BOSTON — It turns out the dynasty had just been paused.
Golden State has won the NBA championship again, four seasons after its last one. It is the franchise’s seventh title and the fourth for its three superstars: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who have spent the past decade growing up together, winning together and, over the past three years, learning how fragile success can be.
On Thursday, they defeated the Boston Celtics, 103-90, in Game 6 of the NBA finals. They won the series, 4-2, and celebrated their clinching victory on the parquet floor of TD Garden, below 17 championship banners, in front of a throng of disappointed partisans.
With 24 seconds left in the game, Curry found his father near the baseline, hugged him and shook as he sobbed in his arms. Then Curry turned back toward the game. He put his hands on his head and squatted down, then fell onto the court.
“I think I blacked out,” Curry said later.
He thought about the past few months of the playoffs, about the past three years, about the people who didn’t think he could be here again.
“You get goose bumps just thinking about all those snapshots and episodes that we went through to get back here,” Curry said.
Curry, who scored 34 points in the clinching game, was named the most valuable player of the finals. It was the first time in his career he’s won the award.
“Without him, none of this happens,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said. “To me, this is his crowning achievement.”
Boston put up a fight.
The Celtics took a 14-2 lead to open the game, playing better than they did in their lackluster start to Game 5, but Golden State’s firepower threatened to overwhelm them. For nearly six minutes of playing time from late in the first quarter until early in the second, Boston couldn’t score.
Golden State built a 21-point lead in the second quarter, and kept that cushion early in the third.
With 6 minutes 15 seconds left in the third, Curry hit his fifth 3 of the game, giving his team a 22-point lead. He held out his right hand and pointed at his ring finger, sure he was on his way to earning his fourth championship ring.
The moment might have motivated the Celtics, who responded with a 12-2 run. Ultimately, though, they had too much ground to recover.
Golden State after two seasons of subpar records, one which made it the worst team in the NBA celebrated Its players and coaches spent those seasons waiting for Thompson’s injuries to heal, for Curry’s (fewer) injuries to heal and for new or young pieces of their roster to grow into taking on important roles.
When they became whole again, the three-player core talked about cementing their legacy.
They were so much younger when their journeys together began. Golden State drafted Curry in 2009, Thompson in 2011 and Green in 2012.
Curry was 27 when they won their first championship together in 2015. Thompson and Green were both 25.
That season was also Kerr’s first as the team’s coach.
Golden State went 67-15 and breezed through the playoffs to the NBA finals, having no idea how hard getting there could be. The next year the team set a league record with 73 regular-season wins but lost in a return trip to the finals. Kevin Durant joined the team in free agency that summer, and Golden State won the next two championships, becoming hailed as one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
The champions grew as people and players during this stretch. Curry and Green added children to their families. They were rock stars on the road, with swarms of fans waiting for them at their hotels. Three championships in four seasons made Golden State seem invincible.
Only injuries could stop them.
The dynastic run ended in devastating fashion in 2019 during their fifth consecutive finals appearance. Durant had been struggling with a calf injury, then tore his right Achilles’ tendon in Game 5 of the finals against Toronto and left the team for the Nets in the off-season. Thompson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the next game. The Raptors won the championship that day.
“It was the end of an era at Oracle,” Curry said, referring to Golden State’s former arena in Oakland, Calif. The team moved to Chase Center in San Francisco in 2019. He added: “You’re getting ready for the summer, trying to regroup and figure out what’s going to happen next year.”
The two seasons of futility that followed were difficult for all of them, but no more than for Thompson, who also tore his right Achilles’ tendon during the fall of 2020, sidelining him for an additional year.
During this year’s finals, he has often thought about that journey.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Thompson said. “I’m very grateful and everything I did to that point led to this.”
Heading into this season, Golden State wasn’t expected to return to this stage so soon. This was particularly true because heading into the season, Thompson’s return date was unclear.
