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    Stephen Curry Left His Critics With Nothing Else to Say

    Four N.B.A. championships. Two Most Valuable Player Awards. And yes, a finals M.V.P. Golden State’s Curry has nothing else to prove.BOSTON — A few seconds remained in Stephen Curry’s N.B.A. season when he spotted his father, Dell, sitting along one of the baselines. He went over to embrace him, then fell to the court in tears.“Surreal,” Curry said. “I just wanted to take in the moment because it was that special.”Over six games of the N.B.A. finals, Curry had supplied Golden State with a narrow range of feats that ranged from the extraordinary to the sublime. He squeezed past walls of defenders for up-and-under layups, and backpedaled for fadeaway jumpers. He enthralled some fans while demoralizing others. He sought the spotlight, then delivered.He effectively turned the court into his personal theater and the Celtics into his helpless foils, delivering performance after performance in a two-week run whose only flaw was that nearly everyone could begin to anticipate the ending — with Curry exiting the stage as a champion again.After Golden State defeated Boston, 103-90, on Thursday to clinch its fourth title in eight seasons, Curry, 34, reflected on the long journey back to the top: the injuries and the lopsided losses, the doubters and the uncertainty. He also recalled the exact moment he started preparing for the start of this season — 371 days ago.“These last two months of the playoffs, these last three years, these last 48 hours — every bit of it has been an emotional roller coaster on and off the floor,” Curry said, “and you’re carrying all of that on a daily basis to try to realize a dream and a goal like we did tonight.”“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like, but it hits different,” Curry said of winning his fourth championship. Two seasons ago, Golden State had the worst record in the N.B.A.Paul Rutherford/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe numbers tell one story, and they are worth emphasizing. For the series, Curry averaged 31.2 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from 3-point range. He was the unanimous selection as the finals’ most valuable player.“He carried us,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said, “and we’re here as champions.”But there was an artistry to Curry’s work in the series, too, and it was a profound reminder of everything he has done to reshape the way fans — and even fellow players — think about the game. The way he stretches the court with his interplanetary shooting. The way he uses post players to create space with pick-and-rolls. The way he has boosted the self-esteem of smaller players everywhere.“When I go back home to Milwaukee and watch my A.A.U. team play and practice, everybody wants to be Steph,” Golden State’s Kevon Looney said. “Everybody wants to shoot 3s, and I’m like: ‘Man, you got to work a little harder to shoot like him. I see him every day.’ ”For two seasons, of course, in the wake of the Golden State’s catastrophic, injury-marred trip to the 2019 finals, some of that joy was missing. The Warriors scuffled through a slow rebuild.“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like,” Curry said of winning his fourth championship, “but it hits different.”Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe team reassembled the pieces this season, but there were no guarantees. Curry missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a sprained left foot, then aggravated the injury in Game 3 of the finals. All he did in Game 4 was score 43 points to help Golden State even the series at two games apiece.He showed that he was mortal in Game 5, missing all nine of his 3-point attempts, but his supporting cast filled the void. Among them: Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole, who developed their games during Golden State’s playoff-free hiatus and were indispensable this postseason.“Our young guys carried the belief that we could get back to this stage and win,” Curry said. “And even if it didn’t make sense to anybody when we said it, all that stuff matters.”For Game 6 on Thursday, Curry broke out the full buffet. He used a pump fake to send the Celtics’ Al Horford flying toward an expensive row of seats. He baited defenders into traps and zipped passes to cutting teammates. And after a big flurry in the third quarter, he glared at the crowd and pointed at his ring finger. (Translation: He was ready for more jewelry.)Curry began to get emotional when Boston Coach Ime Udoka summoned his reserves from the bench with just over a minute remaining, conceding the series and the championship. Standing alone at midcourt, Curry seemed to be laughing and crying at the same time, a euphoric mix of feelings.“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like, but it hits different,” he said.After missing all nine of his 3-point attempts in the previous game, Curry was 6 of 11 from deep in Game 6. He scored 34 points.Elsa/Getty ImagesIn a sports world consumed by debate shows, uninformed opinions and hot takes on social media, two asterisks — unfair ones — seemed to trail Curry like fumes. The first was that he had neither helped his team win a title without Kevin Durant nor defeated a finals opponent who was at full strength. The second was that he had not been named a finals M.V.P.Whether he cared or not, Curry effectively quashed both of those narratives against the Celtics, a team that had all of its young stars in uniform and even had Marcus Smart, the league’s defensive player of the year, spending good portions of the series with his arms tucked inside Curry’s jersey.For his part, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said there was only one achievement missing from Curry’s résumé: an Olympic gold medal. (It should be noted that Kerr coaches the U.S. men’s national team.)“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Kerr said, deadpan. “Honestly, the whole finals M.V.P. thing? I guess his career has been so impeccable, and that’s the only thing we can actually find. So it’s great to check that box for him. But it’s really hard for me to think that’s actually been held against him.”After the game, as Golden State’s players and coaches began to gather on a stage for the trophy presentation, Curry hugged each of them, one by one.“Back on top, 30!” Looney said, referring to Curry’s uniform number.Afterward, as Curry made his way toward a courtside tunnel, lingering fans clamored to get closer to the court, closer to Curry, before he was disappeared from view. He chomped on a victory cigar as he held his finals M.V.P. trophy aloft, pushing it skyward once, twice, three times.No one could miss it. More

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    The Celtics Stopped Stephen Curry. Everyone Else Made Them Pay.

