NBA Finals 2022: The seven moments that supercharged the return of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty

NBA Finals 2022: The seven moments that supercharged the return of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty

Stephen Curry didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when the seconds ticked down at TD Garden in Boston on Thursday night. He appeared to be ecstatic — broad smile, giddy — a natural reaction to winning a fourth NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors. Yet in an instant, Curry sank to the floor with two seconds remaining in the 2022 NBA Finals. He cradled himself, dropped his head, rested his knees on his elbows and cried.

Draymond Green said Curry would be livid as he took the court in Boston for Game 6 on Thursday, after an 0-for-9 performance from 3 in Game 5, and that prophecy was correct. Thirty-four points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, 6-for-11 from distance is a proper expression of anger for a man who keeps his emotions guarded but knows how to shoot a basketball. As the buzzer sounded, teammates, opponents, photographers and family spilled onto the court. Curry rose to his feet, placed his hands on his head, then dropped it again as the tears flowed.

The Warriors restored their dynasty with a 103-90 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 6, but not since Curry’s first championship in 2015 had Golden State entered the season with less expectation. The Warriors endured a two-year hiatus in the NBA wilderness after the departure of Kevin Durant and the extended absence of Klay Thompson due to injury, while Curry dealt with his own spate of maladies. Given the Warriors’ pedigree, their return to the top of the NBA isn’t a surprise — but it was improbable.

After another quick moment to himself, Curry was mobbed by Thompson, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee, and rookies Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga (who was 12 years old when Curry won his first ring). Andre Iguodala marched from center court over to Curry, extracted him from the scrum and handed him the game ball. One of only three current teammates who have played alongside Curry on each of the Warriors’ championship teams, Iguodala embraced his close friend.

Here are seven moments that shaped the Warriors’ remarkable postseason run, from the opening round to the final buzzer in Boston, and revived a dynasty.

April 16: Curry comes off the bench to open the postseason
Curry got clearance to return for the Warriors’ playoff run in April after missing the final month of the regular season because of a sprained ligament and bone bruise in his left foot, but he would be limited to between 20 and 25 minutes in Game 1 of Golden State’s first-round series against the Denver Nuggets. The restriction presented Curry and Warriors coach Steve Kerr with a difficult exercise — determining which 20-to-25 minutes Curry would play.

The Warriors had imposed a similar restriction when Thompson returned to action in January after two seasons away from the game. Thompson had chosen to assume his traditional spot in the starting lineup, then take lengthier breaks during the game. The plan proved awkward for Thompson, who found it difficult to maintain his rhythm after subbing out of the game, then spending 12 minutes on a stationary bike before taking the floor again.

Kerr presented Curry with two options. The first was similar to Thompson’s: Curry would start but take longer stints on the bench than he was accustomed to. The second had Curry coming off the bench to start each half, which would reduce the length of his time on the bench between playing time.

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“This might have been a daunting conversation with most other star players, but not the slightest bit daunting with Steph,” Kerr says. “He makes everything easy.”

Recognizing that of all his attributes as a basketball player, rhythm is among his most valued, Curry chose the second option.

When the Warriors, up 1-0, raised his restriction for Game 2 to 28 to 30 minutes, Curry opted again for the bench role, telling Kerr the arrangement was working well. As the Warriors prepared their rotation for Game 3 in Denver, Curry again told Kerr he’d be happy to come off the bench, even as his restriction had been moved up to 32 minutes. Kerr expressed his appreciation and called him the greatest sixth man of all time. The two agreed they’d carry on with the plan until the Warriors lost, which they did in Game 4.

As the public address announcer performed player introductions prior to each of the first four games against the Nuggets, Curry found himself in an unusual spot — standing near Kerr on the bench while Poole joined the four starters near center court. As the teams readied themselves for the opening tip, Kerr would turn to Curry and tell him, “If you work hard enough, one day you too can start an NBA playoff game.”

“Dillon Brooks broke the code” became more than just a postgame comment from a coach angry about his injured player. It became a rallying cry. That player, Gary Payton II, returned in time for the Finals, amplifying the Warriors’ already steely defense. AP Photo/Brandon Dill
May 3: Gary Payton II fractures his left elbow after being hit by Dillon Brooks
Payton is the Warriors’ best perimeter stopper, but he’s also a zippy athlete who can beat defenses in transition. That’s precisely what Payton was doing early in the first quarter of Game 2 of the conference semis against Memphis when he breezed past the backpedaling Grizzlies’ defenders, and Green hit him in stride with a pass. As Payton made his swift approach to the rim, Brooks caught him from behind, swatting him with a full windup of his right arm, nailing the soaring Warriors guard on the head.

Payton tumbled to the floor, just below the basket stanchion. He immediately grabbed his left arm and let out a ghastly moan. Brooks was assessed a flagrant foul 2, and Payton, who would later that night be diagnosed with a fractured elbow, would be consigned to recovery and rehab for five weeks. The incident enraged the Warriors. Kerr characterized the play as dirty.

“Dillon Brooks broke the code,” Kerr said then.

When he arrived to the Warriors last season, Payton was the consummate basketball journeyman, one who’d struggled for years to find a home in the NBA. He’d even considered leaving a playing career behind to become a video coordinator. Being named a starter to take on one of the most difficult defensive assignments in the NBA, dynamic Memphis All-Star Ja Morant for the duration of the series, should’ve been the culmination of Payton’s long journey.

But after being diagnosed with a fractured left elbow in the X-ray room of FedEx Forum and being fitted with a cast while his team continued to battle yards away, he’d have to put that trip on hold. Payton returned to the locker room, where he greeted the team following the Warriors’ 106-101 loss in Game 2.

“The team was down after the game,” he says. “We lost, but my teammates and Coach Kerr having my back after the game — the way they felt about the play, the way they communicated that — it meant a lot.”

Payton returned in Game 2 of the Finals, draining all three of his shots in 25 minutes. A week later in the Warriors’ pivotal Game 5 win, he scored 15 points with three steals while smothering Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart on defense.

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