War­riors on the verge of a sweep

• Brown: But ... whow­ill be the NBA Fi­nal­sMVP?

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Me­d­ina mme­d­ina@ba­yare­anews­group.com

CLEVE­LAND » If noth­ing else, War­riors for­ward Dray­mond Green knows he will al­ways look good. His suit de­signer, Pa­trick Henry Jr., other­wise known as “Rich-fresh” has planned out ev­ery out­fit he will wear be­fore each and ev­ery play­off game.

So when it comes to the War­riors play­ing in Game 4 against the Cleve­land Cava­liers to­day, the im­pli­ca­tions go be­yond whether the War­riors can be­come the ninth team in NBA his­tory to sweep a Fi­nals se­ries and the first since San An­to­nio swept Cleve­land in 2007.

“I’ve got a Game 5 out­fit,” Green said, grin­ning. “It’s pretty dope. I re­ally don’t want to wear it, though.”

In­stead, Green would like to drench his uni­form and pos­si­bly his suit with cham­pagne to cel- ebrate what would be the War­riors’ sixth NBA cham­pi­onship and third in the past four years. No team in NBA his­tory has ever over­come a 3- 0 play­off se­ries deficit. Yet, the War­riors are still mind­ful that Cleve­land over­came a 3-1 se­ries deficit to win the 2016 cham­pi­onship.

“You never know, crazy things that can hap­pen, turn of events in a se­ries that could take place,” Green said. “So you have the op­por­tu­nity to close out, you want to do that. So you come in, take full ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity in front of us.”

Can the War­riors take ad­van­tage of that op­por­tu­nity? Recent play­off his­tory sug­gests no.

The War­riors won their first three play­off games in the first round against San An­to­nio, only to lose by 13 points in Game 4. The War­riors won their first two play­off games in the Western Con--

fer­ence semi­fi­nals against New Or­leans, only to lose by 19 points in Game 3. Though the War­riors an­tic­i­pated stronger com­pe­ti­tion in the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals against Houston, the War­riors fol­lowed a 13-point win in Game 1 with a 22-point loss in Game 2.

The War­riors faced sim­i­lar ap­a­thy in the 2017-18 reg­u­lar sea­son. Though they fin­ished No. 2 in the Western Con­fer­ence with a 58-24 record, the War­riors con­ceded feel­ing bored and fa­tigued af­ter mak­ing three con­sec­u­tive Fi­nals runs against Cleve­land.

“It’s been our most in­con­sis­tent sea­son. It’s been our most dif­fi­cult sea­son,” War­riors coach Steve Kerr said. “But our guys sense the fin­ish line, and they turned it on right fromthe be­gin­ning of the play­offs de­fen­sively. That’s what’s been key.”

The num­bers tell most of the story. In the 2017-18 reg­u­lar sea­son, the War­riors fin­ished eighth in de­fen­sive rat­ing (104.2), third in de­fen­sive field-goal per­cent­age (44.7) and 10th in perime­ter de­fense (35.7). In the play­offs, the War­riors have fared first in de­fen­sive rat­ing (100.9), in de­fen­sive field- goal per­cent­age (42.7) and perime­ter de­fense (31.4).

Those num­bers do not scare Cleve­land, even if Le­Bron James’ sup­port­ing cast lacks the same depth as the War­riors’ four All-Stars with Green, Stephen Curry, Klay Thomp­son and Kevin Du­rant. The Cava­liers pre­vented the War­riors from com­plet­ing a sweep last year by record­ing a Fi­nals record 86 points in the first half in a Game 4 win.

“We know we can beat this team, and we have to have the con­fi­dence to do that,” Cava­liers coach Ty­ronn Lue said. “We’ve got to be bet­ter in some ar­eas that we had some break­downs. But our fo­cus is not on win­ning four. Our fo­cus is win­ning Game 4. That’s got to be our mind­set.”

De­spite the larger mar­gin for er­ror with both tal­ent and se­ries lead, the War­riors in­sist they will also have that mind­set. There­fore, Kerr re­spect­fully de­clined to re­flect on the War­riors- Cava­liers ri­valry in the past four years. Thomp­son de­clined to com­pare and con­trast the feel­ings when the War­riors won an NBA ti­tle in Game 6 in Cleve­land (2015) and in Game 5 in Oak­land (2017).

“It’s nat­u­ral to feel great about yourself right now. It’s nat­u­ral to be on a high be­cause we’re 48 min­utes away from the cham­pi­onship. But that’s the feel­ings you have to fight,” Thomp­son said. “You’ve got to fight com­pla­cency. You’ve got to fight the feel­ing like you’ve al­ready won this thing. It’s far from over. This is not a team that will roll over and just give you the game.”

Af­ter all, the Cava­liers have won the re­bound­ing bat­tle in all three games. In Game 3, War­riors guard Stephen Curry had 11 points while shoot­ing only 3 of 16 from the field and 1 of 10 from3-point range. Thomp­son added 10 points on only a 4- of-11 clip.

If noth­ing else, those poor shoot­ing num­bers alone could pro­pel the War­riors’ start­ing back­court to im­prove their ef­fi­ciency.

“It is a team sport and it feels amaz­ing to win. You win and lose as a team. But you al­ways think in the back of your mind if I do this bet­ter in­di­vid­u­ally we could have won by this much,” Thomp­son said. “So me and Steph, ob­vi­ously, are think­ing that over th­ese next cou­ple days, and we’ll have a bet­ter per­for­mance from us if we do that.”

So will the War­riors if they mas­ter what vet­eran guard Shaun Liv­ingston called “the game within the game.” That in­volves fo­cus­ing less on mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for postgame cel­e­bra­tions un­til the mo­ment hap­pens.

“We’re very con­fi­dent. But I don’t think we can be over­con­fi­dent,” Liv­ingston said. “It’s kind of the hu­man na­ture thing to do is to be over­con­fi­dent. So I think we feel good about where we’re at, but we still have to have the ap­pro­pri­ate fear and come out and play the game.”

Can­di­dates for Fi­nals MVP are War­riors’ fa­vorite Kevin Du­rant, left, con­tender Stephen Curry, right, and the Cava­liers’ long shot Le­Bron James, whose team will try to avoid a sweep.

PHOTOS BY NHAT V. MEYER, DOUG DURAN AND JOSE CAR­LOS FAJARDO — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHERS

JOSE CAR­LOS FAJARDO — STAFF

Steve Kerr has been im­pressed with the way the team has turned up the de­fense in the play­offs.

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