- The Warriors are attempting to make a 6th Finals in 8 years, something last done by the Michael Jordan-led Bulls.
- Warriors players and coaches have spoken about appreciating this playoff run more after two years of tumult.
- The warriors have impressed on-lookers by sticking to their system and re-tooling.
The Golden State Warriors are three wins away from becoming the first team since the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to make six Finals appearances in eight years.
However, the two franchises’ journeys haven’t been entirely similar.
The Bulls won three championships in a row from 1991-93 before Michael Jordan retired to play baseball. He came back in 1995, and the Bulls then won three more titles from 1996-98.
The Warriors, meanwhile, made five straight finals from 2015-19, winning three of them (they likely would have won four if not for injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in 2019).
Then: two seasons of tumult. Thompson missed two seasons with a torn ACL, then a torn Achilles. Durant left in free agency. Stephen Curry broke his wrist early in the 2019-20 season, missing all but five games. The pandemic hit. The Warriors spent two straight seasons in the lottery, re-tooling the supporting cast around Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green.
That journey has given the Warriors more appreciation for this current postseason run.
“There’s more gratitude of being back here and more sense of urgency on not letting the opportunity slip away,” Curry told reporters after the Warriors’ Game 1 win over the Dallas Mavericks. “Who knows how it plays out, but I’m enjoying every bit of this. I know Klay is as well, and I know Draymond is because we haven’t played meaningful games at this time of year in two years.”
Head coach Steve Kerr called the last two seasons “tough,” saying it’s made getting back to this stage more rewarding.
“I think there’s been a chance to kind of refill the cup and re-energize, and also gained some perspective, as far as being away from this spot. This is the most fun part of the NBA, if you can advance deep in the playoffs, get to the conference finals, have a shot to get to the finals. It’s an amazing feeling, and our guys are thrilled to be back, for sure.”
Sustained success is fleeting in today’s NBA. Since the warriors were last in the finals, in 2019, there have been three different champions, and none of them made it back to the conference finals after winning. Plenty of other teams have racked up high win totals in the regular season, but haven’t sniffed a championship.
The warriors making it back to this stage is a testament, in part, to the chemistry of Curry, Thompson, and Green. The three stars had played just one game together in the past three years before these playoffs began. Over the past three seasons, the warriors have often had only two of their stars healthy at the same time, and the results on the court have been mixed.
As one NBA GM said to Insider, the Warriors have only looked like the warriors when all three stars have been healthy. This GM called Curry, Thompson, and Green, “one of the greatest trios in the history of sports.”
“What they have is truly spectacular together,” the GM said.
The Warriors play a complex style of offense full of screens, cuts, and reads. One player never dominates the ball; their offense is “egalitarian,” as Kerr has said. The Warriors have not only gotten their big names to play this system — no small task, since many stars want to dominate the ball and control the offense — they have re-assembled a supporting cast that has bought in, too.
—Steve Jones Jr (@stevejones20) December 21, 2021
The same GM went on to praise Kerr, the Warriors coaching staff, and the front office for building a team that has stood by its plan, even during years of turmoil.
“What I think is impressive is that Steve has gotten the other guys to play in a way commensurate with those three [stars]. That is absolutely mind-numbing what he has done and what their staff has done in building a team that can play that way. Because what they do is so hard. The basketball acumen it takes to read-react in the way that they do is so complicated. And to take their lumps, to stick to it, and to be principled in the way they were during a time when they were struggling to win any games — because what they do is so hard. He could have done a completely different thing with the talent he had and been way more competitive.
“But he kept doing what they do,” he said. “So when he got [Curry, Thompson, and Green] back, they would be ready to be accretive to winning. And that’s exactly what’s happened. The supporting cast is now accretive to winning because he’s stuck to his guns.
“I mean, it’s just remarkable. It’s why we all got into sports in the first place, because you want a chance to do it that way. Everybody short-cuts things now and Golden State never short-cutted what they do.”
The Warriors are also primed to extend this window. Curry, Thompson, and Green aren’t at their respective peaks from the initial 2015-19 run. But their supporting cast now features young, talented, versatile players growing into their own in Andrew Wiggins (27 years old), Jordan Poole (22), Jonathan Kuminga (19), and James Wiseman (21). As these players grow, they might be able to take pressure off the Big Three and perhaps even one day succeed them as the faces of the team.
After Game 1, several warriors players were careful not to get too far ahead of themselves in celebrating a possible return to the mountaintop, noting that they still have more work to do in the conference finals.
But with each win, there is growing appreciation for what this team has been able to do: winning more than anyone else, for longer, in their own particular way.