Brilliant Curry, transformed Wiggins lead Warriors back to glory

Almost from the time the Golden State Warriors became the Warriors — a modern NBA dynasty playing basketball in a “new” way that defines the sport — they’ve owned the third quarters of key games.

But even by their standards, and even by the standards of Steph Curry, the baby-faced assassin who has been the Warriors’ heartbeat during their near-decade of dominance, it was ridiculous.

Curry was on one of his trademark heaters just after halftime in Game 6 when he stopped for three of the NBA Finals logo at TD Garden on Thursday. It dropped, and so did the Boston Celtics’ shoulders, collectively. And Curry turned to the crowd, waved his finger, and said, “I’m looking for a ring.”

He found it. He deserved it. The 34-year-old completed his best Finals performance on six tries and finished the Celtics with three more at the end of the fourth quarter which he celebrated by jogging on the floor while signaling that he had put the players to sleep. Celtics.

Andrew Wiggins, the kid from Thornhill, Ont., who changed his mind and won the hearts of the Warriors, helped him turn off the lights.

There was no question who would be the Finals MVP as Curry was the pivot around which everything revolved for the Warriors as they completed their rise to the top of the NBA after two injury-plagued seasons that ended in injury. ended with the drawing of lots.

Curry finished Game 6 with 34 points on 12 of 21 shooting and added six rebounds, five assists and four steals in the 103-90 victory. He finished the series averaging 31.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, five assists and two steals while hitting 43.7% of his threes, all against a Celtics defense that had been shredding opponents all day. season and after the season but was powerless against Curry.

The Finals MVP award is his first and should serve as the ultimate rebuttal for the small minority who felt the need to point out that he’s never won the honor before as some sort of gap on his resume.

“I’m thrilled for Steph,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who won his ninth NBA title – five as a player and four as a head coach. “For me, this is his crowning achievement in what has already been an incredible career.”

The Warriors needed Curry like never before.

It wasn’t the Warriors who went 73-9 or had Kevin Durant as the ultimate superstar luxury item. It was a 53-win team that relied on a shooting guard coming off two life-threatening surgeries in Klay Thompson; and a small forward making his first deep playoff run after being called a bust in some corners of Wiggins. Draymond Green couldn’t score anymore and their fifth starter, Otto Porter, was another salvage draft. Their bench was young and untested.

The Warriors were going to go as far as Curry would take them, and he put them on his deceptively strong broad shoulders and took them all the way.

“This one is different for sure, knowing what the last three years have meant, what it’s been from injuries to the changing of the guard in the rosters,” said Curry, who broke down in tears at the final horn. “…I can say it now, I don’t know how many teams could wear this as long as we have the expectations of comparing ourselves now to the teams of the past and getting back to the top of the mountain.

“So a lot of people in this dressing room who are making the most of it, and they should, because of who we are as a team. It’s quite incredible.

But Curry wasn’t the only warrior to use the finale to change a personal narrative. Wiggins completed his transformation from someone seen as an empty calorie scorer on weak Minnesota teams to an elite two-way wing that brought together some of the best basketball of his career when it mattered most.

Wiggins has always shown his ability to rise to the occasion in his career, it’s just that there have never been enough chances. Part of that was on him as a former first overall pick in 2013 who often didn’t play with the kind of intensity one might have expected and part of it was playing in a Minnesota organization that never seemed to be able to do things right.

With the Warriors, his job description was scaled back – defense first, scoring opportunistically – and as the playoff race continued, he seemed to keep finding new ways to put his talent to work. endlessly in the foreground. He provided stirring plays on the offensive and defensive glass, timely scoring all series and proved a thorn in the side of Jayson Tatum, holding the Celtics star to just 36.7% shooting and l helping to make 23 turnovers for the series and five in Game 6. .

Wiggins averaged 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds for the series after having 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks in Game 6.

“Man, there are just a lot of great people here. Great people here challenging you. They hold you accountable,” Wiggins said earlier in the series about why the Warriors suited him so well.

