Warriors on the verge of a sweep
• Brown: But ... whowill be the NBA FinalsMVP?
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.
Steve Kerr has been impressed with the way the team has turned up the defense in the playoffs.