The Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks 120-110 on Thursday to seal their return to the NBA Finals.
After missing out the past two years, the Warriors clinched a 4-1 win in the Western Conference finals as Klay Thompson scored a game-high 32 points.
They are the first team to reach the Finals six times in eight years since the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
“This one is special because no-one thought this group would be back here,” said the Warriors’ Draymond Green.
“After being counted out, [people saying] ‘dynasty is over’, to get back is fantastic.”
Golden State will face either the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat from 2 June, with Boston having the chance to clinch the Eastern Conference finals at home on Friday.
The Warriors won the NBA title in 2015, 2017 and 2018, beating the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers each time, but lost the 2016 and 2019 finals and missed out on the play-offs while rebuilding their roster in the past two seasons.
The Michael Jordan-led Bulls won six NBA titles from 1991-1998, and Golden State coach Steve Kerr played in the last three of those wins.
“To be in the finals six times in eight years, it just takes an enormous amount of skill and determination and work,” he said.
“To get back again is special for all of us. It’s so difficult to get to the finals. It’s exhausting, stressful, emotional.”
‘It’ll be much sweeter if we complete the mission’
The Warriors have not lost a home play-off game this season, their first post-season run at San Francisco’s Chase Centre, which opened in 2019.
Luka Doncic scored 28 points for Dallas, who used a 15-0 run late in the third quarter to give themselves a chance after falling 25 points down.
But Golden State closed the third period with a 94-84 lead before starting the last with consecutive scores from Andrew Wiggins and Green.
Wiggins finished with 18 points and Green 17 while Stephen Curry, named the most valuable player for the Western Conference play-offs, added 15 and nine assists.
“This is a blessing for us to get back here, to get back where we belong,” said 34-year-old Curry, who is a two-time NBA MVP.
“It’s special to do it in our new building. This isn’t the ultimate goal but we’ve got to celebrate this for all we went through the past three years.”
Three-time winner Thompson, who missed 2019-20 after knee surgery and 2020-21 with a torn Achilles tendon, said: “I dreamt about this every day. I’m elated, but I’m still hungry. It’ll be much sweeter if we complete the mission next round.”