The closest Steve Kerr has come to a perfect postseason was in 1996.
On a Bulls team that went 15-3 en route to a championship, Chicago went ahead in the NBA Finals 3-0 on the Seattle SuperSonics before losing the next two games.
It goes to show that no team — not even one led by Michael Jordan — is immune to pressure. Reminiscing before practice on Thursday, Kerr said:
“It’s hard. In the playoffs, every team is good. Particularly as you go deeper, it gets tougher and tougher.”
In the present, the Cavaliers are probably the toughest team Kerr’s Warriors will see. And they’ve rolled through the playoffs with ease, now just one win shy of completing the postseason a perfect 16-0 if they finish off the Finals in Game 4 on Friday in Cleveland.
After the game, Kerr attributed the come-from-behind win to the Warriors’ bevy of experience in the Finals — all of it coming against Cleveland.
In 2015, they closed out their first championship in 40 years in Cleveland. In 2016, they blew a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers. So, up 3-0 in 2017, the divergent endings of the last two seasons are fresh on the Warriors’ minds.
Draymond Green said:
“We’ve won here before on their court. As an athlete, one of the best feelings is going into enemy territory and just silencing their crowd. It would be a great feeling.”
But Klay Thompson pointed out that last season, when they had three chances to close out the Cavaliers, the Warriors looked ahead instead of focusing on finishing off the task:
“Last year, we might have gotten excited thinking, ‘Oh, we have a chance to go to a parade. 3-1 hole, they can’t come back from that.’ This year, we’re still hungry to get that fourth win. They’re not out of it until it’s over. It definitely helps that it’s fresh in our minds.”
The close-out game is the toughest one in the series. With each win, the opponent grabs a little bit of momentum and hope that they could get back in the race. Kerr said:
“You want to get it done. You don’t want to mess around. You’re up 3-0, you have all the momentum, you have to carry that through.”
While the Warriors clutch to what seems an insurmountable lead, the margin between a comfortable 3-0 cushion and a precarious 2-1 series was a single basket by Durant. The Cavaliers showed on Wednesday that they have the firepower to stay with the Warriors, and they won’t roll over in Game 4 in front of their fans.
Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue said:
“We’re not going to give in. We’re going to keep competing. We had a chance to win last night, and if we come out with the fight and intensity that we played with last game, clean up a few mistakes, then we have a chance to win on Friday.”
Thompson thinks so:
“We know Cleveland is not the type of team that’s going to lie down just because they’re down 3-0. They didn’t lie down last year. We don’t expect them to do the same this year. We’ve got to go out and force our way. We can’t expect them to give it to us just because they’re down 3-0. It’s easy to relax thinking you have four chances to win a championship, but that’s not our mindset tomorrow.”
However, unlike last season, when the Warriors had no answer with the Cavaliers smothering Curry, Golden State holds a trump card: Durant. The lanky forward is closing in on his first championship, and is the likely choice for Finals MVP if the Warriors win, averaging 34 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the series. He has everyone — including LeBron James and Kyrie Irving — gushing about his play. Irving said:
“We witnessed a closing game by Kevin Durant that you can’t prepare for.”
But Durant, like his teammates, is not resting on his laurels. He wasn’t part of last year’s debacle, but he knows what losing is like. After all, his Thunder blew a 3-1 lead themselves to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last season:
“I know how you can lose a game or give away a series or give a momentum swing. I know all about it.”
So, he’s staying locked in, not entertaining the thought of his shot on Wednesday night living in Finals lore:
“They’re still champions, and we got to go take it.”