    For the first time in a long time, Golden State’s Curry couldn’t hit a single 3-pointer. His teammates had better luck with their shots.SAN FRANCISCO — Inside a gleaming arena experiencing its first N.B.A. finals run, fans stood and cheered as the game’s final minute approached, perhaps the last home send-off they would get to give before Golden State returned as champion.Stephen Curry sat on the bench for the last 1 minute 19 seconds of Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals, wearing a wide smile, chatting happily with someone nearby.“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier after a 0-for-whatever type of night,” Curry said later. He added: “Yeah, there’s a fire burning, and I want to make shots, but the rest of it is about how we win the game. And we did that.”Reliant on Curry for the first four games of this series against the Boston Celtics, Golden State showed its ability to succeed even when his shot wasn’t working. Monday’s was the first playoff game of Curry’s career in which he didn’t make at least one 3-pointer. It was also a 104-94 victory that gave Golden State a 3-2 lead in the finals and a chance to win a championship in Boston on Thursday.Andrew Wiggins was the star of the game, with 26 points and an emphatic dunk that sent the San Francisco crowd into a frenzy.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated PressThe Celtics threw all their effort at slowing Curry after he scored 43 points to beat them in Game 4 on Friday. So in Game 5, everyone else made them pay.“The fact everybody stepped up — Wiggs, J.P., Klay hit some big shots, Draymond found his life and his spirit and the way he impacts the game,” Curry said.Wiggs is Andrew Wiggins, who once was called a bust when some thought he couldn’t deliver on the promise of being a No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He scored 26 points for Golden State with 13 rebounds and two steals. He had a block in the first quarter when he smacked the ball away from Celtics guard Jaylen Brown.J.P. is Jordan Poole, who scored 14 points and banked in a 3-pointer as the third-quarter clock expired, then ran to the corner nearest him and roared into the crowd. That basket gave Golden State a 1-point lead after an otherwise disastrous quarter.Thompson, Curry’s 3-point shooting partner, has been inconsistent in the finals, but made five 3s in Game 5, and scored 21 points.Draymond Green had a game that Golden State Coach Steve Kerr called “brilliant,” after his struggles early in the series caused some to wonder if his pursuits outside basketball were distracting him.Gary Payton II, the 29-year-old journeyman, scored 15 points for Golden State, making 6 of 8 shots.“Gary plays bigger than any other 6-2 N.B.A. player I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said. “His vert and his ability to slide in front of the ball, obviously we know where that came from: from his pops. But his vert is something special, and his improved jump shot has also been a huge weapon for us.”Curry knew the Celtics were not going to let him get away with what he did to them in Boston again. In the days between Games 4 and 5 he watched film with a dual purpose: He wanted to see what worked so he could try to replicate it. He wanted to anticipate potential adjustments Boston would use to thwart him.The Celtics did make adjustments and felt good about how they defended Curry in Game 5.“A little more physical there,” Celtics Coach Ime Udoka said. “Switched up the coverage a little bit. But we have to do it on the others.”In talking about how Curry’s teammates made up for his shooting struggles, Curry and Udoka focused on their offensive production. But what mattered more for Golden State was their defense.They held the Celtics to just 94 points, and scored 22 points off Boston’s 18 turnovers. Payton had three steals, Thompson had two and Green and Curry each had one.The only quarter in which the Celtics looked better was the third, when they made 6 of 9 3-point attempts, 11 of 19 shots overall, and turned a 16-point deficit into a 5-point lead with 3:55 left in the period.“They pretty much dominated the entire third quarter,” Green said. “For us to still go into the fourth quarter with the lead, that’s huge. And I think that was something that we could build on, and we did.”Draymond Green fouled out in the fourth quarter, but he had tallied 8 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds with a high-energy performance.Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAs Golden State regained control of the game, a sense of joyfulness could be seen throughout the team.When Celtics forward Jayson Tatum knocked over Payton with just under four minutes left in the game, Payton put his palms on the ground and began to do push-ups. With 2:10 left, Wiggins ran past Boston’s Derrick White for a one-handed dunk that sent his teammates and the San Francisco crowd into a frenzy.“We don’t get more excited than when Wiggs dunks on somebody,” Thompson said. “And that really uplifts the whole team and the Bay Area.”In the first four games of the finals, Curry averaged 34.3 points a game, and his field-goal percentage was better than 53 percent in Games 3 and 4 in Boston. He also made 25 3-pointers in those four games and made at least half his 3s in Games 1, 3 and 4.He had been the most consistent part of Golden State’s attack. After Game 4, Thompson marveled at what Curry accomplished and spoke of wanting to give him some help.But on Monday, Green, as is his wont, disagreed with what he called the emerging narrative that Curry hadn’t had the help he needed this series.“If he’s got it going, we’re going to be heavy Steph Curry,” Green said. “That’s just what it is. The whole notion of this guy doesn’t, he doesn’t have help, well, you’ve got 43, he’s going to keep shooting, and we’re going to do all that we can to get him shooting it.”He went on in that vein for a few more sentences before smiling.Jordan Poole banked in a 3-pointer to close the third quarter, giving Golden State a 1-point lead.Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports, via Reuters“He was 0 for 9 from 3,” Green said. “He’s going to be livid going into Game 6. And that’s exactly what we need.”Curry said he looked forward to “the bounce back” that his shooting percentage will, seemingly, inevitably get.When they are at their best, the Warriors can hit you in waves. Stop one and another will come at you.It has always been this way to some extent. During the first run of their dynasty, back when they played at Oracle Arena in Oakland, one had to contend with Curry, Green, Thompson and Andre Iguodala, then Kevin Durant for a while.Monday night they showed that it is still that way. More

