SAN FRANCISCO — Something dawned on Stephen Curry as the Golden State Warriors stage their first legitimate title quest in nearly three years: He’s now the old man.
“When I look at some of these guys, it reminds me of how young they are,” Curry said, looking out over the starscape of the NBA as the Warriors prepared for the Mavericks’ arrival in San Francisco. “Jayson Tatum is 24 years old. Luka [Doncic] is 23 years old. Ja [Morant] was 22 years old. That’s the only part where you’re just like, ‘Hell, they’re really that young.’ You think about what you were doing at that age, trying to get into that scene and [play] playoff basketball.”
The NBA has long been a gerontocracy, a league ruled by revered veterans who school — and sometimes torment — upstarts before giving up glory. Few NBA stars over the past few decades lift a championship trophy until their prime – and certainly not without a lot of help. Doncic has plans to speed up his trail, at the expense of Curry, America’s longtime favorite little brother who, in a flash, became a statesman at 34.
The Warriors’ resounding 112-87 Game 1 win over the Dallas Mavericks at Chase Center on Wednesday night was a timely reminder that in the NBA, championships are always the best source of inspiration. Despite being defended by the Mavericks’ toughest defensive guard in Reggie Bullock, occasionally blitzed by a second defender, targeted in Doncic’s pick-and-roll attack and uncharacteristically inaccurate from the free-throw line, Curry showed the balance and ease of a seasoned player. completely in his element. He led all players in points (21), rebounds (12) and assists (four, tied with four others) in Game 1 of those Western Conference Finals, the first time in his playoff career. he did so in all three categories, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
“We’re super comfortable on this stage,” Curry said. “There’s more gratitude to be back here and more sense of urgency to not let the opportunity slip away. Who knows how it goes, but I’m enjoying every moment of it. I know Klay [Thompson] is, well, and I know Draymond [Green] it’s because we haven’t played any meaningful games at this time of year for two years. It is special.”
The victory was neither Curry nor the Warriors’ shrewdest display of their trademark style. They rushed early and there were few classic clips of their patented split cut for the safe. Still, there were plenty of instances where the Warriors demonstrated the telepathy that comes with continuity, times when Green’s assist defense obliterated a Dallas high percentage shot attempt or Curry stayed out of trouble thanks to a Kevon Looney pin. The Warriors spent much of the night in transition against a Mavericks team that prefers to let Doncic split possessions on the half court. Thanks to the hard defensive work of Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors made life difficult for Doncic in his first appearance in the Conference Finals.
The series opener was also a statement about Golden State’s influence on the trends that define NBA basketball, circa 2022. The Warriors beat a Dallas team that attempted 19 more shots than they did from beyond the arc and executed a 5-out pattern for much of the night to maximize spacing, a practice mastered by the Warriors during their dynasty run . All the while, the Warriors relied on a lanky center with limited reach to bolster their inside defense and rebound, and they took twice as many shots from long range as they did on the edge. .
For a team that revolutionized the league during the 2010s, Golden State looked positively Jurassic — and quite effective.
“Teams kind of take us off the 3-point line,” Thompson said. “This time of year — [coach] Steve [Kerr] harp still on it – that midrange jump is going to be there. Andrew, Steph and I, [Jordan Poole]It really worked for us tonight.”
It is not uncommon for even the most ardent idealists to embrace pragmatism in middle age. During their rise to greatness, the Warriors broke the rules of conventional NBA basketball, rewrote a few others, and established new ones. Now, after three years in the desert nursing wounds and losing key contributors, the team has embraced a combination of craftsmanship wisdom and practical magic.
The Warriors fully understand that while Dallas may not replicate the searing shot he unleashed on the Phoenix Suns last week, the Mavs are also unlikely to miss more than three-quarters of their attempts from range in this series. .
For his part, Curry – who graduated from Davidson College last weekend – seems thrilled to be both a mentor and a rival to a new class of NBA stars. A relatively late bloomer, Curry marveled at Morant’s hard work and leadership in the Warriors’ series victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference semifinals. Curry also acknowledged that it won’t be easy to fend off the young Grizzlies virtuoso in the future.
But age also affirms self-confidence. It tells a guy who’s won three rings, two MVP awards and changed the way the NBA plays basketball that he can trust his no-nonsense instincts. Age also reminds Curry that time is running out.
“I’m not trying to claim the ‘old’ label,” Curry said before the first game. “But we are as hungry as they are to do it.”