There was just something about Kevin Durant on the Golden State Warriors that nearly ruined basketball. There was never any mention of burner counts and snowflake sensitivity. The lack of competitive edge made the NBA hard to enjoy while Durant was in the Bay Area from 2016 to 2019. Now that he has three seasons retired, the Warriors have taken that time to rebuild through the draft. As a result, the team we watched in the final was built by organic means, save for the brilliant but understated trade of Andrew Wiggins at the time. So what’s left to hate?
Those who can’t shake the unease left behind by Durant lazily rank Golden State as the villain of recent years. Others point to Steph Curry’s mouth guard chewing. Judging from social media and Reddit threads, baby boomers seem to have a susceptibility to on-court antics and Draymond Green’s million-dollar smile. There’s a lot of overlapping Warriors hatred with a specific type of Boomer-ish white guy who suddenly went all-in on Boston in these Finals.
But the reality is that these Warriors have gone from perhaps the greatest team of all time to underdogs since Durant left. The two seasons between then and now have been full of life-threatening injuries for Klay Thompson and brutal losses. The losses were so severe that the Warriors earned the second pick of the 2020 draft. The fact that James Wiseman, caught with that pick, hasn’t played a single minute this season is a testament to how the Warriors don’t depend too much of a single transaction to regain their competitive advantage.
Thompson may be back, but he’s not the same player he used to be and still seems to be suffering from conditioning issues. Green delivered his elite defense, game and leadership, but had a slight case of yips this series shooting from the perimeter and around the basket. He looked good for most of the playoffs, and his clutch shot was vital against the Mavs. His fights seem specific to these NBA Finals. Who would have thought Wiggins would earn his All-Star nod this season? He was a revelation in attack and defense while arguing for the Finals MVP. Minnesota seems like an eternity ago. And Curry proved he was back in the Top 5 players in the game conversation, posting the biggest playoff streak of his career.
Yet critics persist. These warriors have proven capable of taking a punch. They bounced back from losing 2-1 to take a 3-2 lead, winning back-to-back games, including one in Boston. Their championship pedigree kept them poised in the fourth quarter, where their neophyte opponent crumbled multiple times with composite issues.
Fans who came of age in the 90s regularly complain on social media about the amount of complaints that occur in today’s game. But after a careful reading of these finals, almost the entire Warriors team refrains from complaining to the referees. Instead, the team’s frustrations and emotional temper are channeled through their leader Green and coach Kerr. The team cleverly uses these two to be the expressive voice of the team, allowing the rest of the key guys – Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Poole to stay away from technical issues and the referee’s wrath.
The Warriors are no longer the super team they once were. Of the eight-man rotation that Kerr primarily used in those Finals, five (Curry, Thompson, Green, Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole) were drafted by Golden State. Gary Payton Jr. was scouted out of the G-League by the team’s front office, while Otto Porter Jr. signed a one-year, $2.4 million deal last offseason . When Wiggins was traded to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell in 2020, most pundits thought Minny won that deal, as Wiggins was known as a dud with empty stats who played no defense. Instead, it was the greatest example of Golden State development and culture, as he completely rewrote his career.
Again, what’s there to hate? The Warriors went from heel to underdog in three grueling seasons. They suffered a rock bottom loss with no guarantee that they would ever recover the competition, and worse, Thompson would return healthy enough to compete. But, thanks to shrewd drafting and culture building, the Warriors are back in the finals and one game away from their fourth championship since 2015. This one is arguably the most surprising and perhaps the toughest. . Isn’t that worth celebrating?