Warriors took many different paths of inspiration to NBA championship

BOSTON — The final countdown ended at 941. That’s how many days lasted in between games that Klay Thompson appeared in after first sustaining a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals and then a torn Achilles tendon after a year-plus of going through one grueling rehab before starting up another.

He’ll always remember those four numbers: Nine, four, one. Just like he’ll always remember the number 1,099. That’s how many days total it took him to go from lying on the floor of Scotiabank Arena, holding his left knee and screaming in agony, to tears of joys flowing down his face at TD Garden while celebrating his fourth championship with the Warriors.

As he jumped for joy after the final buzzer in Boston, those tears landed on the shoulders of Rick Celebrini, the Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance, who spent hours upon hours with Thompson when the star shooting guard was at his lowest both physically and mentally.

“Just to stay with it, just calf raise after calf raise, underwater treadmill, so many days not even touching a ball,” Thompson said to reporters after the Warriors took down the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Finals.

“Then to go through this season with the ups and downs, and even these playoffs, I’m just at a loss for words at times. Because I knew this was possible, but to be here in real time, man, I don’ t want to leave. I want to enjoy every second of this. I know how fleeting it can be.”

Klay’s story of triumph and comeback is above them all, one that will be remembered forever. He certainly isn’t alone. The warriors are full of them, from their superstars to their role players.

The Warriors always knew they would have to continue to grow, learn and hopefully peak in the playoffs. They also didn’t know how much of a pest the injury bug would be for them this season. Their Big Three of Thompson, Steph Curry and Draymond Green played a total of 11 minutes together in the regular season.

Right when Thompson returned, Green went down to a back injury. He became an All-Star for the fourth time this season, but his injury held him out of the game. To get away, Green headed down to Cabo San Lucas for vacation, but Celebrini was with him every step of the way, putting Draymond through two-a-days for this exact moment: Being a champion again.

When Green was good to play again after two months on the shelf, Curry was sidelined for the final two weeks of the regular season with a foot injury and came off the bench for the first four games of the playoffs. He displayed the ultimate dose of leadership and sacrifice, again setting the precedent for his teammates of what it takes to win a ring. With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Curry crumbled to the floor at TD Garden, overcome with emotion. He was about to win his fourth NBA title and first Finals MVP, adding to his already legendary careerand then he and his father Dell embraced for an unforgettable hug.

“It was definitely overwhelming,” Curry said. “It was surreal because you know how much you went through to get back to this stage, and nobody — unless you’ve been on that floor — you just grind day-in and day-out.

“Talking about just me personally, my workouts from the offseason last year when we lost in the play-in tournament, it’s been a year and six days that I started the process of getting ready for this season. It all paid off. Didn’ t know how it was going to happen. Didn’t know what the environment was going to be like. You imagine what the emotions are going to be like, but it hits different.

“I didn’t even know [Dell] was down there, to be honest with you. I saw him and I lost it, and I knew the clock was kind of running out. I just wanted to take in the moment because it was that special.”

And that’s only talking about the Warriors’ biggest names, three future Hall of Famers.

The future of their backcourt, the heir to the Splash Brothers’ throne, could be Jordan Poole, who turned 23 years old on Sunday. Many believed the warriors reached by taking Poole with the No. 28 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and the start to his pro career certainly didn’t go as planned. He even had to spend 11 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the Orlando G League bubble last season, and the experience couldn’t have been better for him.

Before going down to Orlando, Poole was averaging 5.5 points per game last season. He averaged 14.7 following his return, 18.5 in Year 3 and 17.0 in the playoffs. Poole is about to get paid and has only scratched the surface of his skills.

“I always knew that I’d be able to play at the highest level and win,” Poole said after becoming a first-time champion. “It was just a matter of when and being able to do it with these guys who have been here, who are extremely experienced. It’s just truly remarkable, special.

“People tried to write us off a couple years ago and say the dynasty was over, and people tried to write me off, personally. But if you believe in yourself — to anybody listening: If your back is against the wall and you believe in yourself and you think it’s possible, stick to it no matter what, no matter the noise, don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t. As cliché as it sounds, it’s a fact.”

Two other players the Warriors will look to lock up this offseason are Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II. Both became folk heroes among Dub Nation this season. They eat free in the Bay Area forever.

Looney was the only warrior to play in all 82 regular-season games. Including Golden State’s playoff run, he played in 104 games. The previous two seasons combined, he played in 81 games — not even one full regular season due to injuries and various other health issues. In his seventh season, Looney became indispensable as someone who could play what was required from coach Steve Kerr, whether it be as a starter or coming off the bench.

“For me, coach means the world to me,” Looney said. “Had a lot of ups and downs in my career since I’ve been here, being drafted here and to be able to be here for seven years and be able to learn from him, and he’s a guy — he always told me, ‘Your opportunity is going to come, just take advantage of it when it does.’

“Sometimes I didn’t even deserve the opportunity, and he gave me one and he stuck with me, and I give him a lot of credit for that. My hard work has paid off, and he’s a great mentor and coach for me and the whole team. Steve deserves a lot of credit.”

Payton played with five different G League teams before finding a home with the Warriors. Curry and Green pushed to make sure general manager Bob Myers brought him back for a second 10-day contract last season. He played one preseason game this season and was given the final roster spot on the Warriors the same day as the regular-season opener. The more he played, the more clear it became what an integral part of the Warriors’ success Payton would be.

Six weeks after fracturing his left elbow in the second round of the playoffs, Payton’s 15 points off the bench in Game 5 of the Finals helped give the Warriors a huge three-games-to-two lead, and they might not be champs without his defense and intangibles.

“It’s just crazy” Payton said. “You know, just a journey. It’s been a big learning experience for me. I appreciate every moment I had, all the falls, just to help me build on. Just sticking with it and just keep going.

“So I’m still speechless right now. It’s just crazy right now.”

RELATED: How overcoming injuries helped Klay learn ‘the balance of life’

Andrew Wiggins erased any labels placed on him that he wasn’t a winner. Otto Porter Jr., whose career was being defined more for his injury history than his skill set as a former No. 2 overall pick, was a huge part in the Warriors winning it all. Oakland’s own Juan Toscano-Anderson became the first player of Mexican descent to become an NBA champion, and Nemanja Bjelica is the first to win Euroleague MVP and then a ring in The Association in his seventh season in the NBA and first with the Warriors.

There were many different paths of inspiration this season. Some earned more shine than others. Each played a role in the Warriors celebrating their fourth championship parade in the last eight years.

the party has only just beguntoo.

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