The new Golden State Warriors: relentless, ruthless… and strangely endearing

Jhe exterior drum of Chase Center, the Golden State Warriors’ glittering new home on the western shore of San Francisco Bay, was apparently designed to look like a reassembled apple peel. Last night, Golden State pulled off a feat to give this strange visual metaphor some semblance of meaning. The sorry Warriors losers of 2019-21 were born as champions. The scraps were reused, the wreckage of past seasons transformed into a great victory. Has-beens are now have-rings; the apple peel has risen. The Warriors are back.

But while the ending to the story sounds familiar, there’s also something different about this Warriors championship. “I didn’t learn anything about myself, I knew I was resilient,” said Draymond Green, on the victory podium at Boston’s TD Garden, when asked to reflect on how his understanding of himself and his teammates had changed during those finals. And much, indeed, was recognizable by the way the Warriors closed out the final last night: the lightning-goal bursts, the electric offensive transitions, the deadly shot from distance and the collective intelligence of the ball, that trampoline energy and that familiar, sprawling elusiveness. But if the Warriors already knew who they were, this series will be remembered for changing the way the rest of us see them. Much like Golden State’s champion teams of 2015, 2017 and 2018, these Warriors were precise, efficient, ruthless and relentless. But they were also oddly friendly. It marks a real departure for a team that in recent years has become the epitome of everything bad about the modern NBA. While it might be a strange thing to say about a franchise that has now won exactly half of the rings on offer over the past eight seasons, the depth of the Warriors’ pandemic-era decline and the uncertainty that surrounded once the prospects of their biggest revival stars are enough to make this championship a true feel-good story – not quite a win for the underdog, but a glowing tribute to what billions of technologies, the greatest basketball history shooter and simple perseverance can accomplish together.

Redemption tales abound around the finale, of course. From Giannis’ victory over the free-throw demons last year to LeBron’s conquest of his own hometown insecurity in 2016, the triumphs of most Finals MVPs in recent years have been showcased, d one way or another, like brave victories against all odds. The difference this time around is that the championship team as a whole, rather than a single individual, had been written off: no one, really, gave away this iteration of the Warriors, stripped of the ghostly authority of Kevin Durant. and with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson returning after lengthy injury layoffs, great chances to add a fourth title to the already-pocketed trio under Steve Kerr. The reasons for this near-universal dismissal aren’t hard to fathom, since the Warriors over the previous two seasons had the rare distinction of being both extremely hated and very bad at basketball.

The national hatred for the Warriors stemmed primarily from the team’s relentless success, particularly the two consecutive titles won by Durant’s ornate superteam from 2016-18. The Warriors — data-driven, emotionless, technocratic, bombarding opponents from beyond the three-point line and drawn into a deepening alliance with Silicon Valley — seemed to typify something about the distance that different elements of American society had taken a hold of each other since the turn of the century. Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors killed the hat-trick, but even beating the team won little sympathy. If anything, the most notable moment in this series was when Warriors investor Mark Stevens (current net worth: $4.5 billion), who is part of the coterie of tech moguls and venture capitalists who own the team, shoved Raptors guard Kyle Lowry in a “frank” exchange. of views in Game 3 – a move that seemed to encapsulate the air of arrogant, financial entitlement that had settled over the team and its supporters since the groundbreaking 2014-15 championship. With the move to a glittering new arena at the start of the 2019 season, the Warriors’ passage of a team of people – the willful underdogs most fondly remembered for their “We Believe” thwarted by Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 playoffs – at the sport’s new facility were over. The team that had called Oakland their home turned their backs on the “wrong” side of the bay and rushed headlong into the embrace of San Francisco’s tech elite.

Steve Kerr has proven to be an inspired coach this season. Photograph: Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports

A more robotic success was on the way. But instead, the VC Warriors started doing something they weren’t used to: they started losing. A lot. Durant decamped to Brooklyn; Curry broke his hand and sat out an entire season; Thompson tore an anterior cruciate ligament, then an Achilles tendon, and missed two. The result was two years in the desert. The Warriors entered their flop era, finishing last in the Western Conference in 2019-20 (with a 15-50 record) and failing the playoffs again, despite marginal improvement in the regular season, in 2020-21 . The league has adapted, seemingly for good, to the playoffs spared by Golden State’s special brand of long-term magic: teams built around big, muscular men in the paint — your Jameses, your Davises, your Antetokounmpos — have come back into fashion. The likability of these warriors, reborn and resplendent once again, is mostly a function of how far they had fallen, how much they suffered, how much they – to use Green’s own artistic term – “sucked” . But it also says a lot about rebuilding a team that has shown it can do it with young talent, without needing to rely on the mercenary genius of a standard superstar like Durant.

