Warriors stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green savor fourth NBA championship that 'hits different' | Opinion

BOSTON — Golden State started the season 24-5 and elevated itself to championship contender before Christmas and before the anticipated return of Klay Thompson from an injury that sidelined him for 2½ seasons.

The Warriors were back, scoring and defending.

Until they weren’t.

Injuries to Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Otto Porter Jr., and Andre Iguodala at various points and Thompson’s uneven return paused those title aspirations.

Phoenix continued to roll through the regular season, Memphis made a run and the Warriors finished the regular season losing 16 their final 28 games.

Still, at All-Star Weekend, Green proclaimed the Warriors the team to beat in the Western Conference.

He was right — and then some.

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Golden State entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in West. It beat Denver, Memphis and Dallas and then overwhelmed Boston in the NBA Finals.

"We kind of limped our way into the postseason, and we clearly said, 'We have to peak at the right time,' not knowing what our rotation was going to look like and what our chemistry was going to look like because that's what the situation called for," said Curry who won his first Finals MVP after averaging 31.2 points against Boston.

"But, damn, we did it. It's crazy to think about. All that talk paid off. Manifest your destiny in a certain way, and that stubbornness — of who we are matters more than what anybody is saying about us — is why we're here."

It is the Warriors’ fourth championship in eight seasons, extending a dynasty that began with a title over Cleveland in 2015.

And for the Warriors, this title, as Curry put it, "hits different."

"Just knowing what the last three years have meant, what it's been like from injuries to changing of the guard in the rosters, Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) coming through, our young guys 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, all that stuff matters," Curry said.

Three years ago, the Warriors were a franchise in flux, mainly because of an injury to Thompson and Kevin Durant’s departure to Brooklyn in free agency. The Warriors finished 15-50 in 2019-20 and then Thompson sustained another injury that forced him to miss the 2020-21 season. Curry injured his hand four games into that season and sat out the rest of the year.

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The Warriors had two consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance after five consecutive Finals. The front office, led by Bob Myers, began rebuilding the roster, adding Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr., and bringing back Andre Iguodala. They stuck to a plan, thinking a healthy core of Curry, Thompson and Green surrounded by capable scorers and great defenders could make them a contender again.

"This one may have been the most unlikely just from the standpoint of where we've been the last couple years. A lot of unknowns," coach Steve Kerr said.

That struggle since the 2019 Finals resonated with the Warriors. As teams like Phoenix, Memphis and even the Los Angeles Lakers for a season ascended, the Warriors were cast aside.

Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry celebrate their fourth NBA championship as teammates.

"Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero of how many championships we would have going forward because of everything that we went through," Curry said. "So we hear all that, and you carry it all and you try to maintain your purpose, not let it distract you, but you carry that weight and to get here, it all comes out. It's special."

There is an appreciation of getting back to the Finals and winning that is greater than previous experiences. As this series progressed, Golden State revealed it had answers offensively and defensively, and its collective experience in the Finals was too much for the Celtics in the final three games.

They savored this journey.

"I just know how hard this is, and to be here for a fourth time, like so grateful for my teammates," Thompson said. "I saw it in the beginning of season. People called me crazy. I said championship or bust, because I saw how we came out of the gate, 18-2. And playing just that Warriors brand of basketball that made us so successful, and then knowing I was going to be inserted in that, I knew we had a chance to do something special, and here we are. It's so incredible. Wow."

The contributions came from many, especially Wiggins in the Finals, but the core of Curry, Thompson and Green remains from 2015. They now have 21 Finals victories, more than any trio in the past 50 seasons. Without one of the three, Golden State’s season probably doesn’t end this way.

"We know what that takes. And rely on each other and depend on each other," Green said. "If I struggle in one area, Steph just isn't going to try to do it. We rely on each other for what we are great at."

The Warriors have used free agency and trades, but they also used the draft to select Curry, Thompson and Green. It's not easy to build that way and then sustain it.

"You talk about the fabric of this team throughout the last eight years," Iguodala said, "and I've been saying this over and over, those three guys have had this league in a choke hold, in a headlock for a good period of time. ...

"What they have done in this league and the foundation they have been able to build, you've got to give them a lot of credit. In 100 years, you're going to be talking about some of the best players and teams and foundations, and those three guys, they did a template of how do you build championship pedigree."

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.