Following Game 1’s loss, the Golden State Warriors rallied to win the next four out of five games — enough to be crowned this year’s NBA champions. Three years ago, the Warriors lost to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals, and in that series, both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered career-threatening injuries.
In the face of these losses, the Golden State dynasty seemed all but over. Adding to the organizational blows, Durant would go on to leave the Warriors about a month later for the Brooklyn Nets.
Had Golden State general manager Bob Myers not had the personal relationship with Durant that he did, the Warriors would not be awaiting another ring ceremony. Myers worked some magic and somehow convinced Durant to agree to a sign and trade — a trade in which benefited Durant in no particular way.
In fact, it actually hurt Durant and his future team, as they could’ve used those assets to acquire another player. Durant was already well out the door. Somehow, Myers turned a looming disaster into an incoming miracle.
That sign and trade landed D’Angelo Russell in the lap of the Bay. Everyone in the NBA world knew Russell wasn’t the right fit for the Warriors, but who cares about fit when Durant was on the verge of just walking out the door, leaving you twiddling your thumbs.
Fast forward one season and the Warriors’ window officially looked closed, locked and molded shut. They finished with the worst record in the NBA at 15-50. Granted, Stephen Curry broke his hand just five games into the year and missed the rest of the season.
The Russell fit question still loomed over the organization’s head. At the end of the day, your backcourt mates cannot both be under 6’5” and nonathletically gifted. Myers worked his magic once again. He flipped Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the 6’7”, athletically gifted Andrew Wiggins.
Come to the 2021-22 season: Many didn’t give Golden State much of a fighting chance. However, these Warriors seemed to reload their roster faster than many believed was possible.
Jordan Poole took the needed leap to ensure the Warriors withstood Thompsons prolonged absence. Poole averaged 18.5 points per game and four assists on 46/36/92 shooting splits, compared to last season when he averaged 12 points and two assists per game. Adding on, Wiggins seemed to be the perfect fit as the number three or four offensive option; he was even named an all-star starter this year.
Wiggins went from an unmotivated potential bust to the two-way wing defender the Warriors missed in Durant’s absence. Wiggins finished these playoffs with the highest plus-minus out of all qualifying players at +140. For those who don’t know what that stat means, it means that when Wiggins was on the court during these playoffs, Golden State won by 140 points.
Wiggins’ and Kevon Looney’s relentless rebounding completely made up for the Warriors’ lack of size. Both averaged over seven rebounds in these playoffs, and Draymond Green did as well, so the Warriors had three guys average over seven rebounds a game in these playoffs. They were the only team to do so in these NBA playoffs, and the Warriors were lacking a single seven footer on the court.
Green and Thompson both took turns turning back the clock, shining brightly throughout these playoffs. In two closeout games in the Western Conference playoffs, Thompson dropped 32 and 30 points, splashing down eight 3s in both games. Thompson also provided much needed defense, especially against the Boston Celtics.
Green showcased his defensive force throughout much of these playoffs as he usually does. In these finals, when Green was matched up with Jaylen Brown, he held Brown to 29.4% shooting, and 1-15 from three. And Curry, I don’t even know how to describe the high level of ball he displayed throughout this run. Steph was Steph. Whoever is still questioning that man doesn’t understand the essence of basketball, team and culture.
Despite all the questions, Golden State consistently looked like the top dog in these playoffs. With three more 20-year-olds on the bench and coming, it begs the question: Are the Warriors once again “lightyears” ahead of everybody else?
Ethan Scott is a Bear Bytes Blog writer. Contact him at [email protected].