The Warriors’ return to the NBA Finals is a remarkable feat of renewal | Golden State Warriors

WAfter their 120-110 victory over the Dallas Mavericks Thursday night, the Golden State Warriors clinched the Western Conference Championship and booked their sixth NBA Finals appearance in the past eight years. History will remember this season as a continuation of the Golden State’s dynasty, especially if they go on to claim their fourth NBA title in less than a decade.

But the Warriors have been through a lot in the 1,079 days since their last appearance in the Finals.

Two-time World Cup Finalist Kevin Durant left. Klay Thompson has been out of action for two and a half years due to injuries. Hand surgery means Steph Curry missed all but five of the 2019-20 season, as Golden State finished off the worst record in the NBA. They were only marginally better the following season, slipping into the inaugural post-season championship, where they were eliminated by the young Memphis Grizzlies.

The story of the 2022 Finals Warriors race was not just a continuation of past success. It was a remarkable feat of renovation and renewal.

The Golden State club started this season with the clear intention of ending the two-year drought. They set the league’s best record 17-3 from their first 20 games, buoyed by Curry’s MVP level. The eight-time All-Star, who turned 34 in March, was the NBA’s top scorer by that stretch, averaging 28.6 points per game while firing 42.3% from a three-point range.

This does not mean that this is a one-man team. Return of warriors arose on the basis of a typical brave defense. Steve Kerr has alternative schemes to keep opponents unsettled, as well as adopting an intuitive approach to defending by pickup and roll, using hedges and drops to force opponents to shoot poorly. Draymond Green was a leading candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award before the two-month injury absence, Golden State finished the regular season with the best defensive rating in the NBA (106.6), equaled only by the Celtics, who could join them in the league. finals.

The Warriors’ return to the top wasn’t achieved by the appearances of their veteran stars Carrie and Greene alone.

Gary Payton II, the son of former Defensive Player of the Year, had led a nomadic life before signing with Golden State last year. The 29-year-old’s journey has included spells in G-League teams such as Wisconsin Herd and Capital City Go-Go, and he’s never held regular minutes at any one destination. But he found a home in Chase Center. Payton has emerged as an elite one-on-one defender and leads the Warriors in steals per game this season (1.4) despite averaging just 17.6 minutes per appearance. Had it not been for a fracture to his left elbow in the previous round against Memphis, he would likely have been deployed to guard Luka Doncic in the conference finals.

Draymond Green was once again a critical defense force for warriors. Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP

On the offensive, Jordan Bull was a revelation. 28The tenth The 2019 draft pick splits his time between the Warriors and their J-League subsidiary, the Santa Cruz Warriors, just last season. In 2021-22, he became a Player of the Year candidate, playing 30 minutes per game averaging 18.5 points and four assists, serving as the invaluable bench scorer and backup curry.

However, the regular season wasn’t all smooth sailing. Curry’s initial form fizzled out when he finished with the lowest three-point percentage (38%) of any full season in his career and his lowest scoring average (25.5 points per game) since 2016-17. Thompson returned mid-season from a two-and-a-half year hiatus, but he has yet to look at the old All-Star. Injuries seem to have hampered the sport that once made him one of the best winger defenders in the league, and like Curry, he shot less than 40% of three for the first time.

Injuries to Green and Curry saw the Warriors jump for a second-ranked Western by the Grizzlies at the end of the season. But, looking back now, Curry’s absence for the last 12 games of the season may be a blessing in disguise. Paul flourished his stature and the two-time MVP came back refreshed in time for the playoff games, first playing the sixth superstar against Denver in the first round and then resuming his starting role.

Andrew Wiggins’ second poster dipped in this playoff. Luka Doncic gets more aggressive than Brandon Clark. pic.twitter.com/lnEhlNUQzr

– Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 23 2022

One of the biggest reasons the Warriors have improved this year has been the emergence of Andrew Wiggins as a major contributor. The former No. 1 overall pick was picked up by Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal for D’Angelo Russell in 2020. His selection as an All-Star player this past February was perhaps more indicative of the dearth of elite strikers in the West with the LA Clippers duo. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are out, but Wiggins has adapted perfectly to the Warriors’ defensive formation and their ongoing offensive this year. The Canadian has thrived in the post-season as well, drawing key defender duty on Doncic and providing perhaps the highlight of the playoffs so far. When he drowned over the Slovenian star In Game 3 of the Conference Finals.

The post-season also saw Kerr trust teenage debutants Jonathan Kominga and Moses Moody with key minutes, indicating a bright future for the franchise.

This incarnation of warriors is by no means perfect. They’re not the dominant juggernaut who fought (and mostly won) the Cleveland Cavaliers from LeBron James in the NBA Finals by four points in a row—as evidenced by their 39-point fifth game loss to Memphis in the second round; Had Ja Morant not been injured midway through the series, Golden State’s path to the conference finals might have been more difficult.

But revamped, new-look warriors have the pieces to play in the style characteristic of the Golden State dynasty, whether it’s petites with Curry and Paul on the back court or smothering opponents with their Green-led defense. This play-off has shown that they have kept all their winnings.

Meet the new warriors. Like veterans.

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