Golden State Warriors eliminate Dallas Mavericks with Game 5 win, return to NBA Finals for first time since 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr watched his team celebrate their 120-110 win over the Dallas Mavericks, he had a flashback to 2015. He was a rookie coach, and his team had just won the Western Conference finals, punching their ticket to the NBA Finals. That was the start of what would become a dynasty.

As his team hoisted the Conference finals trophy on Thursday, he looked throughout the crowd at Chase Center -- just as he did at Oracle Arena seven years ago -- and let the moment sink in.

It was the moment that the Warriors had made the NBA Finals for the first time since 2019 and for the sixth time in the past eight years.

"Tonight was different because we've done it before," Kerr said. "But in a different way, it was incredibly meaningful given everything that we've been through organizationally over the last couple of years."

Over the past two years, everything came crashing down for the Warriors. Just two seasons ago, Golden State had the worst record in the NBA. This time last year, Klay Thompson was just starting to run again after consecutive ACL and Achilles tears. But following the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, which ended after two play-in game losses, Stephen Curry issued a warning: "You don't want to see us next year."

"It was more just a message for us," Curry said. "It wasn't for anybody else. It was a message for us to stay locked on the opportunity that was coming our way because we had built such a good momentum finishing the years, reestablishing what Warriors basketball was."

A big part of reestablishing Warriors basketball has been the return of Thompson. As the team was presented with their trophy, his emotions were palpable, even needing to cut his on-court interview short as he fought to hold back tears.

"I'm happy for everybody ... [but] it's hard not to be most excited for Klay," Kerr said. "The fight that he's been through to get back to this point. Just an incredible accomplishment for him. For him to be a part of it, he's so happy again. It's wonderful to see."

Thompson played his best game of the series, finishing with a game-high 32 points on 12-of-25 shooting, including 8 3-pointers. Thompson became the first player in NBA history to hit 8 3s in multiple series-clinching games in his career (he hit 8 in Game 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies).

"I dreamt about this day," Thompson said. "Just my appreciation for moving my body again, I thought about that. I thought about those days I couldn't run or jump, how lucky we are to do what we do. Just to be here again wearing this [Western Conference Champion] shirt, wear this [NBA Finals] hat, I mean, I dreamt of this."

Heading into this season, the most commonly heard phrase from the Warriors was, "Once Klay comes back ..." From the start, the Warriors saw his return as the puzzle piece to make them not only whole again, but a title contender again.