2022 NBA Finals: Five Lessons in Legacy and Betting From the Warriors’ NBA Title Run
Elsa/Getty Images. Pictured: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors.
On June 26, 2021, the Golden State Warriors were 12-1 to win the 2022 NBA title. They were +900 in preseason. They were even 10-1 to win the title before the playoffs began (per SportsOddsHistory.com).
Now, they are back on top, NBA champions for the fourth time in eight seasons. Those Warriors tickets cashed, and Golden State opened either among the favorites or as the outright championship favorite going into next season.
Here are what lessons to take from Golden State’s latest installment in their dynastic title run.
1. Don’t Be Fooled By Circumstance; Champions Are Champions
Golden State was exhausted in 2019. They were exhausted in 2018, to be honest. In those Finals, David West commented on how draining the season had been, hinting at internal chemistry concerns.
In reality, it was pretty simple. Kevin Durant’s fit-in/fit-out tension was never enough to derail the overwhelming talent of Golden State, but it did push them to the mental breaking point.
Then their bodies gave out — first Durant’s Achilles, then Thompson’s ACL. Durant departed. The next season was basically about recovering from the strain of five straight Finals. They were set to make another run at it in 2020-21, but Thompson tore his Achilles.
Ultimately, it became a half-year, managing Draymond Green and Stephen Curry’s minutes, developing players like Jordan Poole, and making a half-run that ended in the play-in tournament.
So people forgot.
They somehow felt this team was average, that they had lost a step. They were caught up in other stories. It had been three seasons since a Warriors title. The Warriors were no longer in their prime, they were aging out.
Age doesn’t rob you of your best, it robs you of your consistency. It takes your margin for error and narrows it. It doesn’t take your best or those things you learned about what it takes to win a title. It just makes things harder, which makes it all the more worth it when you overcome those things.
This Warriors team is not the old Warriors team. Its style, its attitude, its form, its challenges, and its triumphs were different. It’s the same dynasty, but a different book in a long series written by the defining team of a generation, the Golden State Warriors.
2. What Matters Most Is the Long Game
Look, if the Suns hadn’t inexplicably (or explicably, based on reporting) collapsed vs. the Mavericks, maybe things would go differently, and the story would be different. Golden State had shown an ability to match up with a Suns team that started to crack and shatter by season’s end.
But it’s important not to forget that on Dec. 1, the Warriors were tied with the Suns at 18-3. They had split the first two games with the Suns in the season series and shown they could match up.
Golden State had the best defense in the league for the first two months. They slipped when Draymond Green was injured and again after Green returned when Curry was injured. Green’s injury might have been serious, it was a back injury for a player over 30.
But when Green returned before the season finale, with Curry nursing nothing more than an ankle, which the Warriors hinted was not serious, there was no reason to believe they were any different than the team that began the season in champion-level form.
Did Golden State have fortune in their path? Absolutely, as all champions do. They faced the Nuggets without two key starters, Ja Morant was injured (but after the Warriors had already taken control of the series), and the Mavericks, honestly, were not quite ready for their WCF appearance.
But the Suns faced the Pelicans without Zion Williamson, the Mavericks received the annual Jazz implosion, and then a Suns team that may have had COVID), and the Celtics faced the Nets without several key players, the Bucks without Khris Middleton, and a Heat team barely hanging on.
Get past all these details, and you need to see the whole path of the season. Golden State re-established their identity from the 2015 season: defense, ball movement, and Curry being the baddest man on the planet from range.
Getting caught up in regular-season up and downs without season-ending injuries is folly.
3. Just Bet the Best Player to Win NBA Finals MVP
Let me take a minute to hold up my hand like I committed a foul.
I came up with all sorts of reasons why not to bet on Curry to win Finals MVP. He might have won it had the Warriors lost the series.
Now, look, my crucial mistake was not anticipating that Ime Udoka’s defensive strategy would be to essentially accept Curry’s scoring in pursuit of limiting the Warriors’ offense. I didn’t see “hey, go ahead, Steph” being a strategy from the best defensive team in the league, but it almost worked! The Warriors won this series with their defense (and the Celtics’ offensive ineptitude in terms of turnovers).
