fb-pixel Skip to main content
Sunday basketball notes

Warriors are not taking another run to NBA Finals for granted

Led by Stephen Curry (center), the Warriors eliminated the Mavericks in five games in the Western Conference finals.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty

The Golden State Warriors should be accustomed to reaching the NBA Finals, having beaten the Dallas Mavericks Thursday to advance for the sixth time in the past eight years. But returning to this level is not lost on the Warriors’ veterans, all of whom are in the latter half of their careers.

As brilliant as he is, Stephen Curry is 34 and is finishing his 13th NBA season. Draymond Green is 32 and is completing season No. 10 but he’s been beset by injuries over the past four seasons. Klay Thompson, 32, is returning from two full seasons out with a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles’.

Advertisement



Their return to the Finals was not at all expected. The Phoenix Suns were considered the favorites in the Western Conference, and they cruised to the best record in the NBA, with their eyes on capturing their first title. But the Suns were shockingly knocked off by the Mavericks, and the Warriors overcame the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies and then overwhelmed the Mavericks.

Golden State is back. The dynasty continues and those who have been there for the previous five appearances are appreciative.

“It is just a moment to reflect. I think Draymond just said, a moment to reflect on what it took to get back here,” Curry said. “The fact me, Klay, Draymond, from 2015 to now, six out of eight years having a chance to compete for a championship. The feeling leaving the 2019 Finals and realizing, like, we had been on an amazing journey, then got hit with a lot of adversity, some speed bumps, but never lost the faith we could get back here.”

The Warriors had a chance to win four titles in five years but without Kevin Durant for most of the series and then Thompson tearing his ACL in Game 6, they succumbed to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors. Durant then bolted for the Brooklyn Nets, Thompson missed the entire 2019-20 season, and Curry played five games because of a broken hand.

Advertisement



Curry then carried the Warriors last season but Thompson ruptured his Achilles’ prior to that season, while mainstays Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala departed. They lost in the play-in game to the Grizzlies. With Thompson now healthy, and two more lottery picks from the Andrew Wiggins trade with Minnesota, the Warriors were considered contenders this season.

Wiggins, long considered a disappointment after being a No. 1 overall pick, responded with an All-Star season. Former first-round pick Jordan Poole developed into a No. 2 scoring option. Green returned from a nagging injury for the playoff run and Thompson returned in January and averaged 20.4 points in 32 games.

The boys were back in town, and they were ready for one more deep playoff run.

“This one is very sweet just because of where we were in 2019,” Curry said. “Obviously Klay, KD going down during that playoff run, being so close to winning three in a row. Again, the adversity that you hit over the last two years.

“Like I said, we never lost the faith, but you understand how hard of a process it was going to be to climb the mountain again. And to do it with this team, with guys like Wiggs and J.P. [Poole], Belly, [Nemanja Bjelica] Otto [Porter], GP [Gary Payton II], guys that are amazing at buying into their roles and understanding how they can help us win but hadn’t been on this stage before. It’s just amazing to see them blossom on this stage and find ways to impact winning, then realize how much fun it is.”

Advertisement



Winning is never taken for granted. The Warriors were a lottery team when Curry was drafted in 2009, and he experienced ankle issues early in his career. The club had to determine whether to keep Curry or high-scoring guard Monta Ellis early in his tenure. They traded Ellis to Milwaukee and drafted Thompson and Green, clearing the path for this run.

“Again, just reflecting and celebrating this moment for sure because you can’t take it for granted, nothing’s ever guaranteed, we understand how hard it is to win,” Curry said. “We’ve said that until we’re blue in the face the last two years. This is definitely special. Proud of everybody that, you know, is in that locker room, that came with it all year. Now we have an opportunity to go finish a job.

“Again, just the trust that we all started from humble beginnings back in, what, 2011, ‘12, me and Klay, then Draymond, the first Denver series back in 2013, where we had no idea what the playoffs were like. Just came out and just started hooping, building up that presence on this stage. Every year keep coming back, putting ourselves in that conversation. Then finally get across the finish line in the ‘15 Finals.”

Advertisement



It’s rare to have a trio of All-Stars — all drafted — who are selfless enough to want to win for each other. There has never been conflicts about shots or roles or accolades from Thompson, Curry, or Green.

“Again, all the pieces fit. Our personalities fit. So much trust in each other,” Curry said. “But we are all just so competitive at the end of the day. That’s carried us.

“I think the ability to set the table for pretty much anybody that comes in, be a part of the fold, find their way, elevate their game, take that next step wherever they are in their career. I think we pride ourselves on that more than what we do individually because you got a lot of examples of guys that have been elsewhere and come here and found success. To be able to do it on the biggest of stages, that’s not easy to do.”

“I think internally we are all extremely proud of what it took to get back here. Yeah, it’s definitely sweet based on what we went through.

“We found a way to create the culture that it starts with us, but everybody else gets to eat, too. I guess that’s the fun part.”

Making a stand

Warriors coach Kerr makes impassioned plea

Golden State’s Steve Kerr and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich have been the most vocal NBA coaches regarding social issues. Just hours after the horror in Uvalde, Texas, and just a few hours drive from the incident, Kerr spoke out against the inaction of politicians on gun control and angrily expressed his heartbreak for the murdered children and teachers.

Advertisement



Kerr’s father, Malcolm, was the president of American University in Beirut when he was assassinated in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war. Steve Kerr has been outspoken on social issues since his playing days.

This what he told reporters prior to Golden State’s Game 4 loss.

“I’m not going to talk about basketball. Nothing’s happened with our team in the last six hours. We’re going to start the same way tonight. Any basketball questions don’t matter.

“Since we left shootaround, [19] children were killed 400 miles from here, and [two teachers]. In the last 10 days, we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California, now we have children murdered at school.

