There was just something about Kevin Durant on the Golden State Warriors that almost ruined basketball. It wasn’t ever about the burner accounts and snowflake sensitivity. The lack of competitive advantage made the NBA challenging to enjoy while Durant was in the Bay Area from 2016 to 2019. Now that he is three seasons removed, the Warriors have taken that time to rebuild through the draft. As a result, the team we have watched in the Finals was built through organic means, save for the brilliant but low-key Andrew Wiggins trade at the time. So what’s left to hate?
Those who can’t shake the malaise left by Durant lazily index Golden State as the villain of the past few years. Others point to Steph Curry’s mouthguard chewing. Judging by social media and Reddit threads, Baby Boomers seem to have a sensitivity toward Draymond Green’s on-court antics and million-dollar smile. There’s a lot of overlap of Warriors hatred with a specific kind of Boomer-ish white guy who has suddenly gone all-in on Boston during these Finals.
But the reality is these Warriors have gone from perhaps the greatest team of all time to underdogs since Durant’s departure. The two seasons between then and now were full of potentially career-ending injuries to Klay Thompson and brutal losing. The losses were so prominent that the Warriors earned the No. 2 pick in the 2020 Draft. The fact that James Wiseman, taken with that pick, hasn’t played a single minute this season is a testament to how the Warriors are not overly dependent on any one transaction to regain their competitive edge.
Thompson might be back, but he isn’t the same player he once was, and appears to still suffer from conditioning issues. Green has delivered his elite defense, playmaking, and leadership but has had a slight case of the yips this series shooting from the perimeter and around the basket. He seemed fine for most of the playoffs, and his clutch shooting was vital against the Mavs. His struggles seem specific to these NBA Finals. Who would have thought Wiggins would earn his All-Star Game starting nod this season? He has been a revelation on offense and defense while making a case for Finals MVP. Minnesota seems like a lifetime ago. And Curry has proven himself to be back in the Top 5 players in the game conversation, putting on the greatest playoff run of his career.
Yet, the haters persist. These Warriors have proven to be able to take a punch. They bounced back after going down 2-1 to take a 3-2 lead, winning back-to-back games, one in Boston. Their championship pedigree kept them poised in the fourth quarter, where their neophyte opponent repeatedly broke down with composite issues.
Fans who came of age during the ’90s routinely bitch on social media about the amount of complaining that goes on in today’s game. But upon a close read of these Finals, almost all of the Warriors squad refrains from complaining to refs. Instead, the team’s frustrations and emotional temperament are channeled through their leader Green and coach Kerr. The team smartly utilizes these two to be the expressive voice of the team, allowing the rest of the key guys — Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, and Poole to stay out of technical foul trouble and the ref’s ire.
The Warriors are no longer the superteam they once were. Of the eight-man rotation Kerr has primarily used in these 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 contract this past offseason. When Wiggins was traded to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell in 2020, most pundits thought Minny had won that deal, as Wiggins was known as an empty stats guy who played zero defense. Instead, he has been the greatest example of Golden State’s development and culture, as he has completely rewritten his career.
Again, what’s to hate? The Warriors went from heel to underdog in three grueling seasons. They experienced bottom-barrel losing with no guarantee they would ever reclaim contention, and worse, Thompson would come back healthy enough to compete. But, through 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 undoubtedly the most surprising and perhaps the most challenging. Isn’t that worth celebrating?