These 2022 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, which tip off Thursday night in San Francisco, offer no shortage of basketball intrigue. Two dynastic franchises going head to head: the Celtics are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most NBA championships in history (17), and the Warriors have claimed three of the past seven NBA crowns. East Coast vs. West Coast. This is also a matchup of the two best defensive teams during the regular season. Grizzled veterans of Golden State—Stephen Curry (34), Draymond Green (32), and Klay Thompson (32), who each have a trio of titles to their games—facing off against Boston’s upstart All-Stars, Jayson Tatum (24) and Jaylen Brown (25), plus NBA defensive player of the year Marcus Smart (28), who are all squarely in their prime.
As attractive as Warriors-Celtics portends to be, many fans, pundits, and even players, have gathered in the obsessive town square, dubbed “NBA Twitter,” and refused to let go of the past. They’ve taken Golden State’s return to the NBA Finals, following two seasons marked by injuries and rebuilding, as an occasion to poke two future Hall of Famers. Can Curry truly be considered one of the greatest of all-time if he’s never actually won an NBA Finals MVP award? And did the winner of back-to-back (2017, 2018) Finals MVPs with Golden State, Kevin Durant, disproportionately benefit from Curry’s presence on the court? Or was it more the other way around?
Before you shout “who cares?” to the rafters, note that some principal players themselves have helped raise the volume on all this chatter. In an interview with Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports, Green praised Durant’s performances in the Finals wins, before arguing that he had it easier than Curry in those games. “Steph Curry got double teamed probably seven-times the amount that KD did,” says Green. “If you’re capable of analyzing the game, then under no circumstances are you going to say Steph Curry needs a Finals MVP to validate who he is.”
KD chimes in
Durant himself, as is his habit, took to Twitter to swat away Green’s take. “This true @KDTrey5?” a fan asked Durant on Twitter on Tuesday. Durant responded: “From my view of it, this is 100% false.” Durant continued to go back and forth with fans. @kburn3r chimed in: “kd you gotta admit it went both ways… playing with [Curry] made it easier for you and him.” Durant’s reply: “I only hear about how it benefitted me though.”
Green entered the fray later in the day. “You have to learn to listen to full takes and not snippets before you get baited into tweeting Champ,” Green wrote to his former Warriors and Olympic teammate, with whom he shared some tense moments in the past. KD ended on a diplomatic note. “Oh I seen it my brethren, I appreciate the compliments but I disagree with what u said about double teams that’s all,” Durant wrote. “I love the show.”
While many believe that Durant’s Twitter usage gives away some of his insecurities—and there’s some undeniable truth there—I more appreciate his candor, and willingness to talk to fans in an unfiltered setting. Durant’s a rare star who offers a peek inside his head. Such insight is a benefit of social media.
Still, this Warriors-Celtics series is not about him, or his past interplay with Curry. Both Curry and Durant are great on their own—and were great with each other. Curry does not need to win this championship, without Durant, to cement his legacy: remember, he, Green, and Thompson won the 2015 crown, with a supporting cast of Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and other effective role players. Similarly, a Warriors victory does not dilute Durant’s splendor during his Golden State years—or now.
Durant led Team USA to a gold medal in Tokyo last summer, while most of his superstar brethren couldn’t be bothered interrupting their vacations. Sure, his decision to ditch the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2019 hasn’t paid legacy dividends: the Nets were eliminated in a tough second-round series, by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks, a year ago, and Boston swept Brooklyn in the first round this season. But these results have less to do with his play, and are more due to injuries, questionable trade decisions by the Nets—the James Harden era in Brooklyn was a failed experiment—and Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated, a decision that kept him sidelined for most of this season.
A golden rebuild
Forget Brooklyn. Forget the 2018 Golden State Warriors. Turn to the present. Warriors management smartly rebuilt around its core three players, who have all overcome injuries—and questions about their durability—to win the West once again. Once Durant declared his intent to leave, General Manager Bob Myers managed to pull off a sign-and-trade deal in the summer of 2019, flipping KD for dynamic point guard D’Angelo Russell, a player the team knew was unlikely to coexist with Curry/Thompson Splash Brothers act long-term but could be a valuable trade chip. And indeed, in February of 2020 Golden State sent Russell and some bench players to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins, an athletic 6’7″ forward, and a couple of 2021 draft picks. Wiggins struggled with his efficiency as an offensive centerpiece in Minnesota, but has thrived in a more complementary role besides Curry, Green, and now Thompson, who returned from a two-plus season hiatus, due to an ACL tear and Achilles injury, in January. Wiggins shot a career-high 39% from three-point range this season and made the All-Star team.
Golden State has also drafted cleverly, and developed young players like guard Jordan Poole, the late-first-round pick in 2019 who’s emerged as a severe scoring threat; he’s averaging 18.4 points per game in the playoffs and shoots over 90% from the foul line. The Warriors have an opportunity to write one of the great team success stories of all-time, joining franchises like the San Antonio Spurs, who won five championships over a 15-year span from 1999-2014, and the post-Shaq, Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers, who after the 2000-2002 three-peat won two more titles in 2009 and 2010, as organizations who were able to rotate new casts of supporting players around a core star or stars, and still reach the top. They’ll be a dynasty that stretched across a decade.
Unless the Celtics—remember them?—spoil the ending.