The backbone of the Warriors’ Game 6 eventual victory was the surge from 21-0 which the team went on to 12-2 after the opening minutes. It’s only fitting that a series marked by the unusual volatility of its scoring patterns – Boston’s comeback in the final quarter of Game 1 will long be remembered – was capped by the longest run in a Finals game in the NBA in 50 years. But what was most striking about this devastating push was the identity of its orchestrators: not Curry or Thompson, but Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins, who put together a sequence of big threes, torrential dunks and blocks criticism to take the game – and the championship – away from the Celtics for good. These rising Warriors are not only capable but also likable, and the effect seems to be felt across the entire team. Thompson, despite playing below his best in this series, has shown enough to suggest he’s on his way back to the heights of 2015-18. Even Green, the team’s workhorse, looks somehow rejuvenated. The old belligerence is still there – the elbows, the thrusts, the buttocks pushed aggressively across the lane – and the trash talk remains unmatched, even in victory (there was a typically chest-chest description of the NBA as “the invitation of the Warriors” on the victory podium last night), but the effect is now curiously endearing: to see the man doing his thing again after these few years of absence, it’s like watching an old uncle get angry at the remote control of the TV because it was not working properly.

And then there’s Curry, still bouncing back after 13 seasons in the NBA, still boyish at 34 — the man with the guard permanently hanging from his mouth and the ball perpetually on its way through the net. For all the Warriors next-gen brilliance, this victory was built on the backs of Curry’s monsters in Games 4 and 6. After a Game 5 devoid of a single maximum Curry – a true collector’s item – the maestro’s hands came back to him. Last night: Not for the first time in the NBA Finals, and surely not for the last, the second half of the game became its own type of athletic weather system in the form of a tricky, relentless three-way rain coming out at the fingertips of Wardell Stephen Curry II. But Curry was also deadly in those finals without the ball in hand, lifting his teammates even when he shot badly: Game 5, Curry’s teammates shot 63% from the field when he was on the field versus 22% when he was off, continuing a long-standing trend. Part of the reason these warriors have suddenly become likable is because they take such pleasure in working for each other.

Much of the credit for this renewed sense of post-Durant cohesion and solidarity between the Warriors should surely go to Kerr. It’s easy to scoff at Kerr’s political advocacy — the godly sense of duty that accompanies his frequent interventions on gun control, racial justice, or Donald Trump’s presidency. It’s just as easy to question the sincerity of those political commitments, given his cowardly neutrality during the height of the NBA’s tensions with China in 2019 (a stance he’s since said he regrets). But in a country where several high-profile professional sports figures are actively opposed to progressive causes, Kerr’s very public publicity about his politics is far preferable to the proposed alternative. Along with being an extraordinarily effective coach, Kerr remains an impressive, articulate, even-tempered, decent presence in the sport — the anchor that keeps a franchise populated by over-egos moored to a vague notion of reality.

This Warriors championship crowns the third great team of the Kerr era. The 2014-15 champions were the Revolution Team, a group of young perimeter radicals who were attacking the old order of basketball and forever changing the way the sport would be played. The two-time champions of 2016-18 were the team of dominance, a Death Star grinding their opponents to dust in a joyless and inevitable march to victory. This vintage Warriors is the rejuvenation team, a group that radiates the collective joy of recovering from a seemingly terminal illness. There are still, to be clear, plenty of reasons why neutrals don’t like San Francisco’s salvaged waterfront team. Their style of play remains unchanged, their collective mastery of the three-pointer irresistibly intact. And they are still a franchise built for the enjoyment and enrichment of entry-level Amazon and Palantir investors. But somehow, despite all of that, this Warriors team feels distinct, less downright unlikable than back-to-back champions Durant and co. If America’s special genius is a gift for perpetual reinvention – a flair for the second act, adaptability married to innovation – this season’s Warriors are perhaps the most quintessentially American NBA champions to date. day.


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