The dynasty is back! After six highly competitive games, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics to earn their seventh franchise title on the floor of the TD Garden. The Daily Californian’s sports staff recaps the Dubs’ return to glory.
Down 2-1 in the series, how did the Warriors turn it around to win the last three games?
Kenzo Fukuda: I think some of it is as simple as Steph Curry’s magnificent 43 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in Game 4 on Boston’s home court. The Celtics could taste a 3-1 lead 95% of the way through that game. But Curry shot dagger after dagger to break them and their fans. It’s that feeling of inevitability and helplessness Curry created. With defenders draped over his back, with Derrick White’s hand in his face only to watch the ball find the bottom of the net, Curry calmly drained 3 after 3. It forced Boston to reconfigure its whole defense towards doubling and face guarding him in Game 5, which allowed players like Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole to get free, not to mention Andrew Wiggins, who soared in for dunk after dunk. But the Warriors also forced Boston into some nasty live-ball turnovers, which is death from above when you play Golden State. And, they won the rebound battle, 146 to 122, by committing to Kevon Looney in critical stretches.
Max Mullins: One of the biggest reasons the Warriors were able to turn the series around is their experience. When Golden State was down 2-1, it never felt like it was panicking: The team had been there before. No team in the NBA postseason this year could match the level of playoff experience brought by Steve Kerr, Curry, Draymond Green, Thompson and Andre Iguodala. The Big Three, despite only being healthy for 11 minutes at the same time in the regular season, had the level of chemistry, IQ and cool under pressure to weather the storm. The Warriors knew that if they played the level of basketball they were capable of they would win the series, so they made the necessary adjustments and did just that. As incredible as Curry was, and as timely as Green and Thompson’s contributions were in the last two games, the finals also provided a stage for some younger contributors to shine. Wiggins had a shooting percentage of 45 from the field over the last three wins of the series while providing great on-ball defense, and Looney was a huge part of hanging with the Celtics on the glass.
Ethan Scott: Of course it was Steph, but throughout these playoffs, the Warriors’ saving grace has been their ability to rebound the ball despite their overall disadvantage in size. The tallest player for the Warriors in these playoffs has been Looney, who only stands 6’9”. Golden State was the only team in the entire playoffs to have three players average seven or more rebounds per game: Wiggins, Green and Looney. In the Warriors’ close-out game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Looney reeled in 22 rebounds, which was a career high. Adding on, in the NBA Finals, Wiggins bested his career high in rebounds in back-to-back games. Before these finals Wiggins’ career high in rebounds had been 11, but in Game 4 Wiggins finished with 16 rebounds, and added on 13 in Game 5. The Warriors never once had the size advantage during this run, except maybe against the Mavericks in round three. Yet, when it mattered most, they were always first to the ball.
Stephen Curry earned his first finals MVP and fourth NBA title. How does this cement his all-time legacy?
KF: I never understood why the Finals MVP was so important to Curry’s legacy, considering he had multiple championships, owns nearly every 3-point record and changed the way basketball is played. What is more important to Curry’s legacy is the fact that he and the Warriors won again without Kevin Durant. Everyone likes to put an asterisk on the Warriors’ back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 because of their super team. But you can’t put an asterisk on this one. Curry went through the league MVP in Nikola Jokic, the young and hungry Grizzlies, Luka Doncic and the Mavericks and the Eastern Conference champion Celtics, and put them all to sleep. This title vaulted Curry into the top ten of all time, with room to keep eating.
MM: Like any basketball legend, Curry will have his haters and doubters no matter what he achieves. Such is the nature of NBA discourse. However, he answered a lot of questions in these finals. Does Steph show up in the playoffs? He always has, but an all-time great finals performance certainly doesn’t hurt. Is Curry a front-runner? 43 points on 26 shots in a Game 4 where the Warriors often trailed would suggest otherwise. While Game 4 will be the one that goes down in history, Game 5 demonstrates why Curry will likely continue to be underrated: There is not a stat that quantifies gravity. Steph shot 0 of 9 from the 3 as he was hounded by Celtics defenders, but that level of attention comes with a price. Curry still led the Warriors’ starters with a plus/minus of +15 as the Celtics’ game plan allowed the Warriors’ supporting cast to put up big numbers, including a career night from Wiggins.
ES: It honestly depends on who you’re asking. Some believe a Finals MVP was not needed for Curry, while others believe that you need to “drive the bus” to really get the respect. Sure, it can be argued that Curry drove the bus back in 2015, but without that Finals MVP hardware, his haters just wouldn’t shut up. I think Curry was already a top-ten player coming into these finals, his Finals MVP just made those oblivious, aware. Curry had one of the unquestionable greatest finals performances of all time. He averaged 31 points, six rebounds and five assists per game, a shooting percentage of 57 from the field and a shooting percentage of 53 from 3; absolutely unreal and legendary numbers. In the TD Garden on the verge of a 3-1 deficit, Curry put his team on his back, dropping 43 points, and 7 3-pointers, while grabbing 10 rebounds. Curry’s epic performance led to a 107-97 Warriors win. Steph was Steph. At 34-years-old and looking spry as ever, who knows what’s next for the legend himself.