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    Boston Celtics Withstand Stephen Curry’s 3-pointers for Game 3 Win

    Golden State’s Curry had 31 points, including six 3-pointers, but Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum had big games of their own for Boston.BOSTON — It was only the second quarter, but the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum seemed determined to build on a theme as he eyed an opportunity on Wednesday night. He took a hard dribble at Stephen Curry, spun to his right and drove straight into the lane before depositing a layup over his smaller defender.The Celtics were eager to familiarize themselves with the basket in Game 3 of the N.B.A. finals. So they used their size to bully various members of the Golden State Warriors in the low post and off the dribble. They attempted layups. They dunked. They threw short jumpers off the glass.In the process, Boston even survived one of Golden State’s hallmark third-quarter runs to escape with a 116-100 win at TD Garden and take a 2-1 lead in the series. Game 4 is in Boston on Friday.The Celtics, who opened the fourth quarter by building a healthy cushion, were led by Jaylen Brown, who had 27 points and 9 rebounds. Tatum added 26 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds, and Marcus Smart finished with 24 points. Curry had 31 points in the loss, and Klay Thompson added 25. The Celtics did most of their damage in the paint, where they outscored Golden State, 52-26.After the first two games were in San Francisco, the series swung to Boston, a fitting site for the finals as the league celebrates the last few flickering embers of its 75th anniversary. The Celtics are chasing their 18th championship, while Golden State is making its sixth finals appearance in eight seasons.Two of the league’s original franchises, the Celtics and the Warriors now mirror each other in another important way: Both rosters were largely constructed through drafting. And while Boston is making its first finals appearance since 2010, Celtics Coach Ime Udoka said he hoped to emulate Golden State’s long-term success.“It’s a model for what we want to do here,” Udoka said.The Celtics, who lost Game 2 on Sunday, have not lost consecutive games this postseason. Before Wednesday’s game, Udoka cited his team’s resilience.“I think we put it behind us pretty quickly,” he said, “and kind of attacked the areas that we did poorly and tried to improve on those.”The Celtics’ Robert Williams III blocking Stephen Curry’s floater. Williams had 8 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks.Paul Rutherford/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAbout an hour and a half before the start of Game 3, as some of Golden State’s players made their way onto the court for individual warm-up work, the reserve guard Gary Payton II noticed that one of the rims seemed a bit off. He was right: It was about two inches too high.“It happens every once in a while,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said before the game. “Players have a really sharp eye for that.”The rim was soon lowered to its proper 10-foot height, but it did not seem to help. Golden State got off to a brutal start, missing 11 of its first 15 field-goal attempts as Boston ran out to a 24-9 lead. Making matters worse, Curry picked up two early fouls.If there was concern for the Celtics, it came in the form of Tatum’s right shoulder, which he first injured in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. On Wednesday, he was grimacing in pain after drawing a foul on an early drive.But his 3-pointer midway through the second quarter pushed the Celtics ahead by 18. Boston shot 57.4 percent from the field to take a 68-56 lead at halftime.All eyes, though, were on the start of the second half. In Games 1 and 2, Golden State had dominated both third quarters, outscoring Boston by a total of 35 points. The third quarter was particularly problematic for the Celtics in Game 2, when they shot 4 of 17 from the field, committed five turnovers and were outscored, 35-14. A close game quickly turned into a rout.On Wednesday, Golden State was trailing by 9 when the team summoned some more third-quarter magic. Curry made a 3-pointer and absorbed contact for good measure when the Celtics’ Al Horford slid underneath him. It was ruled a flagrant-1 foul, which meant Golden State would retain possession after a free throw.Curry sank the free throw, then Otto Porter Jr. buried another 3-pointer for a 7-point possession that trimmed Boston’s lead to 2.It was an anxious moment for the Celtics, who could have folded but instead revealed their toughness once more. Early in the fourth quarter, Smart banked in a 3-pointer. Moments later, Grant Williams corralled an offensive rebound for a put back, forcing Kerr to a call for a timeout as the home crowd roared. More

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    He’s Not That Gary Payton. But He’s Not Not Him Either.

