The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Stephen Curry’s crowning achievement, Warriors win fourth NBA title in eight years

The Golden State Warriors beat the Boston Celtics, 103-90, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 16. (Video: ESPN via AP)

BOSTON — Stephen Curry swished a deep three-pointer midway through the third quarter, backpedaled down the court and allowed himself a quick indulgence.

As the Boston Celtics called a timeout to gather themselves, the Golden State Warriors star turned to the sideline and pointed at his right ring finger. There were 18 minutes left, but Curry was sure his fourth championship was already in hand.

View live politics updates

The Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics, ­103-90, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, completing an exhilarating comeback from a 2-1 series deficit to complete a 16-6 run through the playoffs to win their fourth title in eight years.

Curry, who finished with 34 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the closeout victory, claimed his first Finals MVP award as a unanimous selection. There was no debate, given that his 43-point masterpiece in Game 4 flipped the series in Golden State’s favor.

“This championship hits different,” Curry said. “Knowing what the last three years have meant, from injuries to the changing of the guard on the roster. Carrying the belief that we could get back to this stage and win, even if it didn’t make sense to anybody when we said it. Now we’ve got four championships. It’s special.”

After absorbing Boston’s best shot during a 14-2 start to Game 6, Golden State replied with a devastating 21-0 run across the first and second quarters. True to their reputation for elite outside shooting, five Warriors hit three-pointers in the first half to blow open the game, prompting scattered boos from the shellshocked TD Garden crowd. Golden State finished 19 for 46 from deep in one of its most prolific outside shooting nights of these playoffs.

For the third straight game, Boston’s offense regularly ground to a halt against a fast and focused Golden State defense. The Warriors built a 22-point lead in the third quarter and held on down the stretch. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 34 points, seven rebounds and three assists, but Boston (22 turnovers) fell to 0-7 this postseason when committing more than 15 giveaways.

To reach this summit, which should be regarded as the crowning achievement of his career, Curry persisted through heartbreak, roster churn, injuries and a sharp plunge to the bottom of the standings. The journey back began in their 2019 NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors, when Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered season-ending injuries. Durant departed soon after in free agency, Thompson missed the next two-plus seasons with injury and the Warriors missed the playoffs in 2020 and 2021.

Curry’s commitment to the Warriors never wavered during their brief fall from grace, but he suffered a serious hand injury that sidelined him for all but five games of the 2019-20 season. While Curry, who turned 34 in March, remained an all-NBA-caliber player, it was reasonable to wonder whether the Warriors could reassemble a winner around him before he faded out of his prime.

Throughout the three-year pairing of Curry and Durant, the Warriors’ success felt inevitable. That wasn’t the case this season amid injury absences that included Thompson, Draymond Green and Curry, who broke the NBA’s record for three-pointers in December but missed the final month of the regular season with a foot sprain. The Warriors’ core trio fashioned their chemistry through years of postseason battles but appeared in only three games together in the regular season. Entering the playoffs, the Warriors were a frisky No. 3 seed that would need to jell on the fly and trust that Curry could return to top form and maintain good health.

Golden State eased into the postseason against the injury-ravaged Denver Nuggets, bringing Curry off the bench for the first four games and counting on Green to lead the defensive effort to contain MVP Nikola Jokic. After putting down the Nuggets in five games, the Warriors were tested by the young and athletic Memphis Grizzlies, whose size and length posed problems. A mid-series injury to Ja Morant opened the door for Curry to seize control, and Thompson delivered the Game 6 knockout. Then, in the West finals, the Warriors neutralized Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic and won going away in five games.

By that point, Curry’s past postseason rivals — Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook — had been eliminated, some before the playoffs even started, even though they had changed teams in recent years in pursuit of bettering their title odds. A new generation of under-30 headliners took over, leaving Curry as the lone elder statesman.

