After the sting of failing to eliminate the Cleveland Cavaliers wore off, the Warriors could reflect and see they still are in good position in the NBA Finals.
Golden State leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading back to Cleveland for Game 6 on Thursday. And it’s the Cavaliers who are in must-win mode to prevent the Warriors from popping champagne bottles and kissing the championship trophy in Quicken Loans Arena.
“It would have been nice to win (Monday), but we didn’t win,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We didn’t play very well. They played well. So we go back to Cleveland and tee it up again. But I like our position a lot better than theirs.”
Despite Monday’s 112-97 loss at Oracle Arena, history favors the Warriors. Cleveland is the 33rd team to fall behind 3-1 in the NBA Finals, and no team has come back from that deficit to win the title. Only two teams have forced a Game 7 after trailing 3-1, the last time in 1966 when the Los Angeles Lakers won Games 5 and 6 before losing the series to the Boston Celtics.
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The Warriors are in the same position as last year, with a 3-2 lead and Game 6 in Cleveland. But this time, the Warriors will be trying to rebound from a loss, one that came without suspended All-Star forward Draymond Green, who will be available Thursday.
Even without Green, the Warriors believed they could have closed out the Cavaliers at Oracle Arena. But their defense suffered without Green, and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving each scored 41 points in dominant performances. It was the first time in the NBA Finals teammates scored at least 40 points in the same game.
While James and Irving seemed to have their way all game, the Warriors struggled to score in the second half, with just 36 points and missing 18 of 21 three-point shots.
“It (is disappointing) that it happened (Monday) with the opportunity we had in front of us to close out a series at home in front of our home fans, and it’s a tough feeling,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “But you work hard in the series early to put ourselves in this position again on Thursday, and we’ll be ready. We’ll obviously watch the film and understand the way the mishaps were – especially on the defensive end against those two guys – come out with confidence and get the job done.”
Green’s strong persona will boost the Warriors’ confidence. But they likely will be without center Andrew Bogut, who left Game 5 with a sprained left knee and was scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday. If Bogut cannot play, the Warriors will have a different starting lineup for the second consecutive game, perhaps the the starting lineup that won the title last season. After Bogut struggled during last year’s NBA Finals, the Warriors benched him and moved Green to center and started Andre Iguodala. The starting lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Green, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes won three consecutive games to win the title.
As they prepare for Game 6, the Warriors have to put Monday’s loss behind them.
“You just suck it up and move on,” Thompson said. “We’re still in a great position. And obviously it stings real bad, but we’ll come back stronger.”
Clinching the series in Cleveland won’t be easy. Unlike last year, the Cavaliers will have momentum after Monday’s victory. And this year James has help from Irving, who was injured in Game 1 last year and missed the rest of the series.
“It’s a tough road environment with feisty fans,” Iguodala said. “So we’ll try to come out with a good performance for 48 minutes.”
Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones