Warriors, poised for sweep, know there is more work to do
Players are mindful they need another win to bring home the bling
CLEVELAND — With tears welling in her eyes and emotions still high, Wanda Durant thanked former NBA player Paul Pierce in the hallway outside the Golden State Warriors’ locker room for saying her NBA Finals Game 3-saving son, Kevin Durant, was the best player in the league.
“Tell them again, Paul. They don’t believe!” Wanda Durant said.
Pierce, whose nickname is “The Truth,” said: “I told the truth.”
Shortly after and nearby, Mary Babers-Green, Warriors forward Draymond Green’s mother, sported a Warriors jacket and twice yelled the popular hook from rapper Fat Joe: “Nothing can stop us, we all the way up!”
Warriors guard Stephen Curry’s wife, parents, sister and agent and members of Warriors ownership were all aglow after their team moved one win away from a championship after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 118-113, on Wednesday night. While the championship party appeared to start early outside the locker room, inside the Warriors players verbalized a different, one-game-at-a-time mentality as one more triumph in the best-of-seven series is needed to bring home the bling.
“We’ve got one more game. This thing is not over,” Green told The Undefeated. “Don’t get all excited. At the end of the day, we came here to win the game. We won a game. We’re a great team. We expect to come win.
“We’ve got another game to win, period. That was the message. That was everyone.”
Considering the turn of events in this instant classic on the Quicken Loans Arena floor, it’s stunning the Warriors are in position to sweep LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the reigning NBA champion Cavaliers in Game 4 here on Friday.
Golden State won the first two games of these Finals by an average of 21.5 points per game. The Warriors have not lost since April 10 in the regular season against the Utah Jazz and entered Game 3 riding a 14-game winning streak.
Back at home, Cleveland seemed to regain its power as it held a 113-109 lead with 1:24 remaining, with James and Irving stepping up to combine for 77 points.
Durant brought the Warriors within two points, 113-111, with a 13-foot pull-up jumper with 1:13 remaining. With 52.5 seconds left, James threw a fastball to Cavaliers sharpshooter Kyle Korver for a 3-pointer, but it didn’t fall. Unfazed by the stakes, Durant followed with the biggest 3-pointer of his career atop the key to give the Warriors the lead, 114-113, with 45.3 seconds left.
Watching from the stands was Durant’s mother and Rich Kleiman, CEO of The Durant Company, who exchanged high-fives and hugs as she exclaimed, “Yeah, baby,” after the first-year Warriors forward’s shot. Also watching from the stands were 20,562 mostly heartbroken Cavaliers fans.
“It was a good time,” said Durant, who had 31 points. “It was 45 seconds to go, we were down two. If I miss, we could have got another stop, but glad I was able to knock that down. I just tried to stay disciplined in my shot, hold my follow-through, and it went in.”
Said Irving: “K.D. comes down, hits a big 3, puts them up one, ‘iso’ on the wing. I’ll probably be playing that for a while. … It definitely hurts.”
Just a block away from the Jack Cleveland Casino, Irving gambled and lost when he attempted a difficult step-back 3-pointer with 26.5 seconds left and the Cavs down just a point. Irving missed all seven 3-pointers he attempted on the night. The Warriors followed with a pair of free throws by Durant, an outstanding shot block from Andre Iguodala on an errant James 3-point attempt and two free throws by Curry to seal it with 9.6 seconds left.
“It was as loud as I’ve ever heard it in there when they were up late,” Curry said. “Then there was a meteoric shift. That’s crazy. Never a doubt, right?”
Said Green: “I could hear myself talk after Steph made those two free throws.”
If the Warriors sweep to win their second NBA championship in three years, the storylines will be aplenty.
- Durant will earn the last laugh after all the criticism he received from the media, Oklahoma City Thunder fans and social media haters when he departed from the Thunder for the Warriors as a free agent last offseason. Durant had previously played with only the Thunder franchise, which was eliminated by the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference finals after blowing a 3-1 lead. The 2014 NBA MVP previously told The Undefeated that he made a “100 percent correct decision” to go to Golden State. Durant lost to James and the Miami Heat in 2012 in his lone previous NBA Finals appearance.
- Green could receive redemption for being suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The then-injury-plagued Warriors were up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series but stunningly lost the last three games and the series after Green’s suspension.
- The Warriors have received a lot of ridicule for losing that 3-1 series lead to the Cavaliers last year. The worst trolling came from the Cavaliers players themselves. James wore an “Ultimate Warrior” T-shirt the day after winning the NBA Finals. And during a Cavaliers Halloween party, there were “3-1 lead” decorations and Curry and Klay Thompson tombstone cookies. Twitter has been abuzz since the end of the 2016 NBA Finals with constant 3-1 trolling.
- Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown was fired twice by the Cavaliers, who are still paying him. Brown coached the Warriors to a 113-91 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals after head coach Steve Kerr missed the game with complications from back surgery. Kerr has coached the past two Finals games for the Warriors after Brown served as acting head coach for 11 games. Winning an NBA championship in Cleveland would probably be priceless to Brown and his family.
- Warriors rookie guard Patrick McCaw would set an NBA record by becoming the first rookie to go 14-0 in the postseason. The record is held by then-Los Angeles Lakers rookie forward Mark Madsen, who went 13-0 with the 2001 NBA champions. On the flip side, Warriors 15-year veteran forward Matt Barnes and 14-year veteran forward David West would also win their first NBA championships.
- The Warriors would become the first NBA team to go 16-0 in the postseason. Golden State won an NBA championship in 2015 with a win in Cleveland in Game 6. The Cavaliers were upset about Curry later saying he could still smell the champagne in the locker room after returning to Cleveland for the first time in the 2015-16 season. But Curry has a chance to spray champagne in the same locker room again.
With all the challenges of this season in mind, could Green imagine the emotions the Warriors would have if they swept these Finals?
“Huge. A lot of emotions,” Green said. “They have been chirping a lot the entire [season], throughout the course of the playoffs, throughout the course of the Finals. The world has been chirping. It would be huge to close this thing out here and just roll on. The emotions will be running extremely high even before closing out, just knowing you have the opportunity.
“The emotions will be high. You have to be ready to go and locked in.”
The Warriors are 3-0 in close-out games this postseason with a Western Conference Finals-clinching triumph at San Antonio, a second-round clinching triumph at Utah and a first-round clinching triumph at Portland. The last one against a prideful James and his Cavaliers in Cleveland would be expected to be the toughest. No NBA team has come back from being down 3-0 in the Finals. But no NBA team had ever come back from being down 3-1 until the Cavaliers did it last season.
Keep in mind that the hoops superhero James is on the Cavaliers’ roster. With last season’s blown 3-1 lead haunting the Warriors and the greatness of James as a reminder, the 2015 NBA champions know they’d better have the right fight, focus and teamwork to bring the trophy back to Oakland, California, after four games.
“We’ve put ourselves in position to close this thing,” Green said. “Let’s not come out and give a game away and think, ‘We’re coming back home. We’re fine.’ Let’s end this thing and come out with the mindset of closing this thing out and doing it right.
“Not coming out, turning the ball over 20 times. Let’s have a low turnover game with our brand of basketball and do this thing the right way.”
Said Durant: “I’ve never been in this position before. I don’t want to relax. It’s not over. This is a crazy game. Anything can happen, so I don’t want to relax or feel like it’s over. It’s not.”