Stephen Curry made a career of never letting anyone see him sweat, and yet when the Golden State Warriors closed out the NBA Finals with a deathly clinical 103-90 victory over the Boston Celtics, he wept like an entire kindergarten class upon learning that the field trip to the zoo had just been canceled.
Draymond Green made a career of never having an unspoken thought, and yet when the Warriors took Boston’s best punch and then kicked their ass for the game’s remaining 44 minutes, he said almost nothing while doing nearly everything. His performance was so comprehensively great that the chant, “Fuck You, Draymond!” came from his teammates in the postgame celebration, which by any measure is better than any old t-shirt.
Klay Thompson had a nearly invisible game, which didn’t do much for his Game 6 Klay persona, but when the Warriors celebrated their fourth title in eight years he wore a Bahamian flag like a $30,000 red carpet suit.
And Andrew Wiggins was maybe happiest of all, because he had just become a made man on a dynastic team, and had left his bust-adjacent days behind him. He is still on the max contract that made him an salary-cap albatross just a few years ago, but Wiggins spent this season going from tragicomically overpaid to somehow underpaid, overexposed to undervalued. He won all that a fellow can win, without ever having to say so.
That we now have these answers shouldn’t erase how much there was to question about not just the Warriors’ improbable run to glory. They literally did not gather as a unit until the regular season ended, thus proving that not only is the regular season too long, but that it may be entirely unnecessary. Once the whole team was healthy enough to play together, they really were great, if never nearly as dominant as the championship (or near-championship) teams of the previous decade. They were fascinating, in short, and these Warriors made a six-game series in which there were no single-digit victories seem riveting.
Mostly, though, Golden State became the NBA champions with the worst regular-season record in 16 years because they saved their very best roster, rotations, and defensive performances for last. They held the Celtics to 92 points per game and encouraged 18 turnovers per game in their four victories, and though Curry won the Finals MVP in a unanimous vote—another victory in that doing so coldly murdered one of the most persistently stupidest narratives in recent basketball history—this was mostly a victory not for the Warriors’ ability to do whatever they wanted, but their skill at preventing opponents from doing what they wanted. That quality was a part of their previous championship teams, but it was obscured by the offensive fireworks. This time, the finger sailed into your eye more or less unobscured.
The Warriors weren’t breathtakingly elegant in victory so much as they were chokehold-level ornery. They exposed the Celtics for what they actually were—a very good team that was not quite ready, in either talent or mentality, to fully do the do. Boston needed Game 6 in the worst way, and yet they emptied their last chamber four minutes into the game. They won those minutes by any standard, and were up 14-2 after 237 seconds, but then lost it irrevocably in the next 426, ending on a Curry trey with 56 seconds left in the period.
For what the Warriors did not just in that stretch but for the remaining 37 minutes, they should have been made to wear black trench coats, leather gloves, and silencers on the gun barrels. There have been series with this shape in this postseason, but this wasn’t one of those. Boston wasn’t Memphis, and Golden State wasn’t Minnesota. It was all Mike Breen could muster to try and create the illusion that every Boston basket in the second half was the potential harbinger of a jaw-slackening Celtic comeback. But there were no bangs left.
While Celtophiles will try desperately to view this as a title that got away, it was actually a title that the Warriors claimed not by divine right but practiced cussedness. The Celtics weren’t beaten by Curry or Wiggins or Green, individually or even together, but rather by the concept of ensemble strangulation that has been Steve Kerr’s M.O. since he left ABC and jilted the New York Knicks to inherit the team primed by others to become the game’s most defining and dominant force.
There will be a few days while the game’s pundit corps debates what this title means to Golden State’s historical footprint (hint: it adds a big toe for balance) and struggles to rejigger its thumbnail of Curry as a player who hasn’t done everything a superstar should do (hint: unless it includes Executive of the Year). That noise needs to be made, or anyway will be made, because the ad time has already been sold and that is the business. But eventually the cold reality will settle in and will be left with this inescapable truth, which is this:
Of all the things the Golden State Warriors do, the thing they do best is grind their opponents into dust. For all the stylish exteriors, dashboard and upholstery, the Warriors are at heart an off-road vehicle that crashes through trees and runs over bears; the high quality of the paint job should not distract or detract from the brutality of the engine or the resilience of the suspension. At this point, after this win, it is just a matter of following the tire tracks where they lead.
And now they are the dead dynasty that lives again. Just ask the website FiveThirtyEight, which created an algorithm that said the Warriors couldn’t make the playoffs, let alone slap them stupid. But don’t think of it as a victory over analytics. Think of it instead as a victory for the simpler values of the spiny exoskeleton and the irremovable tentacle grip, and a crushing defeat for the pre-fab narrative whores. It’s a restoration, in a bunch of ways.
For instance: Green played a game in this series so bad that his mother was left scratching her head, followed by two magnificent ones. Wiggins resuscitated a reputation that had been so Timberwolved that he was once regarded as a tower of listlessness; he is now the definitive example of destroyed preconceptions. Thompson showed that legs can be rebuilt, and also that the spirit of a guy who swims in the San Francisco Bay just for the hell of it is not to be trifled with. Kerr showed that tactical flexibility and strategic dogmatism can co-exist. Joe Lacob and Bob Myers showed that the luxury tax can be rendered totally bullshit if one has the persuasive powers and iron spine to ignore it, and the smarts to make that aggressiveness count.
And Curry showed that he can still kill any opponent with a single thought, applied over and over, and then cry over the sheer relief of finally rendering the last of his critics mute and moot, at once. His tears are dry now, and his hard-shell faceplate has been restored. He has a parade and a taping of Holey Moley to get to, and at some point soon he will find the time to scrub the crypto ads that mark the only true misstep of a season, which is somehow his 13th, that was mostly spent kicking all the ass placed before him. There is only the idolatry left for him, now.
And the Celtics? Their job between now and next April is to figure out a way to grow up and out in time for next playoff season so that they don’t become this generation’s Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Seattle SuperSonics, or Utah Jazz—afterthoughts in someone else’s Last Dance. If this really is the last one.