But ultimately, the lesson is the same: Curry was the best player in the series going in, the best player in the series throughout it, and the best player in the series at its conclusion.
Next time, let’s just bet the best player in the series to win Finals MVP, or at least not bet any number of players besides him.
4. Implausible Runs Eventually Run Out
Boston started off the year as a sub-.500 team with people questioning the roster construction, the new coach, and whether it was time to break everything up.
Then for six months, they were the best team in basketball until they faced the Warriors.
But along the way, they went seven games with the Bucks, who were without their second-best player. They had to win back games and come back from down 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2. Then they went seven with the Heat, who were running out of steam. They had to come back from down 1-0, 2-1, and win a Game 7 on the road.
Those extra minutes likely contributed to the Celtics’ exhaustion and potentially Jayson Tatum’s injured status. But moreover, they showed that this team was trying to ride an implausible wave. And teams have pulled it off, but the Warriors did not succumb, did not grant the Celtics that good fortune after Game 1.
So what do we do with this Celtics run? Do we fade them? Bet them to run it back, win the East again, go on a revenge tour like the Suns did until … well?
Right now, Boston needs to be a stay-away. Note that is not a fade. Don’t be itching to bet other teams to win the division (even the Nets) or the conference. Don’t build an anti-Boston position when the lines open up.
The Celtics finished with the third most turnovers by a team in six games in the Finals behind the 92 Blazers and 98 Jazz (shout out Jordan and Pippen’s Bulls). They need the ability to settle their offense and get quality looks.
We can argue endlessly whether that means a roster shakeup, internal improvement, or what, but that can’t happen again. They literally gave the Warriors 20 points per game off turnovers.
Boston got the breaks, and it wasn’t enough. They’re not a good bet to win the title or the East … yet.
5. The Legacy Changes Are Slight But Meaningful
Did Curry really need a Finals MVP to validate anything?
No, but it’s nice to check the box and remove the ability for anyone to say he didn’t win one. This was probably Curry’s best playoff series, start to finish considering stage, level of defense, and performance.
So now Curry has four titles, the same as LeBron James. That helps the overall legacy discussions. He’s now very firmly in the top-10 all-time for most people’s lists. He was on a few (including mine) before this title, but four titles puts him in rare company.
Draymond Green saved a big chunk of his legacy with his performance in the final two games. Just when everyone had written him off, he became one of the most impactful players in the league again.
Green to win DPOY next season will have value. Don’t get caught up in the injuries; Green didn’t have a back issue before this season, and it didn’t limit him during. The Celtics specifically game-planned to limit his impact; that’s a credit to what he provides.
Klay Thompson … is a little more concerning. He wasn’t the same guy. He had nights, he had moments, but he’s just not who he was. Still, it’ll be two years since the Achilles, he’ll have had a full season to condition, a full offseason to rest, and then re-train.
But Thompson still adds to his title bag.
Andre Iguodala gets to walk out on top, a four-time champion.
Somewhere in there, as people jump through hoops to take the credit he deserves and give it to Curry, is Steve Kerr.
Kerr now has five titles as a player and four titles as a coach. He’s not in Phil Jackson’s range yet, but it’s also not impossible that he catches his former coach.
Don’t ever, ever forget that the Warriors were a first-round out on the Clippers in 2014. They were a fun story, a nice shooting squad. Then Kerr showed up, and eight seasons later, they have half the titles won.
We race to raise up the flashiest, shiniest new coach, and we get dazzled, understandably, by Curry’s brilliance. But Steve Kerr is one of the best coaches the NBA has ever seen, and his titles are all the proof you need. Do not forget.
Other new stories are being written with this title: Jordan Poole learning what it takes and becoming the Splash Little Brother, Gary Payton II making his mark and matching his famous dad in rings, Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins showing they deserve credit for their contributions.
But this title has less to do with any individual player. It’s Steph’s; make no mistake, he carried them more than in any prior playoff series. It’s also the Warriors, though; it’s proof of concept. It shows they never left, really. They just went to sleep for a bit.
Now they’re back on top, and after everyone, including the market, inexplicably wrote them off, you have no choice but to begin the conversation for the 2023 title futures with these seven words: The reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.