“What They Gon’ Say Now?”: The Warriors Dynasty Prevails Against All Odds
By Arjun Khanna, UG23
“Thompson grabs his left knee… now writhing in pain,” said Mike Breen as Steph Curry slammed the ball on the floor and sat down on the other side of the court, chewing on his mouthpiece, dead silent like the crowd in Oracle Arena. Warriors fans in the building and across the world wondered how in just the span of a couple of games, they had lost two of their most lethal weapons, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, to season-ending injuries — and with that the hopes of winning their third straight championship in the 2019 NBA Finals.
The Warriors went on to lose the series to the Toronto Raptors. A new champion had ascended the throne, and the NBA community was quick to declare that the Warriors dynasty was behind us.
To make matters worse, the Warriors were stripped of the little beacon of hope they had in just the 4th game of the following season as Stephen Curry broke his left hand, ruling him out for the season. The dynasty officially in the ruins, right? I made the same mistake of thinking that.
Built, not Bought
1995 to 2008 saw the Golden State Warriors make the NBA playoffs an appalling once in a span of 14 years. The first step in their journey to glory was a complete change in management in May 2009 that brought in Bob Myers to the Warriors Front Office. What would happen just a month later would completely alter the trajectory of the franchise: with the 7th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Warriors chose Stephen Curry. However, despite a fantastic first few seasons, and pairing Steph with the likes of All-star David Lee and Monta Ellis, the Warriors could not make the playoffs. The team was far from a successful one, let alone a dynasty-caliber team.
The 2011 and 2012 drafts saw the Warriors pick Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They found the final pieces to the puzzle: though nobody knew it at the time, a 7th, 11th, and 35th pick in the draft formed what would go on to be arguably the greatest trio of all time.
The Splash Bros, Steph and Klay, would have breakout seasons and lead the Warriors to the playoffs in 2012-13. While their season ended in just the second round, they had set the tone for what was to follow, with 483 regular season three-pointers between the duo — nearly 50 more than the previous record for any two players. They instilled a culture that would sustain their dominance till date, and they had built it right from the bottom.
Champions, At Last
By the start of the 2014-15 season, Stephen Curry had announced himself as one of the great shooters in the game and was in the process of revolutionizing the game. His efforts were rewarded with his first season MVP for his record shooting performances, especially from beyond the arc. When the Warriors beat the injury-ridden Cleveland Cavaliers to lift their first championship in 40 years, they finally broke the threshold, and they were not near done yet. They came out all guns blazing and won 73 out of a total 82 games in the following season, becoming statistically the greatest regular-season team of all time. The stage was set for a back-to-back championship. However, they ran into what is probably the toughest hurdle for a team in the playoffs: a team led by Lebron James in his prime. After taking a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals, Lebron and the Cavaliers won three straight games to steal a championship they had no business winning. Once again, the Warriors had to figure it all out.
‘Ruining’ the NBA: The KD Warriors
A couple of infamous texts from Draymond Green from the parking lot after the Game 7 loss in the 2016 finals would bring about the next big thing for the Warriors. The NBA’s national television deal caused a spike in the salary cap for the 2016-17 season. Using this financial flexibility to their advantage, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant in free agency, a 7-foot forward with the shooting and handles of a guard. By adding a former league MVP to a 73-win team, the Warriors had made the league predictable and one-sided, all thanks to their ability to pick well in the draft and develop that talent, an ability unparalleled in the NBA. They would walk to back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018, and Kevin Durant, though heavily scrutinized for his move and taking the easy route, "chasing" championship rings, won consecutive Finals MVPs.
By 2019, predicting the outcome of the NBA finals was never easier. Once again, the NBA community expected Warriors to run riot all the way to a 3-peat (third straight championship). However, their dominant playoff run was thwarted by Kevin Durant’s strained calf, keeping him out till the finals. He would return in game 5 only to tear his achilles, sidelining him for over a year. The following game would see Klay Thompson go down, and somehow, the most dominant team in the NBA lost out on the 2019 championship: a team that had reached 5 successive NBA Finals in a row would have wanted more than just the three rings they got.
Down in the pits…
The Warriors would migrate from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, across the Bay to Chase Center in San Francisco, but the first year of the move was massively unsuccessful, with Curry, Thompson, and Durant all having been ripped out of the squad and leaving it reeling. The Warriors would finish on a season-worst 15-50 record, only a few years removed from their 73-9 team, before Covid-19 interrupted the season: they were not invited to the NBA Bubble for the playoffs later in the year. Their 2020-21 season would be better with the return of Curry, going 39-33, but again they would miss the playoffs, failing to beat the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers in the play-in tournament.
… and right back on Top
With Durant now on the Brooklyn Nets, and doubts around Klay’s health (he would only return in January 2022), the new season was always going to be a big challenge. However, owing to Stephen Curry’s brilliance combined with a breakout season for 2019 first-round draft pick, Jordon Poole, the Warriors got off to a 21-4 start. The championship narrative was about the Warriors again. If Klay came back healthy maybe a fairytale return to glory was on for the Warriors. However, an injury-riddled season restricted their big 3 to a mere 11 minutes together on the court in the entire regular season. But come playoff time, this team was healthy and ready to wreak havoc. They breezed past the Denver Nuggets in just 5 games, sending the MVP Nikola Jokic home in just the first round. The second round saw them trumping a young Grizzlies team using their far superior playoff experience. To wrap up the Western Conference, the Warriors comfortably sent off the Luka Doncic and Mavericks.
The Warriors were back in the finals. Just a couple seasons back they were statistically the worst team in the NBA: it was a turnaround for the ages, but as the great Kobe Bryant would say, job not done. The Warriors had displayed only a fraction of their potential and had a relatively easier path to the finals. On the other side, was a younger, more athletic, taller Boston Celtics team soaring high on confidence after beating the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jimmy Butler, all in one playoff run. The job was far from done.
After 4th quarter fallouts in games 1 and 3, Golden State found themselves down 2-1, and on the brink of going down 3-1 away from home. However, the greatest shooter of all time had other plans. He put his team on his back and exploded for 43 points and 10 rebounds to tie up the series in game 4, and now there was no stopping this Warriors team. They went on to finish the series in 6 games in dominant fashion, the fairytale comeback was complete. Stephen Curry finally won a Finals MVP award. Against all odds, San Francisco was once again a city of champions.
Golden State puts to display that indeed “Players and coaches alone don't win championships; organizations win championships.” An infamous quote by Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Chicago Bulls for most of the 90s, most scrutinized by the one and only Micheal Jordan. Without the trade bringing in Andrew Wiggins, without the drafting of Jordan Poole, and the countless adjustments made by the front office to complement their prolific big 3 of Steph, Klay and Draymond, we would have never witnessed a resurgence of this stature. The Golden State dynasty continues their reign as they look to repeat this feat in the 2022-23 season.