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Steph still wearing 'permanent smile' after latest title

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STATELINE, Nev. – Stephen Curry’s high entered its fourth week on Friday. He does not know how long this intoxicant stay in his bloodstream, but he’s allowing himself to enjoy every second of NBA Finals afterglow.

“It means the world,” Curry said this week at the American Century Championship golf tournament held near Lake Tahoe. “Especially with what we’ve been through the last seven years, since the first one.”

The first one, in 2015 was a very pleasant surprise. Those Warriors, young and ebullient under first-year coach Steve Kerr, went from a first-round exit a year earlier to winning it all. Accelerating at warp speed, they blew past the typical NBA championship trajectory.

This championship, the fourth in Curry’s 13-year Warriors career, is being savored in ways the previous three were not. Maybe. He says can’t recall how he absorbed the sense of accomplishment in the weeks following those titles.

“That’s the beauty of living in the moment, enjoying the journey of what it takes to be competitive and build chemistry within the team,” Curry said. “We stayed in the moment. We didn’t really worry about the narratives, outside of taking each game at a time. I hate the clichés, but that’s exactly how you get back to this point.

“It’s a permanent smile on my face, but it’s still very surreal.”

The 2021-22 Warriors were widely projected to make the playoffs but certainly finish behind the Western Conference favorite Lakers, and probably the defending conference champion Suns. The most optimistic projections had the Warriors as the fourth-best team in the NBA.

 

The preseason skepticism was justifiable. The Warriors had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons. Steph would turn 34. Klay Thompson, coming off two full seasons of inactivity, would miss at least the first two months. Draymond Green was starting to show signs of wear. Andrew Wiggins was considered an unreliable producer, Kevon Looney a health hazard. 

Moreover, the bench consisted of veterans Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica trying to revive their careers, an inconsistent Jordan Poole, very young rookies and well-meaning fringe players Gary Payton II, Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson.

There was no knowing when, or if, James Wiseman would contribute.

With such common belief, it was difficult for many to believe that a roster with such an unimposing blend could vault all the way to the top of the league.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Curry said. “Myself, Klay, Draymond, Andre, Loon -- the guys who have been around -- we pride ourselves on being able to give (the rest of the roster) tools in the kit and the perspective of what it takes to be champions. And you watch them blossom. Wiggs. JP. GP. Otto. Beli. A lot of guys that really stepped up and made an impact and got to another level.

“You understand that winning a championship is not a single person. It’s not a collective of two or three. It’s everybody.”

It was the disrespect along the way, the kind of slights that sit in Curry’s gut, that surely fueled Golden State’s drive to the championship.

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When the Warriors reached the conference finals, FiveThirtyEight gave them a seven percent chance to The Finals -- fourth among the four conference finalists. This was despite having, as the No. 3 seed, the homecourt advantage over the Mavericks.

After they defeated Dallas in five games to win the West, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gave them a 14 percent chance to best the Celtics for the title -- again despite Golden State’s homecourt advantage.

The Warriors prevailed over Boston in six games -- winning Game 6 on June 17 at TD Garden.

“Honestly, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” Curry said. “It’s still very surreal. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster for sure.”

At some point this summer, Steph will fully digest this accomplishment. Perhaps after one of his legendary workouts, as he fights the aging process, he will return to earth.

Meanwhile, he will happily soar for as long as he can. 

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