Older, stronger, grayer: These Warriors share a bond — and four titles

James and Curry have jockeyed to be the face of the NBA over the past decade, and now both future Hall of Famers have four rings. What’s more, Curry has now won a title before, during and after his partnership with Durant, an accomplishment that recalls San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan’s ability to win across multiple eras and with different supporting casts.

“This is probably the most meaningful one,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said amid the postgame celebration.

To be clear, Curry alone didn’t resuscitate Golden State’s dynasty: Andrew Wiggins emerged as a crucial X-factor, Thompson completed his own comeback from injuries with some stellar moments, Green led the charge defensively, unheralded center Kevon Looney was big on the glass, and backup guard Jordan Poole delivered some timely scoring fireworks, including 15 points in Game 6.

“We built this thing from the ground up,” Green said Wednesday. “When you build something from the ground up, that’s your baby. We all appreciate each other, and we understand what each of us bring to the table. It stretches far past what we have accomplished on the basketball court. You’re talking about bonds that will last forever.”

Fostering that collective success has long been Curry’s sole focus, and his ability to adapt to the talents of those around him has been a signature skill during Golden State’s title years. Curry’s three-point shooting began to change the sport in 2015, and it looked in recent years as if the rest of the NBA might have caught up with the Warriors. Instead, Curry’s ability to stay one step ahead of evolving defensive strategies and to empower new teammates such as Wiggins and Poole put Golden State in position to fend off the next generation. Remarkably, Curry knocked out four of the seven players who finished above him in 2022 MVP voting: Jokic, Morant, Doncic and Boston’s Jayson Tatum.

The Celtics arrived at these Finals as younger, more athletic and more talented on paper. They departed six games later after a cacophony of turnovers and missed shots in late-game situations, as Curry’s Warriors proved to be more focused and effective in the tensest moments.

Curry never relented, not even when Celtics center Al Horford rolled onto his foot in the closing minutes of Game 3. Gathering himself from the initial shock and pain, Curry responded with perhaps the best game of his postseason career in Game 4 when the Warriors needed it most, mixing peerless shot-making, inspired defense, unselfish passing and his stoic, upbeat leadership style.

As Tatum fatigued late in the series, throwing up multiple air balls in Game 5 and struggling to finish at the rim in Game 6, the tireless Curry kept going, wriggling free from double teams to orchestrate for his teammates and making Boston pay any time he had enough daylight to shoot.

“What [Curry] does at his size is so different from the traditional greats in this league,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “I’ve said it many times, Steph reminds me of Tim Duncan. From a humanity standpoint, from a talent standpoint, humility, confidence, it’s a wonderful combination that makes everyone want to win for him. Without him, none of this happens. To me, this is his crowning achievement.”

Sign up for our weekly NBA newsletter to get the best basketball coverage in your inbox

In recent weeks, with the prospect of a title drawing closer, Curry fastidiously avoided putting the cart before the horse, perhaps because the Warriors know all too well the destructive power of an untimely injury. Once he hit a dagger three-pointer from the left corner in the closing minutes of Game 6, Curry put his hands to the side of his head, as if he were putting the Celtics to bed. As the final seconds ticked off, Curry embraced his father, Dell, who was sitting courtside, and fell to his knees, overcome with emotion.

“I blacked out for a second,” Curry said. “It was overwhelming. It was surreal. You know how much you went through to get back to this stage. It all paid off. I saw [Dell] and just lost it. I just wanted to take in the moment. It was that special.”

Curry’s reputation as the greatest shooter of all time, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and an all-time great was secure before these Finals, but his latest triumph erased any doubts about his ability to put a franchise on his back. His spirit carried the Warriors through tribulations that would have shattered lesser teams, and his brilliance in Game 4 flipped the Finals.

Curry has won with and without Durant, with and without a superteam and with and without the element of surprise he enjoyed in 2015. All that’s left is the ring fitting.