    Gary Payton II has traces of his father’s tenacity on defense, but he’s making his own way through the N.B.A. with Golden State.BOSTON — It’s not uncommon for N.B.A. players to bring their children to interviews and perch the little ones on their laps, or in a seat next to them while they answer questions.Gary Payton, one of the best guards of the 1990s, used to do it during his playing days. In one interview, as he held a young Gary Payton II on his lap, he was asked about his son’s potential future as a basketball player.“I hope he grow up to be what he want to be, but I ain’t going to force him to be a ballplayer or nothing,” Payton said in that video. “But he’s OK. He’s around basketball, he’s throwing the ball and doing everything.”The elder Payton then patted his son on the chest, as the child looked up at him, wide-eyed.Gary Payton II loves seeing images like that. Before a practice with Golden State in Boston this week, he was shown a photo of himself sitting on his father’s lap during another interview and said it was his favorite photo of the two of them.He remembered running around the court during practices when his father was playing for N.B.A. championships. The year the elder Payton first went to the finals with the Seattle SuperSonics, in 1996, his son was 3 1/2 years old, not really old enough to understand the importance of what was happening.Nearly three decades later, Gary Payton II, 29, is playing in the N.B.A. finals, and is a critical part of Golden State’s defense. He made his finals debut in Game 2, returning to the court in an important game for the Warriors, who were trying avoid falling behind two games to none. Payton returned after missing a full month with a broken elbow. In his return, he made clear his importance.“It was amazing,” Payton said. “I was itching to get out there. I was in the tunnel just walking back and forth, pacing, waiting for coach to call me.”The Warriors’ medical staff cleared Payton for Game 1, but Coach Steve Kerr opted not to play him, saying he didn’t think Payton was healthy enough just yet. He would use Payton only if absolutely necessary.“Special circumstances, we need one stop at the end of the game, at the end of a quarter, play him,” Kerr said.Kerr called on Payton with 5 minutes 30 seconds left in the first quarter, and as Payton jogged to the scorer’s table, fans at the Chase Center in San Francisco first reacted with cheers and applause. Eventually, they rose to give him a standing ovation.“I think just the energy that he brings, his character, how hard he plays, especially in the Bay Area, we really accept that and we embrace that,” guard Jordan Poole said. He added: “They just embrace him for the way that he plays and who he is as a person, and he makes it pretty easy to do.”His journey is part of what draws both fans and his teammates toward him. Despite having a father in the Hall of Fame, he needed to make his own path to the N.B.A. He went undrafted in 2016 out of Oregon State and has played for six different G-league teams since then. This season, having seen him play on 10-day contracts at the end of 2020-21, Golden State gave Payton a chance to stick around with a one-year contract.Gary Payton II said he focuses on defense not to be like his father, but so that he can get the ball to score.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesWith Golden State working its way back into contending form, Payton made his presence felt as a defender throughout the season. He started 16 regular-season games, and the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against Memphis.In Game 2 of that series, Payton broke his elbow when Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks swiped him across the head while he was midair. The foul was deemed a flagrant 2, triggering an automatic ejection for Books. Kerr called the play “dirty.”But since Payton had an upper-body injury, he was able to stay in shape and work on his conditioning even as his elbow healed.“I wasn’t off the court but probably for a week or so to let everything heal, then I got back, get on the bike, running, doing hydro work, stuff like that,” Payton said. “My conditioning was still up to par. In game still a little different. The other night, first couple minutes I caught my second breath and I was fine after that.”He played 25 minutes in his first finals game, and scored 7 points. Despite some concern about his shooting ability, he made all three shots he took, including a 3-pointer.“I thought he was brilliant,” Kerr said. “The level of defense, physicality and speed in transition, it gives us a huge boost.”Payton’s father was also known for his defensive prowess — he was one of the rare guards to be named the defensive player of the year, in 1995-96 — but the younger Payton said that wasn’t why he learned to focus on defense rather than offense.Gary Payton wore a shirt with an illustration of his son Gary Payton II guarding him, in a Seattle SuperSonics uniform.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press“It was the only way I could get the ball and make a play on the offensive end,” Payton said. “I had to get the ball, steal it or whatnot to go score.”His father comes to the games to support him. He even wore a shirt to Game 2 with an illustration of his son guarding him. This wasn’t a career the elder Payton, 53, pushed his son toward, and basketball advice isn’t part of their relationship now — no tips on being in the finals, and no questions about what it might be like.“It’s just me and Gary. It’s our relationship,” Gary Payton II said. “There was a moment in time where he stopped talking to me about basketball. I think that’s because I was doing a lot better than before.“Nowadays he really doesn’t say anything. We just talk about life, family, other sports and whatnot. But he stopped talking about basketball, so I think I’m doing a pretty good job.” More

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    Klay Thompson’s Fix for His Shooting Woes? Unearthing His Alter Ego.

