Stephen Curry was at it again.
Last Friday, the Golden State Warriors were closing in on a victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. Up nine, with a minute and change left, Curry took the ball and dribbled toward the court’s right side, dribbling toward the 3-point line. Guarded by Paul George, Curry performed a step back and drilled a triple to seal it. The Warriors got their signature win of the season and improved their record to 6-4.
While the shot in itself was impressive, it was the bench’s reaction that became a talking point. Kerr has always stated that joy was the center of Warriors basketball. Joy powered the Warriors dynasty run of 2015-19, winning three titles and making five consecutive NBA Finals appearances. But Kevin Durant’s departure, injuries to Curry and Klay Thompson took the air out of the Warriors for the 2019-20 season. D’Angelo Russell’s trade and relying on Draymond Green could not salvage a Warriors season ending with a 15-50 record.
But it appears that Joy is back, and with that comes optimism. Curry is back in MVP mode, averaging 27.8 points per game. While his field goal percentage (43) and 3-point percentage (36.9) are down from his career averages, his 62-point explosion versus the Portland Trail Blazers signaled he was back and hungry to regain form. Andrew Wiggins is adding value to both ends of the floor. Draymond Green is finding his groove while playing quarterback. Lastly, James Wiseman is showing extraordinary promise.
The Warriors of old had promise, too, but needed a new voice to lift them past potential. Enter Steve Kerr with his four tenants: joy, mindfulness, compassion, and competition. They took the NBA by storm with Kerr’s hybrid Triangle/motion offense, going 140-24 in two years. Along with those wins, they won the 2015 NBA Finals and were a Green suspension away from a title in 2016. But their culture was about the team. Their mantra was strength in numbers, from Curry to the last man on the roster, everyone was required to pull their weight. This culture buy-in was what compelled Kevin Durant to want to come to the Bay Area. Or, so he says.
But this was why Kerr received criticism for last season’s performance. Sure, Curry, Thompson, and Durant were injured (Durant, of course, is a Brooklyn Nets member). But a strong culture is supposed to be designed to withstand hardships. Take the New England Patriots for 2020. No, they did not make the playoffs this season. But a 7-9 record with a declining quarterback in Cam Newton, lack of talent offensively, and opt-outs on the ball’s defensive side is still an extraordinary job by head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots could have easily been a team with a top pick and given up without franchise cornerstone Tom Brady. But Belichick’s culture has been set in stone, so in 2021 they can look to compete again.
Kerr’s culture perhaps needed a reboot after the Durant fiasco in 2019. Durant took the team down under with his free agent dilemma, and it took its toll on his teammates. But there is no more Durant, and the team is back where it started in 2014-15: with something to prove. Going back to Curry’s three over Paul George, the bench reaction signifies that the culture Kerr brought in is returning. The Warriors appear to be rejuvenated and alive. They have not won every game, but they are competing again. For a team that won three NBA titles with Kerr, Green, and Curry still in tow, this is what the NBA world wants to see.
Will the Warriors win the NBA championship this season? Probably not. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Wiggins are substantial additions, but they are not Klay Thompson. However, they can continue to compete as they did in yesteryears, like how the Patriots did in 2020. Even though they are only 6-5, the excellent news is Kerr’s tenants are once again back in the forefront. Just like how it used to be.