— Ben Golliver

11:27 p.m.
Headshot of Jerry Brewer
Sports columnist
The Celtics have now surpassed 100 turnovers in six games. If this is the end, they’ll look back at all their mistakes, many of them unforced, and wonder what could have been.But thinking long term, this isn’t simply a problem that maturity and emphasis will solve. Boston does not have a primary playmaker on offense. And that’s a hard piece to go out and get, especially when you are a fully-built team with max-salary players and no cap room. It will be interesting to see what more Boston Coach Ime Udoka and GM Brad Stevens can do to solve the one big hole on this roster. As close as the Celtics are to a championship, it’s hard to see them reaching their full potential without an offensive floor general.
11:23 p.m.
Headshot of Michael Lee
Sports enterprise reporter focusing on the intersection of gender, diversity and how sports shape our society.
Had he been able to go through Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Playoff Jimmy Butler and Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum would’ve completed the kind of run for which legends are made. These Finals were expected to be a coronation for Tatum, the 24-year-old, first-team all-NBA performer. He would either win, or have the type of performance that would let the world know how nice he is. Instead, this series has showed Tatum how much more he needs to grow. Tatum made strides as a playmaker this season but needs to improve as a finisher. And he has to find a way to make the game easier on himself by driving the ball with more force — seeking dunks or fouls, not finesse. He was in his own head this series, believing that greatness is related to aesthetics. Kobe Bryant is his idol but degree of difficulty isn’t rewarded with extra credit. If he wants to return to this stage, end up on the other side, and fulfill the promise of being a superstar, Tatum will need to simplify his game. And keep growing.
11:04 p.m.
Headshot of Michael Lee
Sports enterprise reporter focusing on the intersection of gender, diversity and how sports shape our society.
After he dropped 26 points and flexed in Game 1, then turned 36 the next day, Al Horford has played as if he had nothing left to give. He had 11 in the Celtics’ Game 3 win but had been a non-factor in the other three losses. But in the third quarter, Horford played as if he hasn’t given up on his best shot at that elusive ring. He did his best Stephen Curry impression, draining three three-pointers, and sent a Curry shot into the stands. His effort helped the Celtics whittle a 22-point lead down to 10 points. But the Celtics are still waiting for Jayson Tatum to take them home.
10:58 p.m.
Headshot of Jerry Brewer
Sports columnist
Stephen Curry is one quarter away from his first NBA Finals MVP. There’s no question he has been the best player in this series, and if the Warriors finish this game, Curry will have four championships and the one legacy award missing in his trophy case.Because some critics have exaggerated a few lows during Curry’s six Finals appearances, there’s a misconception that he hasn’t played like an all-time great with regularity in the championship round. It’s a myth. He tends to have one bad game in every Finals, such as Game 5′s clunker in which he missed all nine of his three-pointers and finished with an inefficient 16 points. But for the most part, he’s been very good throughout his career in the Finals, and the amount of attention he commands from defenses is the foundation upon which Golden State has built a dynasty. It transcends numbers, but against the Celtics, he has the stats to back up his immeasurable impact.This time, he had to carry the Warriors for much of the way. Now, he just needs to finish.
10:22 p.m.
Headshot of Jerry Brewer
Sports columnist
After a slow start, the Warriors went into parade mode for the majority of the first half mostly because their best five players — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole — are all playing well together for the first time in this series. They combined for 50 of Golden State’s 54 points and played off each other better than they did in the first five games. Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Poole are already in double figures.But Draymond Green’s complete floor game may have been the most impressive thing. He has five points, five assists and seven rebounds, and he’s playing his normal spectacular defense. Against Boston, Green has made headlines because of his struggles and antics, but he’s aggressive and running the show on both ends. This is the all-star version of Green.
10:18 p.m.
Headshot of Michael Lee
Sports enterprise reporter focusing on the intersection of gender, diversity and how sports shape our society.
