Steph Curry's warning to Warriors, NBA was precursor to Finals return

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Steph's warning to Dubs, NBA was precursor to Finals return originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Steph Curry sat at the Chase Center podium just over one year ago straight-faced but appreciative of the season the Warriors had with another year full of adversity. Then in the most Curry way possible, he sent a message to the entire NBA for what was to come.

"Come back, bottle this up, everybody make the right strides over the summer and ... you don't want to see us next year," Curry declared on May 21, 2021.

That was about an hour after the Warriors had lost their second straight NBA play-in tournament game, this one 117-112 in overtime to the Memphis Grizzlies, marking the second straight season the Warriors failed to make the playoffs after going to five straight NBA Finals in a row.

Steph might not be the loudest in the room or the vociferous person on the Warriors, but his warning couldn't have been more clear.

Or more true.

With the Warriors' 120-110 win Thursday night over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, Golden State is back to being in the Finals for the sixth time in the last eight seasons.

That stat becomes even more incredible when you take into account Klay Thompson missed all of the last two seasons to leg injuries.

At this point last year, Thompson was just beginning to jog again after tearing his ACL and then tearing his Achilles in back-to-back years. He struggled the previous two games in Dallas and hadn't scored 20 points once in the conference finals. Thompson always saves his best for when the Warriors need him most, though.

He scored 32 points and hit eight 3-pointers in Game 5 after coming into the series with only seven made threes through the first four games. A new nickname isn't needed, but a new chapter in Klay's legacy was created.

We all should have listened a little closer to Curry at the podium a year ago. There was no way for him or anybody else to know what kind of player Thompson would be upon his return. There's also nobody that Curry trusts more to put the work in to prove everybody wrong.

In that final play-in tournament loss, a handful of players gave us a preview of what the Warriors could be this season. Curry continued to light the league on fire, scoring 39 points with six 3-pointers. Green, despite missing a floater that would have given the Warriors the win in regulation, was fantastic while finishing with 11 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. And then there's Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole.

Wiggins had made the playoffs only once in his first seven seasons and was doing it all to try and make his first trip with the Warriors. He scored 22 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had two assists and two blocks. Poole, who had to go to Orlando G League bubble earlier in the season, came off the bench to score 19 points and was a plus-9 in plus-minus.

The Warriors went 15-5 down the stretch last season. They weren't a championship team or a championship roster, but they never lost that championship DNA.

"It was more just a message for us," Curry said Thursday night, one year later while sitting at the same Chase Center podium. "It wasn't for anybody else. It was a message for us to stay locked in on the opportunity that was coming our way because we had built such a good momentum finishing the year, re-establish like what Warrior basketball was. If we could get things aligned, get some new pieces and figure out how to start off the year right -- that's exactly what we did, 18-2 at one point and still have Klay coming when he was ready.

"Obviously this year didn't go as planned, but I think the tone was set from those last 20 games last year that carried over and gave us so much confidence that we could be that team again. You see the fruits of that labor these last five weeks."

Curry put up MVP-like numbers last season, though his only focus was a fourth championship ring this season. Thompson kept working tirelessly behind the scenes, and the same goes with so many others. Wiggins became a first-time All-Star and though his regular season was full of ups and downs, he has fit his role to perfection in the playoffs and dropped an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double to send the Mavs home. Green came into the season as motivated as ever, performed like the best defensive player in the world at the beginning of the season before missing two months to a back injury and then scored a season-high 17 points, along with nine assists and six rebounds in the final game of the West finals.

Kerr told us relentlessly all offseason that Poole was working harder than anybody in the building, and it paid off to a breakout season that should result in a hefty paycheck this summer. He scored 16 points off the bench and looks more and more like a third Splash Brother on a nightly basis. Kevon Looney has been through it all in his seven seasons with the Warriors, and Game 5 against the Mavs was the cherry on top to Mr. Reliable scoring 10 points and leading both sides with 18 rebounds.

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But everything comes back to Curry. He's the joyful head of the snake, shimmying his way to broken hearts of opposing fan bases. Curry secured the first ever Magic Johnson Western Conference finals MVP award after averaging 23.8 points, 7.4 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game against the Mavs while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 42.4 percent on 3-pointers.

The greatest shooter of all time has also been one of the best defensive players in these playoffs. Per StatMuse, Curry is allowing the lowest field goal percentage by a defender when guarding at least 150 shots this postseason. Opposing shooters have a 37.5 field goal percentage when being guarded by Curry. Green is second with a 38.3 field goal percentage.

Whether it was a warning to the his teammates or a note to the rest of the league, Curry couldn't have been more right. The Warriors took down MVP Nikola Jokic in the first round, then exacted redemption on the Grizzlies in the second round and completed a gentleman's sweep on Luka Doncic and the Mavs.

They're back, and there's no timetable for when this run will end for good. Not if Steph has anything to say about it.

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