SAN FRANCISCO -- As Stephen Curry was named the inaugural Most Valuable Player of the Western Conference finals, Draymond Green gave the Golden State Warriors star a bear hug, lifting him up and letting out a scream.
Curry smiled and laughed as he celebrated returning to the NBA Finals, which came with the first Magic Johnson Western Conference finals MVP trophy after the Warriors eliminated the Dallas Mavericks with their 120-110 win in Game 5 on Thursday night.
The league introduced new trophies for the MVP of both the Eastern and Western Conference finals; the East's trophy is named after Larry Bird.
"The new trophy is pretty cool," said Curry, a unanimous selection of nine media members. "Especially with who it's named after, the standard that Magic set in terms of being a champion and playing the point guard position, whatever other position he played. Just the excellence that he demonstrated throughout his entire career."
Drawing a lot of Dallas' defensive attention, Curry finished Game 5 with 15 points and nine assists. He had an all-around performance in the Western Conference finals, averaging 23.8 points, 7.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 43.9% shooting from 3-point range in the series.
"He's our engine offensively," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry. "Everything revolves around him. We got a lot of great players around him and guys who fit well together. It all starts with Steph. He just creates so much havoc for the defense, that even on a night like tonight where he doesn't shoot the ball that well, he forces rotations and frees up other players.
"His defense all year has been totally underrated. He's as strong as he's ever been. He's just able to, conditioning-wise, play 35 minutes tonight, fighting over screen after screen after screen after screen, then at the other end be on the ball, get people open, knock down his shots."
For Curry, the real reward is returning to the NBA Finals. After making five straight Finals from 2014-15 to 2018-19 and winning three championships, Golden State missed the playoffs for two straight seasons.
Curry missed 60 games during the 2019-20 season because of a fractured left hand. Klay Thompson had to work his way back this season from a torn ACL and torn Achilles.
But now the Warriors are in their sixth Finals in eight years -- the first team to do so since the Chicago Bulls from 1991 to 1998, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Thompson returns as a different player and person after all the injuries he has endured since the Warriors' last Finals appearance in 2019. Green says he is at the peak of his defensive powers this time around because he says he's smarter and in the best mental space of his life. And Curry says he returns to the Finals with more experience.
"Life on and off the court," Curry said. "It's another sense of that comfort, what these experiences are like dealing with the adrenaline, the nerves. Just being able to balance even just, like, family life. I'm blessed to have kids that are now 9, 6 and 3. When I was back in '14, '15, chasing those playoffs, just a different vibe in terms of everything that's going on in life.
"It puts it all into perspective, the fact of where we are in our career, we're still playing at this high of a level. Not thinking too far ahead, we want to get the job done in the Finals, but we still have a lot more in the tank."