SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors are back where they belong.
As Game 1 of the NBA Finals gets underway tonight at Chase Center in San Francisco, the 2022 matchup will feature the Warriors versus the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics.
This is Golden State’s sixth NBA Finals appearance in the last eight years. For many, including the national media, there wasn’t a thought that the Warriors could get back to the promised land so soon after Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn after the 2018-19 season and enduring a dreadful 15-win season in 2020.
The Warriors have been using the hashtag #GoldBlooded once their playoff campaign began to show the whole world what they knew all along: that a healthy team would make them championship contenders.
One of the biggest reasons the Warriors are on the verge of their fourth championship in eight years is the veteran leadership presence they have, along with their strong-willed head coach, Steve Kerr.
Back in the fold this season is Andre Iguodala, who made stops in Memphis and Miami after helping Golden State to three titles in five years. While Iguodala has been on the bench with various ailments this season, you might as well call him the third assistant coach on the bench.
His leadership skills are on display every game when he talks to his teammates during timeouts. A lot of the time he is talking to the younger guys like Jordan Poole, and rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody.
It doesn’t just stop with the youngsters, Iguodala has at times even tried to calm down the cosmic force known as Draymond Green, who is notorious for letting his emotions get the better of him when it comes to calls (or lack thereof) from the referees.
Speaking of Green, he is the leader of this team, not just emotionally, but always sharing his wisdom with teammates in any given situation. Green is a student of the game, he knows all the tangents and intricacies and knows how to get inside the other team’s head, giving the Warriors an advantage. Most fans can't see that with the naked eye.
Green also leads by example with his play. Being a former defensive player of the year, he is not only the Warriors best defender on the court but probably the NBA’s best, despite not being nominated for the award the past few seasons.
While Green is the vocal leader of the team, the greatest shooters of this generation of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson also lead by example with their play on the court.
Thompson, who missed the past two years due to a torn ACL and then a torn Achilles heel, has perhaps shown the greatest example of perseverance, being able to come back to play at a high level. That is leadership the rest of the team appreciates and respects.
“I mean it’s huge,” said shooting guard Damion Lee. “Those guys, when they were going through their first playoff runs, (NBA) Finals runs, they were the younger guys. They were still coming into their own. So, it’s them understanding what it’s like to be in our shoes. They understand that if you keep the core and your core values, that’s the biggest thing that can help you perform.”
For forward Nemanja Bjelica, he believes the Warriors veteran core is what makes this team so special.
“Being one the best sports organizations in the world, and I’m not just talking about basketball. It’s pretty amazing. It’s been pretty easy to adjust to this team. I’m really blessed to a part of this organization and everybody is excited,” Bjelica said.
The player who might have learned the most from being taken under the wings of the Warriors leadership group is Kuminga, who has shown flashes of brilliance and has been allowed to be himself as his game continues to evolve at the tender age of 19.
“A lot of rookies that were drafted by different teams don’t get it,” said Kuminga. “I think just having those guys around you, can build your confidence every single day. (Whether it’s) bad or good whatever you do, they’re always there watching your moves. I think it’s blessing to have them around this year.”
The Celtics will present the biggest challenge to the Warriors in an NBA Finals opponent, as they were the best defensive team this season.
The Warriors, with their championship pedigree lead by their veteran core, will look to be at the top of the mountain with their fourth Larry O’Brien trophy when all is said and done.
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Oklahoma City Thunder Point Guard Chris Paul after their 100-97 win over the Warriors at the Chase Center on November 25, 2019.
Portland Trail Blazers Point Guard Damian Lillard after their 127-118 loss to the Warriors at the Chase Center on November 4, 2019.
Los Angeles Clippers Forward Kawhi Leonard after their 141-122 win over the Warriors in the first-ever regular season game at the Chase Center on October 24, 2019.