    The Golden State guard has turned to highlights of himself at his peak — in the mode of “Game 6 Klay” — to help emerge from a shooting slump in the N.B.A. finals.BOSTON — Klay Thompson might as well have spent Game 2 of the N.B.A. finals on Sunday launching the ball straight into swirling winds. His field-goal attempts veered left and right, fell short and carried long.Afterward, knowing Golden State would need him to be more productive as its series with the Celtics continued, Thompson sought to remind himself that he was good at basketball. So he fired up a laptop and watched old clips of a familiar figure: himself.“I remember being in college,” he said, “and when you’d go through a shooting slump, the video guys would pull up a great game when everything seemed in unison, and your body was working so well that the ball was just flowing off your fingertips.”All Thompson needed to do, he said, was search for “Game 6 Klay” on YouTube, and various high-profile reminders of his long-range acumen were readily available to him. Most recently, he scored 30 points and made 8 of 14 3-point attempts in Golden State’s Game 6 win over the Memphis Grizzlies last month to close out their Western Conference semifinal series. He also famously scored 41 points, in a performance that included making 11 of his 18 3-pointers, in 2016 in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.“There were some very high-pressurized situations I was in, and I ended up shooting the ball well,” he said. “When you can do it when your back is against the wall, you can do it at any given moment. It’s just about keeping that mental strong.”Thompson was just 1 of 8 from 3-point range during Game 2 of the N.B.A. finals. His career regular-season 3-point percentage is 41.7.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIf nothing else, Thompson is familiar with keeping, as he put it, that mental strong. His celebrated comeback after missing two full seasons because of injuries has culminated in another trip to the finals, his sixth with Golden State. But he was clearly disappointed with his effort in Game 2 against Boston, as he shot 4 of 19 from the field and finished with 11 points. On the bright side, he said, the Warriors drubbed the Celtics to tie the series ahead of Game 3 on Wednesday night in Boston.“It feels good going 4 for 19 and winning by 20,” said Thompson, referring to Golden State’s 107-88 win. “I’d rather do that than go 13 for 19 and lose by 10. Been there, and that’s never fun.”On Tuesday, Thompson arrived for his news conference wearing one sneaker while he worked to fit the other with an insole. He was, in his own way, a work in progress, and that has been the case since January, when he was finally back in uniform after a 941-day absence. In 32 regular-season games, he shot a career-low 38.5 percent from 3-point range, but he offered flashes of his familiar greatness, and his mere presence on the perimeter helped create more space for teammates like Stephen Curry.It has been more of the same for Thompson in the playoffs: some good, some great, some bad. His inconsistency should not be surprising given how long he was gone. His left knee and his right Achilles’ tendon are surgically repaired, so there were always going to be ups and downs as he sought to regain his rhythm and his conditioning. His teammates do not seem concerned.“If you saw him now, you’d think he’s averaging 50 in this series,” Curry said. “He’s got a very confident look about him. That’s the best thing about him. It’s all about the work you put in. It’s about the mind-set.”On Sunday, Thompson had a bit of a different look. He missed 9 of his first 10 field-goal attempts before he made a 3-pointer early in the third quarter that put Golden State ahead, 59-52. He pumped his fists, but was soon muttering to himself and shaking his head.“When I watched the film, I probably seemed a little rushed,” he said. “I wasn’t underneath my shot.”Even as the score grew more lopsided, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr left Thompson in the game against Boston’s reserves. But rather than unearth some confidence, Thompson missed his final four shots.“I think he’s just pressing a little bit,” Kerr said. “He just wants so badly to do well that he’s taking some bad ones. I’m not particularly concerned about it because this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Klay has a way of responding to mini-slumps or whatever you want to call them.”Thompson thought back to this year’s Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Over the first four games of the series, he shot just 29.2 percent from 3-point range. In Game 5, he scored 32 points and shot 8 of 16 from 3-point range to help eliminate Dallas.“I stuck to the process,” he said, “and eventually I blew the lid off.”Ahead of Wednesday’s game against Boston, Kerr said a point of emphasis would be to make sure that Thompson got some good looks early that were in rhythm.As for Thompson’s film study — which he apparently tries to be discreet about — Golden State’s Draymond Green said he had not caught Thompson watching old clips of himself on YouTube.“The reality is, if I did, we’d probably make fun of him,” Green said. “So it’s probably good that I haven’t.”To be fair, Thompson does not have much trouble staying grounded on his own. On Tuesday, he recalled where he was about a year ago: working out in an empty arena with Rick Celebrini, the team’s director of sports medicine and performance.“To be back here on this stage,” Thompson said, “you’ve just got to remind yourself to keep working because it’s a blessing and really an honor to be here.” More

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    N.B.A. Finals: Boston Celtics Take On Golden State Warriors

