BOSTON — So much has changed for the Golden State Warriors over the past seven years. Back in 2015, Klay Thompson had a pencil-thin goatee. There was no evidence of gray multiplying around Draymond Green’s facial hair. And Stephen Curry would have been lucky to grow even designer stubble; his was a face that would get carded if he ordered anything other than milk.
They formed the foundation of a young, likable team that was easy to root for, and on June 16, 2015, they cemented their era of splashy basketball by winning their first championship together. They became the greatest traveling act in the NBA, and more success followed. Teammates — and one in particular who helped them win a couple more championships but left to help form his own empire in Brooklyn — came and went. Then the injuries happened. A crash to Earth and the draft lottery followed. They heard — and noted — all the doubters who thought their reign had ended.
Yet exactly seven years after their first crowning moment, there they were. The same three teammates, playing loose and free yet still ravenous for another title.
On Thursday night, Green motioned to the TD Garden crowd to pipe down, informing the Boston Celtics’ fans that their team’s third-quarter run would not be enough to stop the Warriors’ era. Even before that, Curry appeared to sense their legacy expanding. Midway through that period, after he pulled up from 29 feet and sank one of his six three-pointers, he turned to a stunned and mostly silent home crowd and pointed to his finger to let everyone know he was going to put a ring on it.
Exactly where he will have room to place this one, his and his buddies’ fourth together, who knows? All these diamond-encrusted championship souvenirs must be incredibly heavy for a human hand to bear. It’s the only workplace hazard for creating the modern game’s longest-lasting dynasty but one they will accept happily after sealing the 2022 NBA championship with a 103-90 victory over the Celtics in Game 6.
“I can say it now: I don’t know how many teams could carry that as long as we have with the expectations of comparing us now to teams of the past and make it to the mountaintop again,” Curry said. “Then you go to these last two years and conversations, narratives, we’re ‘too old,’ the parallel timelines of developing young guys and keeping our core together, all those tough decisions that we had to make, that weighs on you for as much time as we’re going through it.”
The Celtics formed the league’s first dynasty by winning championships through the 1960s — the infancy of the league. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls clustered their six titles into a pair of three-peat eras in the 1990s — his era of domination when hand-checking and hard fouls were part of the NBA.
But over the past seven years, the revolutionary Warriors have compelled the most change within the game. These days kids, bless their little hearts, try to pull up from half court.
“When I go back home to Milwaukee and watch my AAU team play and practice, everybody want to be Steph. Everyone want to shoot threes,” Warriors center Kevon Looney said. “And I’m like: ‘Man, you got to work a little harder to shoot like him. I see him every day.’ ”
Even NBA decision-makers aren’t above the influence of Curry and the Warriors. Teams have tried to copy their DNA — prioritizing small-ball lineups, placing shooters all around the floor — but many of their attempts have been sloppy facsimiles.
The Warriors’ blueprint is unique. Few teams have someone like Green, who turned tweeners into desirable draft picks. Or Thompson, the chill sidekick who if he possessed an ego might have demanded a trade years ago so he wouldn’t have to play the role of Robin.
Above all, no team has a Steph.
Curry won his first Finals MVP by unanimous vote, averaging a series-best 31.2 points. He was the baddest man on the court. And he let Celtics fans know it.
He made threes, then feigned surprise at his own mastery at shooting a basketball by placing both hands on top of his head. By the fourth quarter, he made a sleeping gesture, his way of putting to bed all that chatter about the Celtics chasing an 18th title. Not this year, at least.
But near the end, Curry stopped trolling and grew nostalgic, letting his emotions take over.
Just a few seconds separated him from his title, and Curry clutched his knees. His shoulders shook, and when he popped back up, his face was wet with tears. Overwhelmed by the moment, Curry fell to the hardwood to cry some more.
“These last two months of the playoffs, these last three years, this last 48 hours, every bit of it has been an emotional roller coaster on and off the floor,” said Curry, who started this playoff run while recovering from a foot injury. “And you’re carrying all of that on a daily basis to try to realize a dream and a goal like we did tonight. And you get goose bumps just thinking about, you know, all those snapshots and episodes that we went through to get back here, individually, collectively.”
Throughout the six games, Curry’s star blazed while his teammates stood watching like everyone else. On Thursday night, however, the Warriors finally showed their offensive depth as six players made at least one three-pointer (including Green!). Their defense, however, possessed no limitations as they forced Boston into turnovers (22 total in Game 6) or deep looks from the perimeter.
Though the offensive help came at just the right time, Curry has consistently had one of the best communicators and coaches on his side.
Steve Kerr has won five titles as a player and now four as coach of these Warriors, yet if you listen to his self-deprecation and deflection of all compliments, you might think he’s been a lucky passenger on the road to greatness instead of the creator of the Warriors’ free-flowing offense and culture. Though other franchises lose patience with their coaches and cycle in fresh voices at the slightest hint of turmoil, Kerr, in his eight years, has kept his standing within Golden State’s locker room. His voice still resonates.
“I haven’t seen many changes, to be honest. I think Steve has pretty much been the same since 2015,” Thompson said. “I mean, Steve has had such an incredible, unique career, from player to coach, GM. He just knows how to jell talent together. Then he draws from his playing days, which is really cool to hear and talk about, playing with Mike and Scottie [Pippen with those Bulls teams], the Twin Towers in San Antonio.
“The man's knowledge for the game is second to none. That's why I love being around him,” Thompson continued. “He's got so many historical examples of how to get out of sticky situations. He's a great leader. He deserves every praise that comes his way.”
As for Curry, Green and Thompson, they deserve their flowers. But first, they took their shots.
“A lot of chatter. A lot of chatter. A lot of doubters. But you know what, you just put that in your fuel tank and you just keep going,” Thompson said. “I can’t wait! There is this one player on the Grizzlies who tweeted ‘strength in numbers’ after they beat us in the regular season, and it pissed me off so much. I can’t wait to retweet that thing. Frigging bum.”
In enemy territory, Curry heard M-V-P chants. Green, after a mostly pedestrian series, was brash and unbowed as ever. Thompson, the most chill guy in any room, expressed his astonishment: “Holy cannoli! This is crazy!” Then he danced on the podium while his brother-in-Splash shimmied for the remaining few in the stands.
They’re all men in their 30s and have cycled through the various tribulations and joys of life — Thompson aged by devastating injuries that forced him out of the two previous seasons, Green and Curry by fatherhood.
Still, after all this time, they like each other enough to sit together on the team plane. Eat together and rack up debts to each other in dominoes. Dance like idiots together onstage. And most importantly, still win together.
“I’m a four-time champion with my brothers,” Green said.