What happened to Jayson Tatum?
KF: Wiggins snatched his soul. Tatum shot a percentage of 37.5 when guarded by Wiggins and it wasn’t like he was just missing shots. Wiggins had him working for every single shot, forcing tough midrange fadeaways, fighting through every off-ball screen and tiring him out. But still, Tatum never had that signature stretch. He kept hunting for foul calls a la James Harden instead of just trying to make a layup. It felt like he was complaining to the refs every single time he didn’t get a call. I get that he’s only 24, he played the most minutes in the playoffs and he has to take lumps here and there. But this wasn’t the same guy who scored 46 in Milwaukee down 3-2. You can’t go out scoring 12 points in a must-win finals game at home.
MM: Tatum will be fine. In his first finals at the age of 24, Tatum struggled. He had moments of brilliance, but they were fewer and farther between than usual. He was thrown off his game by Wiggins and Green, two excellent defenders, and never quite found his rhythm with any consistency. Most importantly, he seemed afraid to put the team on his back. In a pivotal Game 4 loss, Tatum only attempted one shot in the last six minutes of the game. In the face of a Curry explosion, he seemed content to shrink away from the action. With all that said, Tatum has incredible potential and plenty of years to work out the kinks. He did not play an amazing series, but this will be a lesson learned rather than a tarnishing of his legacy.
ES: As good as Wiggins played, and he played phenomenal, I think it went beyond Wiggins’ defensive performance. Brad Stevens’ inability to trade for a playmaking guard possibly cost his team a title. Tatum is not a natural-born playmaker, nor is Marcus Smart, White or Payton Pritchard. Outside of White’s Game 1 performance, he was basically a complete liability on offense. Stevens traded for White at the trade deadline this year, along with Daniel Theis. Had Stevens traded for a different guard, someone more suited to run an offense down the stretch of a tight game, the Celtics would’ve been in a better spot, and Tatum would’ve been able to play his game. In these finals it was clear that at the end of games, outside of Game 1, the Celtics got tight and their offense became stagnant. They were missing that true point guard.
What’s next for these two teams?
KF: For the Warriors, they’ll face a more talented Western Conference with the Nuggets and Clippers getting healthy again. They have some free agency housekeeping to do; they have Wiggins and Poole eligible for extensions so they’ll likely lose one of Gary Payton II, Looney or Otto Porter Jr. But the young core they refused to trade for another star can only get better — the Warriors will be reloaded for a title defense next year. The Celtics have to get more wing depth behind Tatum and Brown; they got nothing from their bench in the finals. Finding a playmaking ball handler would also mitigate their sloppiness and lack of control at times. Boston is still ahead of schedule. Multiple conference finals appearances and a finals appearance are nothing to scoff at. The East is a beast with Giannis Antetokounmpo always lurking, so it’s on Boston to keep its window open as long as possible.
MM: The Warriors are as well set up for the future as they could possibly be with their stars in their mid-30s, but they still need a lot to go right in order to maintain contender status for the foreseeable future. Looney and Payton’s respective futures with the team are uncertain, and other key players like Poole and Wiggins will need extensions. It’s impossible to know how many years Curry, Draymond and Thompson will be great for, and that will be a huge factor in continued dominance. The other major wild card is their youth: If one or more of Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman or Moses Moody can emerge as stars or at least high-end role-players, it would be a massive win for the future of the franchise. Even though there are plenty of questions, it seems hard to bet against the hugely successful decision-making axis of Kerr and Bob Myers to make the right calls going forward, especially with an ownership group that has been willing to spend.
ES: The dynasty is back and the Warriors are already the Vegas money favorite to run it back in 2023. The Western Conference is only going to come back better and stronger. The Clippers, Nuggets, Blazers and Pelicans are going to come back healthy. The Mavericks, Grizzlies and Lakers will also all probably be better next year as well. But it’s not like Golden State doesn’t have any more room to grow. Their main core of three isn’t going anywhere, probably ever. They also have three 20-year-olds that basically sat on the bench the entire playoffs: Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody. I also don’t expect that this is the best version of Poole. If the Warriors’ ownership do their job and pay their players, this team isn’t going anywhere. For the Celtics, I think it’s a different story. I think there’s a consensus that had Khris Middleton been healthy, the Celtics wouldn’t have made it out of that series against the Bucks. But the East has been really up in the air every year since LeBron James has left. So if they can add a piece or two, preferably a playmaker, then they’re still as good as anyone.