The Golden State Warriors' Road Back to Becoming NBA Champions

Andrew Wiggins Golden State Warriors

James Budgen

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The Golden State Warriors' Road Back to Becoming NBA Champions

In 2019 the Golden State Warriors were appearing in their 5th straight NBA Finals looking for their third NBA Championship in a row, but injuries to key players left them not only without the title, but for the first time in many years, doubts about their ability to win another title.

The 2019 summer was big for the Warriors, their two-time finals MVP Kevin Durant, not only tore his ACL in the NBA Finals, but was also looking to leave the team as a free agent, and he did as he chose to move to the Brooklyn Nets, but at the final minute.

The Warriors front office sealed a game-changing sign and trade which secured them, D'Angelo Russell, in return for Kevin Durant, whilst 2015 finals MVP Andre Iguodala also departed for the Miami Heat before returning last year.

The Warriors also had the 28th pick in the draft, and picked a guard from Michigan, Jordan Poole, and was described by some experts as a poor pick as they didn’t see the potential there for him to be selected in the first round.

This was seen as a move in a different direction, removing some of the core that has led them their massive success, with Draymond Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who had just tore his ACL, the only remnants of their five straight finals run.

The 2019/20 seasons couldn’t have been worse for the Warriors, with Thompson already out for the season, but Curry broke his hand early in the season, derailing their season even before it had begun and by the end of the season they were left with the worst record in the league, going 15-50.

Klay Thompson Golden State Warriors

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The Start of the Turnaround

A pivotal point in the season was when the Warriors front office traded their recently acquired guard D'Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the former number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins and a first-round pick.

Wiggins' reputation in the league at the time was not the greatest, he was viewed as a player that had the talent and potential to be one of the best players in the league, but his work ethic was questioned with consistency being a stick that people kept beating him with.

After seemingly going wrong in the 19/20 season, the Warriors were confident again coming into the 20/21 season, but again before it began, it was ended as Thompson picked up another season-ending injury as he ruptured his Achilles, forcing him to miss a second straight season.

The Warriors used this season as a chance to develop some of their new players into the world-renowned ball movement system, with Wiggins having the most efficient season of his career, Poole showing incremental improvement over the season, whilst Curry and Green did their usual work, but it wasn’t enough as they didn’t make the playoffs after losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament.

Draymond Green Golden State Warriors

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The Odds Were Stacked Against The Warriors

Moving into this season, the Warriors were counted out, not just as title candidates, but even being a top seed in the Western Conference, but out of the gates they came out with a chip on their shoulders, starting the season with a record of 18-2, without Klay Thompson, with their new players filling in their roles perfectly.

Jordan Poole had become a starter and started to average around 20 points a game, Andrew Wiggins had become a good facilitating scorer, whilst turning into one of the best defenders in the league, with new recruits in Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr and old recruits in Andre Iguodala creating the perfectly balanced roster around Steph Curry and Draymond Green.

January 9th saw the return of fan favourite Thompson after not playing an NBA game for 941 days, and while his integration into the team was gradual and it had its ups and downs over the past five months after two of the worst injuries possible in sport, his comeback into the team was crucial, not only for his great skill set, but the uplifting morale of having such a great character back into the team after such a difficult couple of years.

The end to the regular season was not easy for the Warriors, with Curry and Green having injuries that caused them to fall to the third seed in the Western Conference and before the play-offs had started, the trio of Curry, Green and Thompson had not played together since game six of the 2019 NBA Finals.

Before the play-offs had started, the Warriors were not even favourites to come out of the West, with the Phoenix Suns the popular pick to advance into the NBA Finals after the Warriors' troubling end to the season.

Steph Curry Golden State Warriors

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The Warriors Play-off Run

After missing the last 12 games of the regular season, two-time MVP Steph Curry accepted the role of coming off the bench for the first four games of the series against the Denver Nuggets, which allowed for the breakout of 22-year-old Jordan Poole to find his feet in his first NBA play-offs, helping them beat the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in five games.

In the second round of the play-offs, they were facing the Memphis Grizzlies, and after controlling a lot of the series, and Ja Morant being out, they lost game five of the series by 39 points, and despite them winning the series the next game, they were still doubted to win the title.

In the other bracket, Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks had defeated the favourites Phoenix Suns and looked to cause another upset against the Warriors, but the Warriors showed no mercy as they beat the Mavericks from pillar to post, with Wiggins’ defence of Doncic the key to controlling the series.

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Golden State Warriors vs Boston Celtics

NBA Finals Warriors Celtics

Heading into their sixth NBA finals in eight years, the Warriors were facing a new challenger in the Boston Celtics, who were seen as a big threat to the Warriors regaining their place at the top of the perch, after knocking out Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler.

However, the Warriors’ heard this talk and with contributions by all their players that they had developed and trusted in over the years.

Their 28th overall pick in Jordan Poole had developed into one of the best bench options in the league and averaged 13 points per game in the finals, hitting some clutch shots and came changing, buzzer-beating shots which really gave the Warriors momentum in games.

Wiggins, who was seen as a negative asset when they traded for him, became an all-star starter, and not only did he average 18 points and eight rebounds per game in the finals, but he also played exceptional defence on Jayson Tatum, limiting to only 37% shooting from the field.

After missing two and a half seasons, Thompson came back into the team, and after struggling at points in the series, his defence in the finals got better and better as the series went on, and was crucial to the Warriors limiting the Celtics to scoring under 100 points in four of the six games in the series.

Draymond Green took a lot of the beats midway through this series after really struggling to impose himself on the series, but he heard the talk and in the past two games, he stepped up on both ends and imposed himself on the game and the Celtics couldn’t do anything offensively when Green was on the floor.

Curry had received a lot of undeserved criticism despite one of the all-time great careers, and after not winning the finals MVP in his three championships, it was popular opinion that the award was going to be the one knock on the career of Curry.

Curry came alive in the play-offs and showed why he is a contender for a place in the top ten players of all time, and on the defensive player of the year, Marcus Smart, in the finals, he averaged 31 points per game, six rebounds, five assists and two steals per game to seal himself a fourth NBA Championship.

In 2019, after losing Durant to the Brooklyn Nets, and Thompson to injury, it was expected that the Warriors will be good again, but there were doubts that they would reach the top of the pile, but the resilience of their players, great coaching and great front office decisions, the Warriors secured a fourth NBA title in eight years.

It was not only The Golden State Warriors' most unlikely win, but in their words, their favourite after the multitude of struggles they endured over the past couple of years.

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