“When are we going to do something? I’m tired. I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m so tired. Excuse me. I’m sorry. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough. There’s 50 senators right now who refuse to vote on HR8, which is a background check rule that the House passed a couple years ago. It’s been sitting there for two years. There’s a reason they won’t vote on it: to hold onto power.”

Kerr called out Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“I ask you, Mitch McConnell, all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence, school shootings, supermarket shootings, I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers? Because that’s what it looks like. That’s what we do every week.

“So I’m fed up. I’ve had enough. We’re going to play the game tonight. But I want every person here, every person listening to this, to think about your own child or grandchild, mother or father, sister, brother. How would you feel if this happened to you today?

“We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and go, well, let’s have a moment of silence. Go Dubs. C’mon, Mavs, let’s go. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go play a basketball game.

“Fifty senators in Washington are going to hold us hostage. Do you realize that 90 percent of Americans, regardless of political party, want background checks, universal background checks? Ninety percent of us. We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote, despite what we the American people want.

“They won’t vote on it because they want to hold onto their own power. It’s pathetic. I’ve had enough.”

Coming back from down under

Plans changed for Maker and he is adjusting

In the fall of 2020, Makur Maker made headlines, drew raves and some jeers for his commitment to play at Howard University. He was the 16th-rated prospect in the class of 2020, and his pledge was considered a major boon for HBCU athletics.

But for many college athletes, the 2020-21 season was nothing short of disheartening. The 6-foot-11-inch Maker played in two games before being sidelined with a groin injury. The Bison played five as a team before canceling the season because of the pandemic.

Maker never made the expected splash at Howard, then he decided to leave school and enter the 2021 draft. He rescinded that decision at the deadline and headed to his native Australia to play a season with the Sydney Kings. He played in 15 games, averaging 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in 17 minutes per game.

The potential is there, and Maker remains draft eligible, trying to get back onto NBA radars after nearly two years of disappointment and inactivity. He is working out for teams over the next few weeks, trying to potentially break into the second round.

Maker said the decision to play in Australia, which has several former NBA players, was a maturing experience that will benefit his development. Also, former NBA big men Luc Longley and Andrew Bogut have served as mentors for Maker.

“Playing professional basketball where you grew up and playing for a great team like the Sydney Kings,” he said. “The NBL is a man’s league. It’s very physical and that’s why it’s highly respected. You see Josh Giddey who got drafted, you see LaMelo Ball who got drafted, so it’s definitely a great league.

“I was able to come in and be effective in my role. I impacted the game in so many ways, rebounds, scoring, running the floor, and we won a championship.”

The road to the NBA is not as traditional as in previous generations. Some players skip college and join the G League to sharpen their skills before entering the draft. Ball played in Lithuania and Australia before becoming draft eligible. Anfernee Simons spent a year at IMG Academy before being a first-round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Maker’s road could be to sign with a summer league team as a non-drafted player, join the G League next season, or sign a two-way NBA contract. He doesn’t regret his journey and he’s young enough to enjoy a successful NBA career.

“It definitely has matured me because I say every time, you have to learn how to adapt to things,” he said. “Things are not always going to go the way you planned it. My plan was to go to the NBA coming out of high school, stuff like COVID and the pandemic happened. I had to learn patience. Wherever place I might end up, it’s about patience and it’s all about timing.

“It’s so tough because I’ve done this so many times, wherever I am, high school, make sure I dominate the gym. Things are not always going to be handed to you. That’s how you have to be built, you have to go out there and show it every single day.”

If Maker would have had his choice, he would have led Howard to the NCAA Tournament and enjoyed a banner season before being a lottery pick. But he played a total of 48 minutes. He said he had to devise a new plan.

“The experience at Howard, because not only was the commitment was a big deal, but I also got a chance to bond with my teammates, a lot of good, powerful networking I got over there,” he said. “I know it was a stressful time. The biggest thing I’ve learned is when I got hurt at Howard, the injury wasn’t the biggest thing that shut me down. COVID happened and that hurt everybody.”

The next few weeks will be filled with draft workouts. Maker is not high on the NBA radar, but he promises to project himself into the spotlight again.

“I like going to teams to work out because you are testing your skills,” he said. “I like that process. I wouldn’t say it’s pressure, it’s excitement. It’s almost like that feeling before you play a game. Just being present in the moment and it’s not really pressure. I feel like it’s fun.

“You can only control so much. I’ve seen players who weren’t even on the draft boards get drafted high. That’s opinion-based things. I have to make sure I dominate in those workouts.”

Layups

The Charlotte Hornets have interviewed Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, who has made a good impression as a defensive coach who can galvanize younger players … Team Canada fell just short of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games, so they have ramped up their squad for the 2024 Paris Games, including current NBA players such as Dwight Powell, Shea Gilgeous-Alexander, former Celtic Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph, Jamal Murray, Lu Dort, and Khem Birch. Team Canada has not qualified since 2000 and has experienced some heartbreaking losses in the qualifying tournaments. Coach Nick Nurse said he’s received full summer commitments from his roster with the lone holdout Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, who is undecided about playing. Canada has produced considerable NBA talent since the beginning of the Toronto Raptors in 1995 but rarely has Team Canada been able to gather all of their talent to play for their country. The Canadians should be favored to qualify for Paris … The New Orleans Pelicans received good news this week when former No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson was cleared for full basketball activity, giving him the full summer to get into premium shape and prepare for what could be the most important season in franchise history in New Orleans. The Pelicans are coming off a playoff appearance after a stunning run to grab the final play-in spot. The club acquired CJ McCollum and was helped by emerging rookies Jose Alvarado and Herb Jones and will welcome back point guard Kira Lewis from a season-ending knee injury.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.