On Wednesday, Jaylen Brown said, “We are not scared of the Golden State Warriors.” It sounded like a bold statement of defiance. But based on their performance in the first half, the comment revealed one of two things. Either they were very afraid, or perhaps, they should’ve been more afraid of a team that arrived in these Finals with three championships in the past seven years. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, a disciple of Gregg Popovich, has adopted the Pop-ism, “appropriate fear” to describe the way his team approaches the opposition, even when it believes it’s figured out an inferior foe. Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Boston threw the first punch but the Warriors responded with a roundhouse and an uppercut and the Celtics have been wobbling ever since. Fear can be good if it inspires a focused, disciplined effort. The Celtics haven’t had that. They’ve been sloppy, panicky, and they look shook.
9:51 p.m.
Headshot of Jerry Brewer
Sports columnist
Jordan Poole has had an up-and-down Finals against Boston’s potent defense. At times, he seemed timid and bothered by the physicality. But he’s back to playing with the swagger and creativity that we’ve often seen during his breakout third season in the NBA. When Poole gets hot like this, Golden State goes to an elite level on offense.
9:46 p.m.
Headshot of Michael Lee
Sports enterprise reporter focusing on the intersection of gender, diversity and how sports shape our society.
The last time he was at TD Garden, Stephen Curry was a virtuoso, putting the Warriors on his back for game it had to have — and he had to have for the sake of his misrepresented reputation. Curry dropped 43 points in Game 4, reminding those who forgot, and perhaps enlightening those who chose to ignore that he’s had big games in the Finals before. But with the Warriors on the verge of their fourth ring, and the Celtics tossing a haymaker to start the game, Curry was chill. He didn’t try to force to action as Boston tossed bodies his direction every time he touched the ball. No, he waited. His supporting cast gained its confidence in Game 5, so he didn’t need to play hero ball. When Marcus Smart flopped, he got irritated. But he still waited. Until it was time to strike. Curry buried the three-pointer to give the Warriors the lead at the end of the first quarter and smiled as he removed his mouthpiece. He knows his squad is riding with him tonight.
9:39 p.m.
Headshot of Jerry Brewer
Sports columnist
After coming out with the appropriate energy and determination to take a 14-2 lead, the Celtics really blew an opportunity to put the Warriors in a much deeper hole. Once again, offensive execution is their problem. They were in a good groove, moving the basketball and making simple, smart decisions. Then, as the Warriors ramped up their defensive intensity, the Celtics started trying to do too much individually instead of running the system. Without a true, playmaking point guard — or a great shot creator for others at any position — the Celtics are highly dependent on running the offense and making quick decisions. They never seem to sustain their attention to detail. They should’ve been able to maintain a double-digit lead into the second quarter. Instead, they lost the lead entirely. Trying to stave off elimination at home, their first punch wasn’t powerful enough. There will be other chances, but they needed to make more of a statement early.
9:00 p.m.
Headshot of Jerry Brewer
Sports columnist
If Golden State wins the title tonight, the Warriors wouldn’t just be celebrating their fourth championship in eight seasons. They would be just the second team to clinch on the Boston Celtics’ home court.The old, fabled Boston Garden was demolished nearly a quarter century ago, and even though the Celtics now play at TD Garden, it still means something to go to Boston and triumph. In their previous 21 appearances in the Finals, the Celtics have allowed just one opponent to clinch the title and dance on their parquet floor. The Los Angeles Lakers did it in 1985, finally breaking through after losing their first eight Finals meetings against their rival.At the end of this 75th anniversary NBA season, it is fitting that Golden State’s modern dynasty would have the opportunity to touch a bit of history if they can join the Showtime Lakers on that list. Even with a 3-2 series lead and momentum after winning back-to-back games, the Warriors won’t have it easy. The Celtics have a 6-1 home record in Finals elimination games. Of course, most of their 17-championship history goes way back, but the atmosphere in Boston is still special. It would be quite the feat if the Warriors managed to finish the job there.