After two arduous seasons, Warriors’ core trio reach sixth NBA Finals

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SAN FRANCISCO — When the Golden State Warriors have it going, they make the defense look lost and apprehensive, overwhelmed by their quick decisions and even quicker triggers. But when the Warriors really have it going, their harmony of motion renders invisible their opponents and a high-stakes playoff game starts to look a bit like a pregame walk-through in an empty gym.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and company reached that extra level Thursday, picking apart the Dallas Mavericks with curls and back cuts, jumpers and dunks, to post a 120-110 win and become the first team since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990s to reach the NBA Finals six times in an eight-year span. Clad in black from head to toe, the Warriors treated Game 5 like a formal dance, understanding the gravity of the occasion and executing their steps on cue.

By winning the Western Conference, the Warriors completed a remarkable turnaround from a pair of injury-plagued seasons following Kevin Durant’s departure in which they finished with the league’s worst record in 2019-20 and missed the playoffs again in 2021. Now they will seek their fourth title under Coach Steve Kerr against the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat. Curry, whose comeback from a March foot sprain powered this playoff journey, was named the inaugural winner of the Magic Johnson award, given to the MVP of the Western Conference finals, after he averaged 23.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the series.

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“It’s a moment to reflect on what it took to get back here,” Curry said. “The feeling leaving the 2019 Finals, we had been on an amazing journey and got hit with a lot of adversity and some speed bumps. We never lost the faith, but you understand how hard of a process it was going to be to climb the mountain again.”

After an unsettled showing in a Game 4 loss mere hours after the Uvalde, Tex., school shooting, Golden State gathered itself at home and raced out of the gate with a balanced attack. Kevon Looney opened the scoring inside, Thompson drained a three-pointer, and Curry set up an Andrew Wiggins dunk and hit a three of his own. Within four minutes, the Warriors were up nine, and their lead swelled to 17 at halftime and 25 in the third quarter. Despite a gallant Dallas comeback attempt, Golden State held on for a resounding victory at Chase Center.

While Curry, who finished with 15 points, three rebounds and nine assists, took a step back offensively to serve as orchestrator, Thompson and Green turned in big performances to finish off the Mavericks. In the first half, Green found Thompson coming off a screen with a perfectly timed pass for a three-pointer. Early in the second half, Green pushed the ball up the middle in transition and flipped an extended behind-the-back pass to Thompson for another three. With the score tightened early in the fourth, Thompson returned the favor, threading a pass to Green for a basket in the paint.

Thompson, who missed 941 days with knee and Achilles’ injuries before returning to the court in January, delivered the dagger by hitting his eighth three-pointer of the night to give Golden State a 15-point lead with 2:59 remaining. He finished with a game-high 32 points, two rebounds and three assists.

“This time last year, I was just starting to jog again,” Thompson said. “Now to be feeling like myself, feeling explosive, feeling sure in my movements, I’m just grateful. The low moments make the high ones so much sweeter. That’s what I’ve learned.”

Green added 17 points, six rebounds and nine assists, leading Golden State’s versatile defense and serving as a key facilitator for the No. 1 ranked offense in the playoffs.

“This is a group that no one thought could get back here,” Green said. “After being counted out [by people saying that] the dynasty is over and all those things, to get back here is fantastic. No one has proven they can beat us yet when we’re whole. That’s still the case. Never doubt what we’re capable of.”

The Warriors’ core trio received hugs from Kerr as they were treated to standing ovations from the home crowd when they checked out of the game with the win in hand. Curry waved his towel enthusiastically as the final seconds ticked off and clapped toward the crowd while donning an NBA Finals hat with his teammates for the postgame trophy presentation.

Former Warriors guard Shaun Livingston presented the Western Conference championship trophy to Green and the rest of his former teammates. Green later lifted Curry off the ground as the crowd chanted “M-V-P!”

All these years after they arrived on the scene as title contenders in 2015, the Warriors still possess a delightful duality: They seem to be making things up as they go along with their unpredictable offensive style, yet they still find a way to end up at their desired destination. To wit, Golden State improved to 9-0 at home in these playoffs, with all three of its closeout wins coming at Chase Center. Since 2015, the Warriors have a 72-21 record and a perfect 18-0 series mark against West foes in the playoffs.

“You can call them a dynasty,” Mavericks Coach Jason Kidd said. “They have three great players who will be all Hall of Famers, and this is a great lesson learned for us.”

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Dallas, a surprise entrant in the West finals after it upset the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, acquitted itself well. Luka Doncic led the way Thursday with a team-high 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Spencer Dinwiddie added 26 points, including five three-pointers, off the bench. Doncic powered a frantic third-quarter rally that trimmed Dallas’s deficit to eight, but over the course of the series his singular talent was dwarfed by Golden State’s advantages in experience and depth.

“I’m really proud of this team, everybody, every player, every staff member,” said Doncic, who pledged to continue working on his defense during the offseason. “Nobody had us here. But I promise we fought until the end. Congratulations to the Warriors. They were obviously the better team.”

Perhaps still feeling the effects of the past two seasons, which included Curry suffering a long-term hand injury and Thompson enduring two extended injury rehabilitations, the Warriors were careful not to get ahead of themselves as they closed in on this series win. Kerr dodged a question about the possibility of a Finals trip shortly before Game 5, and Curry was similarly mum when asked earlier this week whether this postseason run was especially gratifying at this stage of his career.

The Warriors didn’t skip steps to make it this far after their two-year hiatus, and they weren’t about to start now.

“Nothing’s ever guaranteed,” Curry said. “We understand how hard it is to win. We’ve said that until we’re blue in the face the last two years. This is definitely special. Now we have an opportunity to go finish the job.”

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