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Friday, March 24, 2023

Golden State Warriors win NBA Championship

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Stephen Curry swished a deep three-pointer midway through the third quarter, backpedaled down the court and allowed himself a quick indulgence.

As the Boston Celtics called a timeout to gather themselves, the Golden State Warriors star turned to the sideline and pointed at his right ring finger. There were 18 minutes left, but Curry was sure his fourth championship was already in hand.

The Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics, ­103-90, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, completing an exhilarating comeback from a 2-1 series deficit to complete a 16-6 run through the playoffs to win their fourth title in eight years.

Curry, who finished with 34 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the closeout victory, claimed his first Finals MVP award as a unanimous selection. There was no debate, given that his 43-point masterpiece in Game 4 flipped the series in Golden State’s favor.

“This championship hits different,” Curry said. “Knowing what the last three years have meant, from injuries to the changing of the guard on the roster. Carrying the belief that we could get back to this stage and win, even if it didn’t make sense to anybody when we said it. Now we’ve got four championships. It’s special.”

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After absorbing Boston’s best shot during a 14-2 start to Game 6, Golden State replied with a devastating 21-0 run across the first and second quarters. True to their reputation for elite outside shooting, five Warriors hit three-pointers in the first half to blow open the game, prompting scattered boos from the shellshocked TD Garden crowd. Golden State finished 19 for 46 from deep in one of its most prolific outside shooting nights of these playoffs.

For the third straight game, Boston’s offense regularly ground to a halt against a fast and focused Golden State defense. The Warriors built a 22-point lead in the third quarter and held on down the stretch. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 34 points, seven rebounds and three assists, but Boston (22 turnovers) fell to 0-7 this postseason when committing more than 15 giveaways.

To reach this summit, which should be regarded as the crowning achievement of his career, Curry persisted through heartbreak, roster churn, injuries and a sharp plunge to the bottom of the standings. The journey back began in their 2019 NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors, when Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered season-ending injuries. Durant departed soon after in free agency, Thompson missed the next two-plus seasons with injury and the Warriors missed the playoffs in 2020 and 2021.

Curry’s commitment to the Warriors never wavered during their brief fall from grace, but he suffered a serious hand injury that sidelined him for all but five games of the 2019-20 season. While Curry, who turned 34 in March, remained an all-NBA-caliber player, it was reasonable to wonder whether the Warriors could reassemble a winner around him before he faded out of his prime.

Throughout the three-year pairing of Curry and Durant, the Warriors’ success felt inevitable. That wasn’t the case this season amid injury absences that included Thompson, Draymond Green and Curry, who broke the NBA’s record for three-pointers in December but missed the final month of the regular season with a foot sprain. The Warriors’ core trio fashioned their chemistry through years of postseason battles but appeared in only three games together in the regular season. Entering the playoffs, the Warriors were a frisky No. 3 seed that would need to jell on the fly and trust that Curry could return to top form and maintain good health.

Golden State eased into the postseason against the injury-ravaged Denver Nuggets, bringing Curry off the bench for the first four games and counting on Green to lead the defensive effort to contain MVP Nikola Jokic. After putting down the Nuggets in five games, the Warriors were tested by the young and athletic Memphis Grizzlies, whose size and length posed problems. A mid-series injury to Ja Morant opened the door for Curry to seize control, and Thompson delivered the Game 6 knockout. Then, in the West finals, the Warriors neutralized Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic and won going away in five games.

By that point, Curry’s past postseason rivals — Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook — had been eliminated, some before the playoffs even started, even though they had changed teams in recent years in pursuit of bettering their title odds. A new generation of under-30 headliners took over, leaving Curry as the lone elder statesman.

James and Curry have jockeyed to be the face of the NBA over the past decade, and now both future Hall of Famers have four rings. What’s more, Curry has now won a title before, during and after his partnership with Durant, an accomplishment that recalls San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan’s ability to win across multiple eras and with different supporting casts.

“This is probably the most meaningful one,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said amid the postgame celebration.

To be clear, Curry alone didn’t resuscitate Golden State’s dynasty: Andrew Wiggins emerged as a crucial X-factor, Thompson completed his own comeback from injuries with some stellar moments, Green led the charge defensively, unheralded center Kevon Looney was big on the glass, and backup guard Jordan Poole delivered some timely scoring fireworks, including 15 points in Game 6.
“We built this thing from the ground up,” Green said Wednesday. “When you build something from the ground up, that’s your baby. We all appreciate each other, and we understand what each of us bring to the table. It stretches far past what we have accomplished on the basketball court. You’re talking about bonds that will last forever.”

Fostering that collective success has long been Curry’s sole focus, and his ability to adapt to the talents of those around him has been a signature skill during Golden State’s title years. Curry’s three-point shooting began to change the sport in 2015, and it looked in recent years as if the rest of the NBA might have caught up with the Warriors. Instead, Curry’s ability to stay one step ahead of evolving defensive strategies and to empower new teammates such as Wiggins and Poole put Golden State in position to fend off the next generation. Remarkably, Curry knocked out four of the seven players who finished above him in 2022 MVP voting: Jokic, Morant, Doncic and Boston’s Jayson Tatum.

The Celtics arrived at these Finals as younger, more athletic and more talented on paper. They departed six games later after a cacophony of turnovers and missed shots in late-game situations, as Curry’s Warriors proved to be more focused and effective in the tensest moments.

Jayson Tatum struggled during the NBA Finals as the Boston Celtics lost to the Golden State Warriors. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Curry never relented, not even when Celtics center Al Horford rolled onto his foot in the closing minutes of Game 3. Gathering himself from the initial shock and pain, Curry responded with perhaps the best game of his postseason career in Game 4 when the Warriors needed it most, mixing peerless shot-making, inspired defense, unselfish passing and his stoic, upbeat leadership style.

As Tatum fatigued late in the series, throwing up multiple air balls in Game 5 and struggling to finish at the rim in Game 6, the tireless Curry kept going, wriggling free from double teams to orchestrate for his teammates and making Boston pay any time he had enough daylight to shoot.

“What [Curry] does at his size is so different from the traditional greats in this league,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “I’ve said it many times, Steph reminds me of Tim Duncan. From a humanity standpoint, from a talent standpoint, humility, confidence, it’s a wonderful combination that makes everyone want to win for him. Without him, none of this happens. To me, this is his crowning achievement.”
In recent weeks, with the prospect of a title drawing closer, Curry fastidiously avoided putting the cart before the horse, perhaps because the Warriors know all too well the destructive power of an untimely injury. Once he hit a dagger three-pointer from the left corner in the closing minutes of Game 5, Curry put his hands to the side of his head, as if he were putting the Celtics to bed. As the final seconds ticked off, Curry embraced his father, Dell, who was sitting courtside, and fell to his knees, overcome with emotion.
“I blacked out for a second,” Curry said. “It was overwhelming. It was surreal. You know how much you went through to get back to this stage. It all paid off. I saw [Dell] and just lost it. I just wanted to take in the moment. It was that special.”

Curry’s reputation as the greatest shooter of all time, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and an all-time great was secure before these Finals, but his latest triumph erased any doubts about his ability to put a franchise on his back. His spirit carried the Warriors through tribulations that would have shattered lesser teams, and his brilliance in Game 4 flipped the Finals.

Curry has won with and without Durant, with and without a superteam and with and without the element of surprise he enjoyed in 2015. All that’s left is the ring fitting
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