    Golden State has been to the finals six times in eight years. But the young stars of the Celtics may finally be ready for their big moment.It would be Stephen Curry’s fourth N.B.A. championship, or Jayson Tatum’s first. It would be a comeback story for the ages for Klay Thompson, or a fairy-tale ending to the debut of the first-time head coach Ime Udoka.Much is at stake in the 2022 N.B.A. finals for Golden State and the Boston Celtics, two teams with something to prove. For Golden State, it’s a chance to defy the odds against reviving a dynasty after two seasons away from the spotlight. For Boston and its lineup of rising stars, this is, as they say, when legends are made.Here is a look at what to expect in the N.B.A. finals, which begin Thursday in San Francisco.Third-seeded Golden State has home-court advantage over second-seeded Boston because of its better regular-season record.Experience may not be everything.Golden State during the parade for its most recent championship, in 2018.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated PressAfter the Boston Celtics won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, their words about facing Golden State in the N.B.A. finals conveyed a blend of confidence and deference.“We know we’re going up against a great team with the Warriors. Great players, great organization,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “They have the track record to prove it. They know exactly what it takes. They’ve been here. They’re vets. We know we’ve got a long road in front of us, but we’re up for the challenge.”These finals are marked by a gap in experience, with one team well seasoned in championship basketball and another filled with newcomers to this stage. Golden State has five players who have made multiple finals appearances — Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala. The Celtics have no players who have made it this far before now.Part of that is a function of age. Boston’s roster is filled with players in their 20s, while Golden State is a group of 30-somethings whose lives have changed since their first finals appearances.“Just being able to balance even just, like, family life,” Curry said after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. “I’m blessed to have kids that are now 9, 6 and 3. Like, when I was back in ’14, ’15, chasing those playoffs, just a different vibe in terms of everything that’s going on in life.”Jayson Tatum, left, and Jaylen Brown, right are still finding themselves as the leaders of the Boston Celtics.Derick Hingle/Associated PressSmart was a 21-year-old rookie in 2015, the first time Curry, Green and Thompson won an N.B.A. championship. Jayson Tatum, who was named the Eastern Conference finals most valuable player this year, was in 11th grade. Their teammate Jaylen Brown had just finished high school and was headed to play college basketball at the University of California, Berkeley — just 11 miles from where Golden State played at the time.By the 2015 championship, with the exception of Looney, whom the Warriors drafted a few weeks after winning the title, Golden State’s return finals participants had all been through years of seasoning and early playoff exits.The 2021-22 Celtics have similarly spent the past few years learning how to win in the playoffs, and dealing with the bitterness of losing. Boston has been to the playoffs every year since 2015 and made it to the conference finals four times.But Golden State’s journey shows that finals experience isn’t everything.When the Warriors won the 2015 championship, they faced a Cleveland Cavaliers team led by LeBron James. James was making his fifth consecutive finals appearance and sixth overall. But he couldn’t stop Golden State from winning the series in six games.But James was also relatively new to that team. The depth of Golden State’s experience will help carry the team this month.Prediction: Golden State in six.Draymond Green is Golden State’s ‘emotional leader.’Draymond Green’s strength, and weakness, is his intensity.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStephen Curry has famously drained more 3-pointers than anyone in history. Klay Thompson is still basking in his triumphant return from two cataclysmic injuries. And Jordan Poole, out of the morass of Golden State’s two seasons on dynastic hiatus, has emerged as one of the most dynamic young scorers in the league.As the Warriors return to the N.B.A. finals, several players have fueled their run. But is it possible amid all the team’s pyrotechnics that Draymond Green — the team’s highly opinionated, referee-tormenting spokesman — is somehow being overlooked? OK, maybe not. But in his 10th season, Green is making his sixth trip to the finals, and it is no coincidence. He is the defense-minded, pass-first force who binds his teammates in more ways than one.“Our emotional leader,” Coach Steve Kerr said.And Green has seldom, if ever, played better basketball than he has this postseason. In Golden State’s closeout win over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, he collected 17 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while shooting 6 of 7 from the field. He quarterbacked the offense. He was a menace on defense. He used up five of his six personal fouls.He also avoided partaking in many of the extracurriculars that had hampered him in the past — at least until after the game, when he spoke about facing the Celtics with a championship at stake. The problem was that the Celtics were still playing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. In fact, the Heat would force a Game 7 before falling short. But in Green’s mind, he was never wrong.“I thought they were the better team, and clearly I wasn’t far off,” Green said this week on San Francisco’s KGMZ-FM, Golden State’s radio broadcast partner.In his own way, Green was a source of stability for the organization as the team labored with injuries in recent seasons. He mentored his younger teammates. He was in uniform when Curry and Thompson were absent. He acknowledged that it wasn’t always easy: He was accustomed to competing for championships, and suddenly Golden State had the worst record in the league.Now, back alongside Curry and Thompson, Green has another title in sight.“I can’t say that I thought coming into this season, like, ‘Yo, we’re going to win a championship,’ or, ‘We’re going to be in the N.B.A. finals,’ ” Green said. “But I always believed with us three that we have a chance.”Prediction: More rested and more experienced, Golden State wins the series in six games.They’re both great on defense, but different on offense.Celtics Coach Ime Udoka, left, helped Boston become the N.B.A.’s best defensive team. Marcus Smart, right, won the Defensive Player of the Year Award.Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe connections between Celtics Coach Ime Udoka and Golden State Coach Steve Kerr — both former N.B.A. role players — are numerous. Both led their teams to the finals in their first seasons as a head coach, Kerr in 2014-15, when Golden State won the championship, and Udoka this year.They are also connected to San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. Udoka was an assistant on the Spurs from 2012 to 2019, which resulted in a championship in 2014. Udoka also played three seasons for the Spurs, while Kerr played four seasons in San Antonio and won two championships. Both also worked with Popovich on the U.S. men’s national basketball team.Popovich’s influence is clear. Udoka and Kerr have preached the value of a staunch defense. Boston and Golden State were the two best defensive teams in the N.B.A. during the regular season. And like Popovich, the coaches are willing to bluntly criticize players publicly.Where they diverge is offensively.Udoka has installed a methodical, slower offense. The Celtics frequently run isolations, ranking near the top of the N.B.A. during the regular season, while Golden State was near the bottom.In part, that comes down to personnel: Boston’s two best players, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are adept at getting to the rim and breaking defenses down one-on-one but less so at passing. In addition, the Celtics start Marcus Smart at point guard, and he isn’t a traditional pass-first guard.Kerr, meanwhile, has long preached an egalitarian offense hinging on ball movement — so much so that Kevin Durant, after leaving Golden State for the Nets in 2019, complained that Kerr’s offense had been limiting. This season, Golden State led the N.B.A. in scoring off cuts to the basket, while the Celtics were just around league average. Golden State also was second in the league in total passes.There’s another difference, too. Kerr is more willing to experiment with lineups. He has given significant minutes to rookies such as Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, shuffling them in and out of the rotation. In the playoffs, Kerr gave the 19-year-old Kuminga three starts in the semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Moody, 20, was in the rotation against the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals.Udoka has preferred to keep his rotations fairly predictable, particularly in the playoffs, rarely reaching down the Celtics’ bench even in the case of foul trouble.Prediction: Celtics in six. Their defense is well designed to chase Stephen Curry around. More

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    The Week When Sports Would Not Let America Look Away

