As Golden State Warriors fans spilled out of Oracle Arena on Sunday night into an impromptu celebration, they chanted, “One more win.”
And no one expects that win to come easily.
Golden State beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-91 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday and leads the best-of-seven series 3-2. On Tuesday, the Warriors can win their first NBA championship since 1975. All they have to do is take Game 6 on the road at Quicken Loans Arena against LeBron James, who remains confident he is “the best player in the world” and plans to return to Oakland for Game 7 Friday.
“A long season goes into these last moments of the Finals,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “We fought hard all year and put ourselves in good position now to go to Cleveland and hopefully close it out.
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“So we’re confident. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. In the locker room (after Game 5), if you walked in there, (the atmosphere) was the exact same after a regular-season win.”
Of course, it wasn’t just another win. It has been 40 years since the Warriors were in this position, and anxiousness could be at its highest.
The Warriors were prohibitive favorites entering the series and appeared to have a stronger upper hand after the Cavaliers lost Kyrie Irving to a fractured kneecap in Game 1. But the series has been far from lopsided. Led by James’ brilliance, Cleveland has persevered despite an injury-depleted roster that also is missing Kevin Love. And James will be especially motivated to stave off elimination.
“Well, the close-out game is always the hardest game in every series, but particularly in the Finals,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “What I’m excited about is I think we can play a lot better, and that’s what I told our team.”
The Warriors committed 17 turnovers Sunday, and a similar showing could fuel the Cavaliers in front of their home crowd. Kerr said his team was “scattered” and “rushed” on offense at times.
“But all in all, I loved the defensive intensity,” Kerr said. “We made a few mistakes here and there, but our guys are competing like crazy, and that’s what it takes.”
The Warriors seem to grasp the importance of expecting Cleveland at its best. Like Golden State, the Cavaliers believe they have yet to give a peak performance in the series.
“We know the sense of urgency of the moment,” Curry said. “It’s a good feeling to get a win in Cleveland and understand we can get it done and how we need to get it done. So, ready for the opportunity.”
This opportunity has been a long time in the making for Golden State, which has been one of the league’s running jokes for most of the past four decades.
“I think just being in the league for 11 years and never being in this moment and knowing how hard it is, I’m just excited to get back on the court and just playing as hard as possible,” Warriors forward Andre Iguodala said. “Win, lose or draw, just knowing I gave it my all throughout the whole process. I don’t think a trophy or a ring can really signify who you are as a person, but the work you put in kind of says it all.”
James just wants the Cavaliers to avoid the mistakes that proved costly at home in Game 4. Keeping the Warriors from partying in Cleveland is not extra motivation.
“Well, we don’t want them celebrating at all, no matter if it’s on our home floor or their home floor,” James said. “We’ve come this far, and we’ve been very good at home. We have to understand why we weren’t good in Game 4.
“We had a lack of energy. We had a lack of effort in a lot of areas in Game 4, and we can’t repeat that, or they’ll raise the trophy for sure.”
And Cavaliers fans won’t leave their arena talking of one more win.
Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones.
Warriors lead series 3-2; TV: Ch. 10
- Game 1: Golden State 108, Cleveland 100 (OT)
- Game 2: Cleveland 95, Golden State 93 (OT)
- Game 3: Cleveland 96, Golden State 91
- Game 4: Golden State 103, Cleveland 82
- Game 5: Golden State 104, Cleveland 91
- Today: at Cleveland, 6p.m.
- Friday: at Golden State, 6p.m.*