BOSTON — The Golden State Warriors find themselves in a position they’ve been in many times before: one win away from an NBA title.
Playing in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in the past eight years, there’s a dose of cautious optimism flowing through the Warriors’ locker room as they take a 3-2 series lead in Boston for Game 6 on Thursday. at night (9 PT on ABC). But the Warriors also made it clear that no one is celebrating yet.
“You do yourself a disservice if you think about things that don’t exist yet,” said Klay Thompson.
The Warriors have struggled in closing games this postseason, failing to wrap up every series they’ve played with their first down, all on the road.
The stakes that await them on the other side of their next game against the Boston Celtics only make it more difficult.
“Webbing is probably the hardest game you’ll ever play,” Andre Iguodala said.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he doesn’t see a common thread in the games Golden State has lost.
Perhaps it is more about the survival instincts of his opponents. Before Game 4 of the first round, Denver’s Nikola Jokic said he didn’t feel his team deserved to be swept when he trailed 3-0 in the series. That propelled the Nuggets to win Game 5. In the second round, Memphis outscored the Warriors early on. In the conference finals, the Mavericks were looking to avoid the sweep, as were the Nuggets.
On each of the Warriors’ three failed closing opportunities, they trailed by double figures at the half. They managed to stay close in the first quarter, but the second quarter turned into a big problem, especially against Memphis and Dallas.
Golden State has also struggled to defend the perimeter. The Warriors’ opponents have shot 53 of 115 (46.1%) from beyond the 3-point line in those three losses. This could present a problem against the Celtics, as Boston has made 317 3-pointers this postseason, the most ever in a single playoff year.
In this series, Games 4 and 5 were the first consecutive losing series the Celtics had string together since late March, when they lost to the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat. Before that, they hadn’t lost consecutive games since January.
“We know [the Celtics are] he’s going to play with a sense of desperation,” Thompson said. “So for us to match that or exceed it, it’s going to take the most effort we’ve had to put in all year.”
As the Warriors closed out their series against Denver, Stephen Curry said Golden State might have forgotten the courage it takes to close out a series, especially to start the game. That trend also continued in the Western Conference semifinals and conference finals. But now, the Warriors are relying heavily on not only their playoff experience, but also winning games to clinch the title.
“You just understand what nerves are like,” Curry said. “We understand the details of how we need to approach the game from a physical perspective, the adjustments to our game plan from Game 5 to Game 6, understand what the building is going to feel like, that energy, be prepared for that.”
Curry said he will remind himself and his less experienced teammates of that heading into the game. But after that, it’s about the mindset the Warriors have been preaching all season: stay focused on what’s happening in front of you.
“At the end of the day, once you get out there, you just have to be in the moment,” Curry said. “You have to be present as much as possible, not worry about the consequences of a win or a loss. The only chance you have is those 48 minutes. The more you can trick your mind into being in the moment and staying there, that’s the best advice I can give to anybody in that situation, because it’s going to be the hardest game you’ve probably played in your career because of the stakes.”