    As their games continued in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr, the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays made powerful statements against gun violence.Before the big N.B.A. game Tuesday night, there was no talk of basketball: only frustration, rage and pain.On Thursday, sports slid into the background once again, as was appropriate, replaced by heartbreaking facts, courtesy of two Major League Baseball teams, and calls to do something to end the carnage.Something is wrong in America. We can’t figure out how to stop aggression and death.The rampage killings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, have again shaken us to the core. We brace against the plague of gun violence that threatens every part of the country: grocery stores and churches, street corners and shopping centers, and schools filled with grade school children.Daily life feels at any moment like it could turn into horror.Amid all of this, our games go on. Important games featuring remarkable teams. The Golden State Warriors played their familiar brand of beautiful basketball in the conference finals of the N.B.A. playoffs. The Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, division rivals and contenders to win this year’s World Series, played a key series in St. Petersburg, Fla.Sports can be a tonic during hard times. Games and great performances offer a chance to wash away awful emotion. To move on and even forget. But hours after 19 students and two teachers were murdered in Uvalde, Steve Kerr, Golden State’s head coach, a man who knows firsthand the suffering caused by gun violence, would not let us turn from the agony completely.From Opinion: The Texas School ShootingCommentary from Times Opinion on the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.Michelle Goldberg: As we come to terms with yet another tragedy, the most common sentiment is a bitter acknowledgment that nothing is going to change.Nicholas Kristof, a former Times Opinion columnist: Gun policy is complicated and politically vexing, and it won’t make everyone safe. But it could reduce gun deaths.Roxane Gay: For all our cultural obsession with civility, there is nothing more uncivilized than the political establishment’s acceptance of the constancy of mass shootings.Jay Caspian Kang: By sharing memes with each new tragedy, we have created a museum of unbearable sorrow, increasingly dense with names and photos of the deceased.And the Yankees and Rays would soon come together in a way that demanded attention be paid to what matters — and what mattered most was not about wins or losses or the battle for first place in the American League East.In the minutes before Game 4 of his team’s playoff series, Kerr sat at a table before reporters and powerfully let loose. Nothing he said was scripted. Everything came from the heart, molded by personal experience. And it had nothing to do with basketball or sports.“In the last 10 days, we’ve had elderly Black people killed in Buffalo, Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California. And now we have children murdered at school,” Kerr said, his words forceful enough to go viral almost instantly. His voice quaked. His eyes narrowed with burning-ember emotion.He pounded the table, as his voice rose.“I’m fed up. I’ve had enough. We’re going to play the game tonight, but I want every person listening to this to think about your own child or grandchild or mother or father, sister, brother. How would you feel if this happened to you today?“When are we going to do something?” he added.“Enough!”Kerr has long spoken out in news conferences and other venues for stricter gun laws and against our society’s thirst for violence. He did so again this week, denouncing the politicians who do nothing and specifically railing against the Senate for not even passing legislation as simple as a requirement for universal background checks. In that moment, watching him was to watch a man struggling to make sense of a tragedy he is all too familiar with. In 1984, during Kerr’s freshman year at the University of Arizona, his father, Malcolm, was shot and killed by assassins outside his office at the American University in Beirut.With the dark cloud of wanton gun violence growing in America, don’t expect silence.Political statements are more rare in baseball, still nominally our national pastime though its dwindling audience has aged toward conservatism. Even the staid Yankees — so tradition-bound a team that they don’t even allow players to wear facial hair — and their division rival collaborated on a singular message. Instead of posting the usual stats and scoring updates during their game Thursday, both teams shared facts about gun violence to millions of followers.When they played on Thursday, their Twitter and Instagram posts focused entirely on the death toll of guns in this country.“58 percent of American adults or someone they cared for have experienced gun violence,” read one of the scores of posts.“This cannot become normal,” read another. “We cannot become numb. We cannot look the other way. We all know, if nothing changes, nothing changes.”Another: “Every day, more than 110 Americans are killed with guns, and more than 200 are shot and injured.”Jason Zillo, the Yankees’ vice president of communications, put the posts in perspective in a text message to my colleague David Waldstein this week. “As citizens of the world, it’s hard to process these shootings and just slip back into a regular routine,” Zillo said. “For one night, we wanted to reflect and draw attention to statistics that carry so much more significance and weight than batting average.”Well said. And well done.I’m one of the legions touched by gun violence: the suicide of a favorite great-uncle, the slaying of a distant cousin, an infant, by a stray bullet in a gang shootout. My pain swims in the same deep currents that swell across America. Together we grieve. Together we decide how to respond.This week, Steve Kerr, and the Yankees and Rays were there to remind us not to dive too deep into the easy distraction of sports — and that action is required to end this madness. More

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    Golden State Headed to NBA Finals After Beating Dallas Mavericks

