The fourth championship in the Golden State Warriors dynasty was won by a team that paid $40 million to an all-time great shooter robbed of his prime by brutal injuries, $25 million to a power forward who he lost all confidence in his scoring ability and $33 million for a wing once considered a dud.
Of the six teams Stephen Curry has taken to the NBA Finals, this was probably the most vulnerable, the least talented, and certainly the hardest to read.
And yet, when it was all over and they lifted the trophy after beating the Boston Celtics in six games, the lesson they taught during these playoffs sounded like a siren. For all its vulnerabilities, the accumulation of experience and championship DNA remains important in a league that has never had more talent, and yet it is also up for grabs in a way no one has seen this century.
The Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls run in the late 1990s gave way to the Kobe Bryant Lakers and the Tim Duncan Spurs, with LeBron James becoming the complement to the Finals in Miami and Cleveland, where he faced Curry. for four consecutive years. This is how the NBA works: when one great player of all time goes down, another goes up. Parity in this league has largely been a myth.
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But the championship Golden State won Thursday night is a pivot to a different era of the NBA; one that is more unpredictable, fluid, and wildly intriguing as the stars of the last decade decline and the great players of the next generation try to figure out how to win one of these things.
The NBA has dynamic young superstars in at least 10 markets, from Dallas to Denver, Memphis to Atlanta, Cleveland to Phoenix and a few places in between. These playoffs showed that the gap between his ambitions and keeping the Larry O’Brien Trophy remains wide.
Within the context of modern NBA champions, the Warriors team that won it on Thursday night had notable flaws. Curry is still Curry, but anyone comparing this group to the 2015-18 Warriors should be sentenced to a week of YouTube memory drills.
After more than 900 days without playing in an NBA game, it is understandable that Klay Thompson did not return as the same player. Sure, he was still capable of throwing elite shots at one point, but his return was defined by unusual cold snaps, lapses in decision-making and decreased mobility.
Draymond Green, at 32, is no longer the athlete he once was. He’s still one of the smartest players in the league, but playing center at 6-foot-6, even a little loss of rebounding becomes a big deal, and it was often in these playoffs that he struggled to make big on offense most nights. .
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And then there’s Andrew Wiggins, who came out of 5 1/2 seasons in Minnesota with a reputation as a player who didn’t fight hard enough, didn’t shoot particularly well and wouldn’t have the guts to thrive under playoff pressure.
Turns out Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason. He was legitimately excellent most of the time, not only with his scoring, but also with his sustained defensive intensity and his willingness to mix physically on the glass. Wiggins’ effort was arguably the difference between Golden State winning a championship and going home a few weeks ago.
As the final seconds ticked down in Game 6 and the Warriors clinched the title with a 103-90 victory, Curry’s thoughts immediately turned to what the franchise had been through since losing the Finals to Toronto in 2019. After the Thompson’s devastating ACL tear in that series, then Kevin Durant’s decision to leave for Brooklyn, the Warriors had the worst record in the league in 2020 and lost in the play-in game in 2021. With so much uncertainty surrounding his key players, winning the title again seemed like a long shot even if they were healthy.
“We were so far from it,” Curry said on ABC. “We were here five years in a row and we got three of them and then we hit rock bottom and a long road of work ahead of us and trying to get the right pieces and the right people together and you can never take it for granted. You never know when.” I will come back here. Coming back here and doing it means the world.”
But the most important lesson we can take from this NBA season is that it’s a league in transition. Many of the stalwarts of the last decade like James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and Kyle Lowry are old or injured. The super team model didn’t work in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. And the young stars who have tasted playoff success, like Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and Trae Young, simply don’t have the experience or the help to put forth a legitimate effort.
The Celtics nearly pulled it off with a team led by Jayson Tatum, 24, and Jaylen Brown, 25, two standout individual scorers and defenders whose competitive approach was too inconsistent to beat a team as experienced as Golden State.
Somehow, the Celtics came within two wins of a title going 6-6 at home in the playoffs. By the end, they seemed exhausted, having never endured such a physically demanding playoff run. Tatum, in particular, seemed to collapse under the strain of stardom at this level, shooting just 36 percent of his shots in the Finals.
Maybe the Celtics will come back here, but it’s not a guarantee. This is the most open the NBA has been in a long time, and we may be entering an era where a revolving door of teams competes for the title depending on health, luck and who’s playing well at the moment. appropriate.
That’s a huge advantage for teams that know how to win — teams like the Warriors, who have largely stuck together over the past decade and retained a muscle memory of what it takes and how hard it is to chase championships.
At the end of the day, that was the difference for Golden State, a team that wasn’t a giant in the classic sense but had all the answers when it mattered most.
These were not two great teams in the Finals, but all titles count the same. If the NBA is now in a period where such flawed teams can win a title, experience could be a separating factor. In a league with many great players and a promising future, the present still belongs to the Warriors.
Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.