Golden State’s road to the NBA Finals

Published June 1, 2022, 5:00 PMJon Carlos Rodriguez
Jon Carlos Rodriguez

After taking down the Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Mavericks, the Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight years.

Three years – that much time has passed since the Golden State Warriors’ last trip to the NBA Finals. For Dub Nation, three years is such a long time. For the Warriors themselves, it must have been eternity.

“We back,” said Draymond Green after the Warriors sent home the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. He said a couple more words, but these two were the ones that stood out, the ones that were said the loudest, and the ones had the most meaning. It’s been three years since the Warriors were good. It’s been a long climb back up to the top.

The 2021-2022 season felt like the one. It was the season where Steph Curry would break the record for most 3s made in league history and the season where Klay Thompson would return from injury. It was special right from the start, but even then, the Warriors’ season was far from perfect.

Injuries to Draymond Green and Steph Curry made the Warriors’ party a bit less fun during the regular season, but if you looked closely at the bits and pieces of moments that defined this version of the Warriors, you’d find bits and pieces of greatness.

Landing at third in the West, the Warriors drew the Denver Nuggets in the first round. Denver was a team that faced its own roster problems. Nikola Jokic’s turn as a one-man wrecking crew extended the Nuggets’ season longer than it probably should have been. 

The series gave us a few “wild ending” videos on YouTube, but Golden State was just the deeper, stronger team. But with the MVP in Jokic out of the picture, the road to the Finals didn’t clear up one bit. Instead, it paved the way to a new breed of roadblocks: the Memphis Grizzlies.

Memphis snatched No. 2 in the West, taking advantage of that small window of opportunity when the Warriors began dropping games in the second half of the season. They’re a young bunch—brash, relentless, carefree. Much, much different from what the Nuggets had to offer.

Still, the Warriors matched them, a testament to how agile their roster is and how much talent they have. With every Grizzlies highlight, a wiser, improved version came out from the Warriors side. When the Warriors got sloppy, the Grizzlies were sloppier. 

Six games in and a couple of devastating injuries to Gary Payton II and Ja Morant, the Warriors prevailed. With the top-seeded Phoenix Suns flaming out in their own matchup with the persevering Dallas Mavericks, it looked more and more like Golden State destiny.

The Western Conference Finals looked like mere formality. It was a Luka Doncic showcase, yes, but in the bigger picture, the Warriors were on a one-way track to the finals. There was no stopping them, not the MVP, not the new Grizzlies grind, not even Luka’s generational talent. The Boston Celtics are the last box to tick off for the championship.

The Warriors, in their current state, are in a sweet spot. The Big 3 of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are intact. They have new blood infused in Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevon Looney. A healthy mix of vet-savvy and Gen Z swag. A dangerous mash-up between Warriors legacy and new Dub mentality.

Most teams who have gone through the stretch of top-level playoff basketball are usually robbed of the ability to get second chances. Roster changes, injuries, stagnancy, and teams catching up to them end the run.

With six finals appearances in eight years, the Warriors aren’t done yet. They’re back, Draymond said. Looking back at their run up to the finals, it feels like they never even left.