In Golden State, the Dubs are Back in Town

When ESPN’s telecasts of the Golden State Warriors’ first-round playoff series would cut to commercial, a funny thing would happen. Repeatedly, with a frequency that bordered on the absurd, the Disney broadcast would play Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town as the images of athletic accomplishments faded into ads for big bets, big cars, and big-time beers. “The boys are back in town!” Thin Lizzy would belt, as the blue-and-gold faded into an endorsement from Snoop Dogg, or a campaign ad from someone who still had way too much cash left in their organization. “The boys are back in town!”

Maybe it was a coincidence; the playlist probably gets set months in advance, after all. (No one at ABC purposefully introduced the first Celtics-Lakers matchup after Kobe Bryant’s death to the tune of Marshmello’s Happier. Right? Right?) Or maybe ABC, or an insightful engineer, or the universe was trying to remind us how weird and special these games were.

It was the latest in the series of funny things that had tied the Dubs’ six-game turf war with the Memphis Grizzlies like Christmas lights. Human bodies, including the angular form of Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, weren’t really supposed to fly like the Grizz did when they got near the basket, blocking shots and dunking the ball as if gravity had taken a late-night lunch break. Then again, the Warriors — “They’re about as warlike as fudge,” Rick Reilly marveled in 2016 — weren’t supposed to be angry, or mean, even after Grizzlies swingman Dillon Brooks decked Golden State guard Gary Payton II off the floor with an injured elbow in Game 2. (Warriors legend Steph Curry really wasn’t supposed to pump both his fists and roar into the San Francisco crowd when his crew bested Memphis in the fourth quarter of Game 4.)

But, then again, dynasties weren’t supposed to reappear at the top after missing the playoffs two years in a row.

On Sunday night, the Warriors will roll into Dallas just two wins away from a return to the NBA Finals. They haven’t been there since 2019 — but, then again, they haven’t been whole since 2019, thanks to a swift succession of severe injuries and the departure of sweet-scoring seven-footer Kevin Durant, all coming together that summer. Yet, here they are: With their three Hall of Fame old-timers — Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson — back in the lineup, and an almost-all-new cast of cameo-making characters, the basketball team from the Bay Area is ready to return to the biggest stage in basketball to chase their 4th crown this century.

Golden State’s first three championships (2015, 2017, 2018) didn’t feel like they came at the end of a long journey, if you were just kind of tuning in. Of course, they did — nearly everyone who hoists the O’Brien has been dreaming of doing so since they were in diapers — but the titles themselves arrived suddenly, like bolts from the forehead of Steve Kerr. As long as Curry was perpetually Curry, as long as the Warriors could dial up 20-point scoring runs like lo mein from the wok house around the corner, the magic would never stop. Every record-stretching win, on the biggest and stages, was water.

We’re well aware that was never the case, at least now. Durant left the team in 2019, with a ruptured Achilles tendon and a hankering for basketball in the Big Apple. Thompson fell off the golden earth, too, after he blew out his right knee in that year’s Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors. In the years that followed, it was just Draymond Green, or it was just Steph, or it was just the two of them, trying their absolute darndest to get a team full of young, unproven players into the playoffs.

Championship-level basketball — in Golden State or anywhere — is precious. No matter how true that was for the Dubs’ players, coaches, employees, and fans when the magic run of the mid-2010s was in full swing, you can bet it’s at the front of their minds now. Seasons like this, and seasons like those, don’t just grow on trees: You have to march to them, fight for them, and treasure them until they’re finally gone.

Dub Nation has felt a little different this year. In 2019, as the Warriors’ kingdom of the NBA hill drew to its close amid a tangle of torn ligaments, Bill Simmons said the legend of Curry had been the story of “how a tortured fanbase found redemption” behind Steph’s model of basketball jubilee. That was before the Dubs’ two years in the wilderness; these seasons feel like borrowed time. Maybe that’s because they are, and the team knows it now, sure, but Curry’s been talking about the end of these Warriors for at least six years. (“I’m gonna savor it,” he swore to Reilly in ’16, worried his team would collapse in a flash.) But talking about a thing — knowing it, even — and living it are two very different things, and the Warriors’ taste of obscurity didn’t cause them to guzzle the whole thing down into a Wizards-like state of mediocrity. Instead, they turned that feeling into a fountain of youth, the driver of the greatest second wind the NBA has seen since Chicago, 1996.

It’s the kind of party that would have printed parables in the first century AD, a feel-good story that defies the laws of age, gravity, an atrophy enough to qualify as an awesome sports-semi-science experiment. The Dubs are back in championship town! Let’s raise a glass to second chances.

For the Warriors, a trophy might do just fine.

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