SAN FRANCISCO -- With four in their 30s and the fifth easily able to physically qualify for that age group, they are the five Golden State 'OGs' that will dictate whether the Warriors still have what it takes to win the NBA Finals.
It has been seven years since their first championship in 2015, and four years since their last in 2018 had them dancing through the night in Cleveland after sweeping the Cavaliers.
Stephen Curry was three months removed from his 30th birthday, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson were 28. Kevon Looney was 22 going on 30. Andre Iguodala, the veteran’s vet, was 34 -- the same age Curry will be when the Warriors take the floor for Game 1 of the Finals against the Boston Celtics on Thursday at Chase Center.
Experience is their friend, but time will try to be their enemy.
Age comes fast in the NBA. LeBron James won his last full-season ring at age 31. Same for Dwyane Wade. The late, great Kobe Bryant also was 31 when he last sprayed champagne across a locker room. Larry Bird was 29, Isiah Thomas 29 and Magic Johnson 28. Basketball is, perhaps more than any other major sport, a league of youth.
“When we won our first championship, we were young,” Green said Tuesday. “I was in my third year, Klay was in his fourth year, Steph was in his sixth year. But we were so important to that team that you tend to forget that we had super vets guiding us, showing us the way. We had Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Leandro Barbosa. We’ve had Matt Barnes. We’ve had Zaza [Pachulia]. We’ve had David West. We’ve had, along this journey, veterans that were showing us the way.”
Draymond is now in the vet role, joined by Steph and Klay and Loon. And Andre, who missed the first three rounds but appears likely to be available at some point in the Finals.
The Warriors are trying to extend their period of prosperity with an infusion of youth. Looney is the tweener, 26 going on 34. Andrew Wiggins is 27, Jordan Poole 22, rookie guard Moses Moody turned 20 on Tuesday and rookie forward Jonathan Kuminga turns 20 in October. Wiggins and Poole will play major minutes, and both rookies will be on call.
“The difference in the journey now is we’re the veterans showing the way,” Green said. “We’re still equally as important to the squad, but we’re now the veterans with more responsibility of showing these guys the way.”
There is little doubt, though, that the jewelry squad -- Curry, Green, Iguodala and Thompson each has have three rings; Looney has two -- will be first into the fray against a Celtics team with a relatively young core. Al Horford (36 on Friday) and Daniel Theis (30) are Boston’s only rotation players older than 28.
“Obviously, we have Finals experience ... that matters,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “Boston is hardly a young team. Just because they haven’t been to a Finals doesn’t mean they don’t have experience.”
Kerr pointed out Horford’s deep postseason experience (141 games). Marcus Smart (28), Jaylen Brown (25) and Jayson Tatum (24) all have appeared in at least 68 playoff games, with three trips to the Eastern Conference finals.
That age/experience balance is what makes the Celtics so dangerous. They’re led by 20-somethings but not your average 20-somethings.
The Warriors are led by, well, not your average 30-plus players. They’ve grown from fresh-faced tyros to made men in the NBA and beyond.
“I'm blessed to have kids that are now nine, six and three,” Curry said last week. “When I was back in '14, '15, chasing those playoffs, it’s just a different vibe in terms of everything that's going on in life.”
Draymond is a father, too, and he doesn’t bother concealing the flecks of gray in his beard. He knows who he is and knows the Warriors, a hybrid of age and youth, will need major contributions from both elements for the gargantuan task ahead.
That’s what Green believed at the start of the regular season and, looking back, it’s what allowed the Warriors to get back to the Finals.
“To put it all back together, that’s always been the thought,” Green said. “We’ll keep plugging away, we’ll keep developing our young guys, trying to win but ultimately understanding that we need to be healthy. And when we get back healthy, if we develop our young guys the right way, then they’ll be able to help.
“That’s kind of what’s happened. That was the plan all along. To see it come to fruition is a great thing. Love it when a plan comes together.”
And now there is one more barrier as four wins stand between the Warriors and their fourth championship in eight seasons. Such experience is their friend, though age can be a formidable enemy.
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The Golden State OGs will attempt to do what Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen did in 1998: Win one more ring, though Dennis was 37, Michael was 35 and Scottie was 32. A backup guard named Steve Kerr also was 32.
That team, with an older core than these Warriors, rode the power of Jordan to prevail in six games.
The team that best overcame Father Time, though, was the 2014 Spurs. Tim Duncan’s minutes were reduced, and his load was carefully managed, but he was 38. Manu Ginobili was 36, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw each 32. They won the Finals in five games.
Here come the Warriors, taking their shot. History tells them age comes fast in the NBA. History also tells them it can, if all goes well, be slowed long enough to raise one more Larry O’Brien Trophy.