies Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga (who was 12 when Curry won his first ring). Andre Iguodala walked from the center of the pitch towards Curry, pulled him out of the scrum and handed him the match ball. One of only three current teammates who have played alongside Curry on each of the Warriors’ championship teams, Iguodala hugged his close friend. Here are seven moments that shaped the Warriors’ remarkable postseason journey, from the opening round to the final buzzer in Boston, and reignited a dynasty.
April 16, 2022: Curry comes off the bench to open the postseason.
Curry was cleared to return for the Warriors in April after missing the final month of the regular season with a sprained ligament and bruised bone in his left foot, but was limited to 20-25 minutes in Game 1 of Golden State’s first round series against the Denver Nuggets. This restriction placed Curry and Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach, in front of a difficult exercise: to determine what will be the 20 to 25 minutes that Curry will play.
The Warriors imposed a similar restriction when Thompson returned to the game in January after two seasons away. Thompson opted to take his traditional spot in the starting lineup and then take longer breaks during the game. The plan proved difficult for Thompson, who struggled to maintain his pace after leaving the game.
Kerr presented two options to Curry. The first was similar to Thompson’s: Curry would start the game but spend more time on the bench than usual. The second was to get Curry off the bench to start each half, which would reduce the amount of time he was on the bench between games.
“This conversation might have been intimidating with most of the other star players, but not the least bit intimidating with Steph”says Kerr. “He makes everything easy.”
Recognizing that of all his attributes as a basketball player, pace is among the most valued, Curry chose the second option. When the Warriors, who were leading 1-0, raised his Game 2 restriction to 28 or 30 minutes, Curry again opted for the bench role, telling Kerr the arrangement worked well. As the Warriors prepared their rotation for Game 3 in Denver, Curry again told Kerr that he would be happy to come off the bench, even though his restriction had been increased to 32 minutes. Kerr expressed his appreciation and called him the best sixth man ever. Both men agreed to continue with their plan until the Warriors lost, which they did in Game 4.
When the announcer introduced the players before each of the first four games against the Nuggets, Curry found himself in an unusual position: he stood next to Kerr on the bench while Poole joined the four starters near center court. As the teams prepared for kickoff, Kerr turned to Curry and said: “If you work hard enough, one day you too can start an NBA playoff game.”
May 3, 2022: Gary Payton II fractures his left elbow after being hit by Dillon Brooks.
Payton is the Warriors’ best perimeter stopper, but he’s also a fast athlete who can beat defenses in transition. That’s precisely what Payton was doing early in the first quarter of Game 2 of the conference semifinal against Memphis when he ran past the retreating Grizzlies defenders and Green tagged him on the run with a pass. As Payton quickly approached the ring, Brooks grabbed him from behind and hit him in the head with his right arm.
Payton fell to the ground, just below the basket post. He immediately grabbed her left arm and let out a terrible moan. Brooks was grossly fouled and Payton, who was diagnosed with a broken elbow later that night, was sentenced to a five-week recovery and rehabilitation period. The incident infuriated the Warriors. Kerr called the game dirty.
May 13, 2022: Kevon Looney inserted into the starting line
A loss of 39 points in the playoffs has the gift of inciting a team to make important adjustments. After the Warriors’ Game 5 loss to the Grizzlies (134-95) in the conference semifinals, assistant coach Mike Brown, who had replaced Kerr as interim head coach in Games 4 and 5, messaged Kerr with a suggestion: The Warriors should play Looney in place of Jonathan Kuminga for Game 6.
May 26, 2022: Thompson scores 32 points in the Finals win to send the Warriors through to the Finals.
941 days. In Warriors numerology, it’s a familiar number: The number of days between when Thompson tore his ACL in the 2019 Finals and when he returned to the court on Jan. 9, 2022.
Thompson’s postseason had its ups and downs. He entered Game 5 averaging 29.2 percent shooting in the Conference Finals, and he had failed to score 20 points in the series. But it was Vintage Clay in the decisive match. He came around the perimeter screens to grab and shoot, he headed to a nice spot for a mid-high jump when the Mavs kicked him off the arc, he fanned out to the wing in transition for easy occasions. At the end of the match, he scored 32 points, including 8 of 16 from distance.
June 10, 2022: Curry scores 43 points in the Warriors’ win at Boston to tie the Finals at 2-2.
The afternoon before Game 4 in Boston, after the Warriors had just lost 116-100 the night before, Curry arrived at TD Garden for a press session followed by practice. Typically, Curry would conduct a regimented firefight, as he is known to do and has done thousands of times. But that Thursday, Curry decided to double down on sessions and add an element to the routine.
No one can explain how and why Curry can explode with 43 points, including 7 of 14 from afar, in a crucial game where the Warriors trailed in a series for the first time in the postseason. Maybe it’s the differentiation in her routine or the alkalinity in her lunch. Only the basketball gods can guess.
June 16, 2022: The Warriors defeat the Celtics in Game 6 to win their fourth title in eight seasons.
The Celtics couldn’t have imagined it that way, but with four minutes left and with their hopes of saving the series fading, Marcus Smart gave teammate Al Hoford basketball’s worst mission: to keep Curry in a open space. In an age when great mobile players are prized for their ability to guard the perimeter, Horford is among the best, but that was a lot to ask.
With the Warriors leading 91-81 in yet another defensive stalemate, Curry faced Horford with a narrow strip of staccato dribbling in a tight spot. But with each successive dribble, Curry widened the area of engagement – a stutter right, a few crosses, all the while watching Horford’s feet.
Very quickly, Curry was dancing in space. He subjected one of the classiest veterans in the league to utter indignity. As soon as Horford landed his right foot, Curry lowered his left hip and struck hard to the right. In a flash, a hummingbird turned into a bowling ball. Against the best defense in the NBA, Curry approached the basket, lunged forward and sent the ball into the upper right corner of the window for a layup. Eight years ago, the Warriors took mainstream trends like smallball and heavy defenses and energized them, ushering in a new kind of NBA basketball that prioritizes versatility and spacing. They borrowed pages from older playbooks, drawing on Spurs’ triangle attack and movement characteristics, and designed an operating system around Curry.
The Warriors have updated this system over time. They adapted to Durant and were rewarded with a few titles. This season they had to account for less artillery and wear and tear from age. But no matter the tweaks or the unexpected, the Warriors had Curry. No player with such an ability to override a system has ever been so willing to thrive within it.
The power of the Warriors as a dynasty is greater than the sum of their hardware. They have influenced the way NBA basketball has been played for a generation, even though they have distinguished themselves with a singular style that no other basketball team can match. Indeed, while their rivals may appropriate defensive schemes or build a roster of equally sized, multi-skilled players, there is one element that cannot be replicated: These teams don’t have Stephen Curry.
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The moments that accelerated the return of the Golden State Warriors dynasty
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