Haunted by memories of a momentum-swinging flop last year, the playoff unbeaten Golden State Warriors adopted a cautious tone on the eve of Wednesday’s third game of the NBA Finals.
Lopsided home triumphs over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers gave Golden State a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and a 14-0 post-season record, the longest win streak in NBA playoff history.
But only two victories shy of becoming the first perfect playoff champion in NBA history, the Warriors are mindful of last year’s 120-90 game-three loss at Cleveland, which shifted momentum to the Cavaliers on their way to making the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to win the title.
“It was the nature with which they won that game, the force that they brought. They blew us out. And I thought that gave them confidence, gave their crowd confidence,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“They just took it to us right from the beginning. I remember our offense was pushed back to half court the first few possessions. They set a great tone. They went up big right away, and so we’ve got to be ready for that initial force.”
After a record 73 regular-season wins went without a title to cap the effort, the Warrios want to slam the door on another epic comeback.
“Tomorrow night’s a pivotal game and can really swing the momentum of this series if we’re not ready to play,” Warriors forward Klay Thompson said.
– Thin line: success, failure –
This year, the Warriors boast superstar forward Kevin Durant, hungry to win his first NBA title, and stars like Stephen Curry, out to avenge last year’s finals loss to the Cavaliers.
“We can learn that how thin the line is from success and failure,” Curry said. “Usually home teams have a different spark about them.
“You’ve got to just understand what’s at stake every possession from the jump. The biggest thing for us is we usually haven’t gotten off to a great start in this building. Hopefully we can play better in that first quarter especially to give ourselves a little bit more momentum than we’ve had in the past here.”
Kerr is concerned first and foremost about Golden State winning a second title in three years. If they can sweep the Cavs as they did Portland, Utah and San Antonio to complete a perfect playoff run, fine. But after last year’s near miss, first things first.
“You win two games at home, you haven’t really done anything yet,” Kerr said. “No matter whether you’re 14-0 or 14-7 in the playoffs, it’s just 2-0 (in the finals) and you got to win one on the road to really take control. We’ve got to come out and play our best game of the series to win.”
The Cavaliers see it as must-win game as well. No team in NBA playoff history has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
“We have to take care of home court,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said. “It’s going to be very telling in the series, a huge game for both teams, and we feel like we play great here or we go home.”
– ‘Hardest game’ of finals –
But the sting from last year’s loss has the Warriors lingers.
“I think guys are locked in like I’ve never seen before, understand the task ahead and know this is going to be the hardest game of the series,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said.
“If we can come out on top we put ourselves in a tremendous position… We’ve got to come out ready to fight because they’re going to throw everything at us.”
Cleveland fans, who last year celebrated the town’s first sports title in 52 years, will try to lift the Cavs’ energy to new heights.
“They’re going to be excited, the energy’s going to be at full tilt,” Cavs center Tristan Thompson said. “They have our back and they’re definitely going to energize us and we’ve got to feed off that, got to give them the same energy back. We got to come out and set the tone early.”
Durant said he can feel the impact Golden State’s third-quarter runs have had in sapping the will from their rivals.
“When you’re the one making the run, you could definitely feel the other team looking for answers and being deflated as the game goes on,” Durant said. “But it can’t be just a few minutes. It has to be more consistent.” – Agence France-Presse