This is where the Golden State Warriors expected to be, preparing to host Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, Golden State never lost confidence, and its swagger never wavered.
That helps explain the matter-of-fact atmosphere in their locker room after the Warriors won their third in a row to put away the Thunder 96-88 in Game 7 on Monday night at Oracle Arena.
Golden State will defend its NBA title in a Finals rematch against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Game 1 is Thursday in Oakland.
The Warriors celebrated their conference title on the court. But in the locker room, there was no over-the-top hoopla, nor were there any champagne bottles to step over.
That’s because the Warriors always anticipated returning to the Finals.
“No one ever had any doubt we could get this done,” forward Draymond Green said.
The Warriors became just the 10th team in NBA history to come back from 3-1 down and win a playoff series (233 teams have faced that deficit). Golden State also is only the 31st team to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1.
After (Game 4), we just said this team has done a lot of stuff that no one has ever seen. People have seen teams down 3-1, but they ain’t seen many (comebacks). They definitely never seen a 73-win team down 3-1, so let’s continue to do things they haven’t seen.
The Warriors’ Draymond Green
Anything less than a Finals berth for not only the reigning champions but the team with the best regular season in NBA history (73-9) would have been stunning.
Green said the Warriors remained resolute despite the odds.
“After (Game 4), we just said this team has done a lot of stuff that no one has ever seen,” Green said. “People have seen teams down 3-1, but they ain’t seen many (comebacks). They definitely never seen a 73-win team down 3-1, so let’s continue to do things they haven’t seen.”
The comeback began with a win at home Thursday, followed by a fourth-quarter rally Saturday at Oklahoma City.
But even with Game 7 at home, the Warriors had trouble with the Thunder.
Oklahoma City led 48-42 at halftime. The crowd was uneasy with the prospect of Golden State falling short at home.
“The first half, you could hear the groans,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr coach. “You could hear the disappointment from the fans, and we weren’t giving them anything to cheer for.”
That changed in the third quarter. Golden State outscored Oklahoma City 29-12, fighting for rebounds and showing the aggressiveness needed to overtake the bigger, stronger Thunder.
“We just finally were able to do it,” Kerr said. “I can’t tell you why other than we tried really hard, the intensity was there, and people were putting bodies on other bodies, and it was finally successful.”
Kevin Durant did his best to rally Oklahoma City, scoring 12 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. His jumper cut Golden State’s lead to 90-86 with 1:40 to play. But Serge Ibaka fouled Stephen Curry on a three-point attempt with 1:18 left, and the MVP’s three free throws put the game out of reach.
There were only five seconds on the shot clock when Golden State inbounded before Ibaka’s foul. Durant had scored seven unanswered points and felt good about his chances to cut the lead further had the Thunder made a stop.
“That was a dagger for us,” Durant said. “That kind of hurt us.”
We just finally were able to do it. I can’t tell you why other than we tried really hard, the intensity was there and people were putting bodies on other bodies, and it was finally successful.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr
Curry scored a game-high 36 points to go with eight assists. Klay Thompson added 21 points.
Russell Westbrook had 19 points and 13 assists for the Thunder, which missed a golden opportunity to return to the Finals for the first time since 2012.
“It hurts losing,” Durant said. “Especially being up 3-1.”
Warriors vs. Cavaliers
Best of seven, all games on Ch. 10
Thursday: at Golden State, 6 p.m.
Sunday: at Golden State, 5 p.m.
June 8: at Cleveland, 6 p.m.
June 10: at Cleveland, 6 p.m.
x-June 13: at Golden State, 6 p.m.
x-June 16: at Cleveland, 6 p.m.
x-June 19: at Golden State, 5 p.m.