“The support system, everyone on this team, this organization, they support you and they want to see you do good, and they put you in a position to do good… And I feel like I’m pretty easy going, so I just came here and hoop. I play basketball, and I play hard, and I feel like people respect that. And I’m just trying to win. At the end of the day, no matter what it takes or what they expect of me, I’m here to help them win. “

For friends, former teammates and coaches, seeing Wiggins get his due has been a joy.

“I’m not surprised,” said Gus Gymnopoulos, who coached Wiggins at Vaughan Secondary. “He was always a winner and an amazing person.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who starred alongside Wiggins at Huntington Prep, said: “I don’t think Andrew ever wanted to be a superstar. I don’t think he ever wanted to be the No. 1 guy who touched the ball all the time. He is happy to do what he does. You see him in an organization where he’s valued, where they love him and where they’ve positioned him to succeed and it’s obvious how good he really is.

How good the Warriors really are and can be again is another question. Only a handful of teams have won as many as four titles in eight years, and there’s no reason to think they won’t be able to continue.

Curry, at 34, remains at the peak of his powers. Thompson was still finding his legs after missing two seasons with injury, and should be better next season. Wiggins has just entered his prime at 27 and the Warriors have proven adept at developing young talent to help expand the window their veterans have opened up for nearly a decade now.

But if they can’t, if the stars don’t align once again, that title and that performance by Curry, Wiggins and the rest of the Warriors will cement their legacy.

Not that Curry needs it, but it’s always good to be able to remind people who the man was and when, and the 2022 NBA Finals is all anyone will ever need to see.

It was worth wondering if the Celtics would benefit from playing at home. Remarkably, Boston entered Game 6 only 6-5 in front of the raucous TD Garden crowd in the playoffs, including splitting the first two games of this series.

Predictably, the Celtics came out flying. Jaylen Brown had an early pull-up and he and Tatum had a three-clean look after the Celtics started possessions by posting point guard Marcus Smart and taking advantage when the Warriors sent in a second defenseman.

A 12-0 run put the Celtics up 14-2. But the Warriors’ defense stiffened. Brown and Tatum each got into trouble dribbling too much, Wiggins helped get the Warriors on the right track with a deep triple, and slowly Golden State began to reduce initial momentum.

It flipped completely late in the first quarter when Green — the Warriors lightning rod whose offense became an afterthought — hit his first three of the series on a Curry setup.

Curry then went wild in transition for a three of his own, his first after missing all nine attempts in Game 5 and his first in Game 6. After a Wiggins block on Tatum, Jordan Poole hit another in a series of remarkable three. in the series, this time a triple conceded and the Warriors led 27-22.

But the Warriors were just getting started. They opened the second quarter on a big run that featured all of the Celtics’ biggest problems since their quarterbacks lost in this series – rushing shots from two; and tunnel vision on penetration leading to Boston turnovers. It allowed Golden State either extra possessions or easy looks in transition and it all added up to a 21-0 Finals record and a 37-22 Warriors lead.

The Celtics made a push but the Warriors were ready. It felt like they could smell the finish line, and after coming away with a lucky win in Game 4 and then pulling away from Boston in the fourth quarter of Game 5, they could feel their luck was at hand.

Curry cut the rebound defense for a layup to push the Warriors lead to 15 before Green found a cutting Thompson for a layup. Thompson then curled a screen for a three and the Warriors lead was as big as 21.

The Celtics looked bewildered. Tatum is one of the most gifted players in the NBA, but he found himself puking lopsided and reversed layup attempts on transition. The Celtics are 2-14 in the playoffs and 0-2 in this series when making 16 or more turnovers and they’ve made 13 in the first half alone – against just 12 assists – the gifts representing 11 Warriors points. Golden State also topped the offensive glass, 9-2, as the Warriors had 49 shots to Boston’s just 36.

The Warriors looked set to run away from the Celtics in the third – Curry’s triple logo looking for a ring was his third and the Warriors’ sixth in the opening six minutes of the quarter. But the Celtics did not give in. Three by Smart and Brown and a three-point play by Al Horford on a 16-4 run helped cut the Warriors’ lead to 10 to start the fourth quarter.

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