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Padecky: Warriors play unselfish team basketball to reach NBA Finals

For whom does the bell toll? It was tolling for the Warriors Thursday night. It was halftime and Steph Curry had only 5 points. Nexus of all things Warriors, Curry is literally the point man for Golden State. This was the conference finals and Curry has 5 points at halftime? Probably was playing in swim fins.

But the Warriors were leading Dallas by 17 points, 69-52. Actually dominating. Of course, this is not what the NBA wants. The league is built on superstars. It took the cue from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird over 40 years and has pumped up individuals like they were a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float. Stars sell tickets. Teams? Well, the stars have to play for someone.

Unselfish team basketball? Yeah, OK, that worked for UCLA’s John Wooden when he was dominating college basketball. But that’s college. Colleges are wrapped in nostalgia; a school’s pedigree is a hot wire that triggers moist eyes.

These Warriors, they could have played for Wooden.

That is quite possibly the best compliment anyone could ever pay Golden State. To be honest, the phrase “playing together” has a rather bland feel to it, reflective of a time long gone. A parent hopes his kid can play together in the sandbox with the other kids. He hopes Bucky learns how to share, surrendering that impulse to control. Of course, Bucky can be a five-year-old again in the corporate world, where fighting for turf is part of the job description.

Lots of NBA players fight for turf to establish careers but have forgotten what’s like to share. One very pertinent example is Kevin Durant. Durant had a sweet thing going with the Warriors. He won two NBA titles with them. But Durant wanted the Warriors to be his team and, sad for him, he joined the party a little too late.

The Warriors were already Curry’s team. They were always going to be Curry’s team. Curry never asked for it. He never demanded it. Yet, those are the very reasons they became his. People respond to inclusion. People are repelled by aloofness, haughtiness.

So Durant had to leave the sandbox. Look at what he left. The Warriors will be playing in their sixth NBA Finals in eight years and no one is screaming, “Gosh, if only Kevin was still on the team!” The Warriors are properly labeled a dynasty and a deep dive reveals they are one of the five best dynasties in NBA history.

The Bill Russell Celtics were the first franchise worthy of that word. They were followed by the Magic Johnson Lakers, the Michael Jordan Bulls and the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers. To be fair, these are not the Curry Warriors. They are the Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Curry Warriors.

To see them any other way is to dismiss them as Charles Barkley has done in the past, that they are nothing more than a bunch of jump shooters, with no dominant big man and blah, blah, blah ... oh, please, pass me a churro.

In the four NBA Finals they played against the best player of his generation, LeBron James, the Warriors beat him three times. The Warriors set an NBA record with a 73-9 season mark in 2015-16. They have the all-time shooting backcourt in Curry and Thompson. Those two and Green are the only three players in history to make six NBA Finals together.

All of that, however, is fuzzy, deep background for what could happen next. If the Warriors win the 2021-22 NBA championship, nothing they have done previously will be comparable. It will be the closing line of an immortal song. One people will be humming to put themselves to sleep after a tough day.

Two years ago the Warriors had the worst record in the NBA. They won only 15 games. Thompson saw more doctors than sunrises, in the midst of two years of recovery from devastating leg injuries. This season, he, Curry and Green missed a combined total of 104 games. They played together for only 11 minutes the entire regular season!

To say no one knew what would happen in the playoffs did not take a room of fortunetellers working through the night. It was this unpredictable: Curry hadn’t even played the last month of the season because of a sprained ligament in his left foot.

Yet here the Warriors are — playing for the NBA championship. Kevon Looney is going inside for rebounds like Bill Russell. Andrew Wiggins is All-NBA at both ends of the floor, more complete than anyone on the team. Thompson is instant offense — just turn on the coffee pot and watch him perk.

One could make the case, and I will, this is the most complete Golden State team to make the NBA Finals. They offer depth and the strong hint of things to come. Jordan Poole, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga are the future of the franchise, playing right now as if they are ready to take control.

“You don’t want to see us next year!” Curry said at the end of last season.

Empty bravado, so many thought. Thompson was still injured. Poole was just a whisper. Kuminga and Moody were in college. Looney is a great team guy, but not quite Bill Russell even on his best day.

Yes, it was thought, Curry was still breathing the air of years past. When you win three NBA titles, one is entitled to float above reality. So go ahead, Steph, inhale.

Then the unpredictable happened — a team happened. Klay gets healthy. Poole is a young Curry. Kuminga and Moody show why they were drafted in the first round. Looney plays like he’s not just another guy. Draymond kept a cork in it, usually.

The Warriors are in the NBA Finals, and consider this simple fact — Dallas’ Luka Doncic had 6 points at halftime Thursday. The most skilled player on the court, a first-team All-NBA choice, had 6 points at halftime.

At the time, Curry, the other team’s best player, had one fewer point. Yet the Warriors were leading by 17. How is that possible? John Wooden gave us the answer a long, long time ago.

To comment, write to bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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