    Injuries helped end a streak of five straight finals runs, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are back after beating the Dallas Mavericks in the West.SAN FRANCISCO — When the game ended and the celebration began, Klay Thompson’s emotions overtook him.He thought about the past three years of his life, the two serious leg injuries that required surgery, the days when he went to rehab even though he couldn’t bear it any longer. He thought about how this time last year he was just starting to jog again, and how his Warriors teammates sank to the worst record in the N.B.A. from the best in their conference while he couldn’t help. He thought about how lucky he was to have regained his explosiveness this season, how lucky he was to be able to play basketball for a living again.He thought about it all as he sat at the podium after the game, wearing a 2022 N.B.A. finals hat that bore Golden State’s logo and a T-shirt that said they were the Western Conference champions. He said it felt surreal.“I’m just grateful,” Thompson said.Golden State will return to the N.B.A. finals for the first time since 2019 after defeating the Dallas Mavericks, 120-110, in the Western Conference finals on Thursday.Golden State won the series with a victory in Game 5 behind 32 points from Thompson, and 10 points and 18 rebounds from Kevon Looney. They never trailed in the game, and staved off every Mavericks run.Klay Thompson missed two seasons with injuries, but had 32 points in Golden State’s Game 5 win over the Dallas Mavericks to advance to the N.B.A. finals.Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports, via ReutersBecause of injuries, the Warriors had spent a couple of seasons wandering through the N.B.A. wilderness. But their celebrated core — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — is together again and playing some of its best basketball, no small achievement considering the team’s triumphant past.“We are all extremely proud of what it took to get back here,” Curry said. “Yeah, it’s definitely sweet based on what we went through.”Golden State won three championships and advanced to five straight finals from 2015 to 2019, before it all began to come unglued. While falling to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 finals, Thompson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and Kevin Durant ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon.It would get worse. A few weeks later, Durant, who had helped Golden State win two championships, left for the Nets. Four games into the subsequent season, Curry broke his left hand. Golden State finished with the worst record in the league, a humbling blow for a franchise that had seemed on the cusp of establishing itself as a dynasty.Earlier this season, in a podcast interview with the former player JJ Redick, Green acknowledged his uncertainty about the future — both the team’s and his own — as Golden State labored through that listless 2019-20 season. Without Thompson, who spent much of his time rehabilitating away from the team, and Curry, who appeared in just five games, Green did little to hide his frustrations. He mentored some of the team’s younger players, but he also sulked and shot terribly.“I couldn’t get myself going,” Green told Redick. “It was never a point where I felt that my window was closing because of my skills or because of what I bring to the table. But if we’re going to suck like this every year, then my window is closed because I can’t get up for these meaningless games.”Thompson suffered another misfortune when he tore his right Achilles’ tendon in a private workout before the start of the 2020-21 season.“You go through one injury: ‘All right, cool. We’ll get our guy back. We’ll pick up where we left off,’” Green said. “Then you go through another one. When I say you go through another one, I mean, Klay. Then there it is, it’s two years off. You realize how fragile it is.”Draymond Green holding the Western Conference trophy. Green has won three championships with Golden State.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesBehind the scenes, though, Golden State’s decision makers were building toward a future — one they hoped would resemble the team’s not-so-distant past. In February 2020, General Manager Bob Myers traded for Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 draft pick in 2014, who had never quite fulfilled his seemingly vast potential with the Minnesota Timberwolves.With Golden State, Wiggins would prove he could do a bit of everything: shoot, pass, rebound, defend. On Monday, Kerr described the trade for Wiggins as “the key to all of this.” Golden State’s depth at the wing position had evaporated after the 2019 finals. Thompson was injured. Shaun Livingston had retired. And Andre Iguodala had been traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.“So the Wiggins trade allowed us to start to rebuild that wing defense,” Kerr said, “and Wiggs has just been so good. He’s gotten so much better over the last couple of years. He’s a perfect fit next to our guys.”Thompson said he told Wiggins after Thursday’s game how grateful he was to have him on the team.This season, Wiggins was a first-time All-Star as Golden State went 53-29, good for the third-best record in the West. There were other meaningful moments along the way. Curry broke the league record for career 3-pointers. Thompson, after 941 days away, made his long-anticipated return from injury, scoring 17 points — and even dunking — in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.But Golden State did not exactly race into the playoffs. It took time for Thompson to regain his familiar feel for the game, and Curry missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a sprained foot. Over one particularly lean stretch at the end of March, the Warriors lost seven of eight games. It was far from assured that they were capable of making a deep run in the playoffs.They needed just five games to eliminate the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round, then six to take care of the second-seeded Grizzlies in the conference semifinals.The Mavericks, despite the best efforts of Luka Doncic, were little more than a speed bump.Dallas stole Game 4 of the series behind 30 points from Doncic, then Golden State returned home on Thursday to close out the series.“It’s a beautiful story,” Wiggins said.Andrew Wiggins’s defense on Luka Doncic throughout the series was a key factor in Golden State’s victories.Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports, via ReutersKevon Looney, center, had 18 rebounds for Golden State in Game 5.Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe celebration began with about a minute and a half left in the game. Golden State took its starters out so the crowd could shower them with love. Curry sat on the bench looking almost like he couldn’t believe it, then the buzzer sounded and he jumped up and down waving a towel in the air.As streamers fell from the rafters, the Western Conference championship trophy was brought onto the court, along with the new Western Conference finals’ most valuable player trophy, which is named after Magic Johnson and was awarded to Curry. Thompson went around giving powerful hugs to his teammates. Green rushed into the stands with a stack of N.B.A. finals hats to give them to members of his family.After the trophy presentation on the court, Green walked toward the Warriors’ locker room yelling, “We back!”The core’s first playoff appearance together came in 2013, when they beat the Denver Nuggets in the first round before falling to the San Antonio Spurs in the second. They played in Oracle Arena in Oakland back then — all five of their prior finals series happened there.“It’s like kind of time stopped there where you kind of understand what real basketball is like in the playoffs,” Curry said. “We were pups at the time, but definitely great memories of playing in Oracle, the Warrior chants 25 minutes before a tipoff, the haze in the building, if you know what I mean.“To know where we’ve come from that year, everything that’s happened since — I can pretty much drop myself into any series and know what it felt like because we rely on those experiences so much.”Thompson remembers the 2013 playoffs well, too.“We were so young. We took an experienced and dynastic San Antonio team to a hard-fought series,” Thompson said. “After that I was like, gosh, we’re going toe-to-toe with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. If we build on this, we could have a great future.”If someone had told him then that he would spend more than a decade with this team and that they would make six finals appearances together?“I would have never believed you,” Thompson said.Now, he wants more. More