But then, hope. Golden State opened the 2021-22 campaign by winning 18 of its first 20 games. The team had found a gem in Gary Payton II, who had been cast aside by other teams because of his size or because he was not a standout 3-point shooter. Andrew Wiggins, acquired in a 2020 trade with Minnesota, Kevon Looney, who was drafted weeks after that 2015 championship, and Jordan Poole, a late-first-round pick in 2019, showed why the team valued them so much.
Curry set a career record for 3-pointers and mentored the team’s younger players.
Who could say how good this team might be once Thompson returned?
That answer came in the playoffs.
Golden State beat the Denver Nuggets in five games, and the Memphis Grizzlies in six. Then Dallas took only one game from Golden State in the Western Conference finals.
Curry, Thompson and Green, the engine of five straight finals runs, came into this year’s championship series completely changed.
“The things that I appreciate today, I didn’t necessarily appreciate those things then,” Green said. “In 2015, I hated taking pictures and, you know, I didn’t really put two and two together. Like, man, these memories are so important.”
They vowed not to take for granted any part of the finals experience, even the negative parts.
Throughout the series, Boston fans chanted at Green using an expletive. During the champagne celebration in the postgame locker room, his teammates mimicked them.
“It’s beautiful,” Green said. “You embrace the tough times, and that’s what we do and that’s how we come out on top. For us, it was a beautiful thing. To hear my teammates chant that, it don’t get much better than that.”
They faced a Boston Celtics team that was young, just like they were in 2015, led by the 20-somethings Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, shepherded by the elder statesman Al Horford. The Celtics did almost everything the hard way as they sought the storied franchise’s 18th championship.
They swept the Nets in the first round but went to seven games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat. They won when they had to, and committed too many careless turnovers when they didn’t.
Boston was the younger, stronger and more athletic team in the finals. The Celtics did not fear Golden State, or the grand stage, and proved it by winning Game 1 on the road. Until Game 5, the Celtics had not lost back-to-back games in the playoffs.
Curry had his way against Boston’s defense in Game 4, scoring 43 points. Then in Game 5, the Celtics stymied his efforts, only to have his teammates make up the ground he lost.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Green recalled a moment during Golden State’s flight to Boston from San Francisco between Games 5 and 6. He, Thompson and Curry were sitting together when they were spotted by Bob Myers, the team’s general manager and president of basketball operations.
“He’s like: ‘Man, y’all are funny. Y’all still sit together. Y’all don’t understand, it’s 10 years. Like, this does not happen. Guys still sitting together at the same table,’” Green recalled. “He’s like, ‘Guys are not even on the same team for 10 years, let alone still sitting there at the same table and enjoying each other’s conversation and presence.’”
At a separate news conference a few minutes later, Thompson was asked about that moment and why the three of them still enjoy each other’s company. Curry stood against a wall, watching, waiting for his turn to speak.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Thompson said. “I owe Draymond some money in dominoes, so I don’t want to see him too many times.”
Curry bent at the waist, doubled over with quiet laughter.
“I was half asleep,” Thompson continued. “Draymond and Bob were chatting their hearts away for six hours on a plane ride. I was just trying to get some sleep.”
Curry said later, “All the personalities are so different. Everybody comes from different backgrounds. But we’ve all jelled around a collective unit of how we do things, whether it’s in the locker room, on the plane, the hotels, like whatever it is. We know how to have fun and jell and keep things light but also understand what we’re trying to do and why it all matters in terms of winning games.”
The next day they won their fourth championship together. They gathered in a crowd and jumped around together. When Curry won MVP finals, they chanted “MVP” along with everyone else onstage.
Long after the celebration ended, Thompson and Curry remained up there together, sitting together at times, dancing together at times. Thompson looked down off the stage and said he didn’t want to leave.
Curry descended before Thompson did, but first he stood on the top step. He held a cigar between his lips, and clutched the MVP trophy in his left hand.