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 last eight years, there’s a dose of cautious optimism running through the Warriors locker room as they take a 3-2 series lead in Boston to Game 6 Thursday night (9 PT on ABC). But the Warriors also clarified that no one is celebrating yet.
“You’re doing yourself a disservice if you think about things that don’t even exist yet,” Klay Thompson said.
The Warriors have struggled in closing games this postseason, failing to wrap up every series they’ve played with their first opportunity — all of them coming on the road.
The stakes that await them on the other side of their next game against the Boston Celtics only complicate the task.
“Clincher is probably the hardest game you’ll ever play,” said Andre Iguodala.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he didn’t see a common thread in the games Golden State dropped.
Maybe it’s more about the survival instinct of their opponents. Before Game 4 of the first round, Denver’s Nikola Jokic said he didn’t think his team deserved to be swept as they trailed 3-0 in the series. That propelled the Nuggets to a Game 5 victory. In the second round, Memphis outplayed the Warriors from the start. In the Conference Finals, the Mavericks were looking to avoid the sweep, as were the Nuggets.
In each of the Warriors’ three missed closing chances, they trailed in double digits at halftime. They managed to stay close in the first quarter, but the second quarter became a big problem, especially against Memphis and Dallas.
Golden State also struggled to defend the perimeter. The Warriors’ opponents shot 53 for 115 (46.1%) from beyond the 3-point line in those three losses. That could present a problem against the Celtics, as Boston reached 317 3-pointers in the playoffs, the most all-time in a single playoff year.
In that series, Games 4 and 5 were the Celtics’ first straight losing streak since late March, when they lost to the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat. Prior to that, they hadn’t dropped consecutive games since January.
“We know [the Celtics are] I’m going to play with a sense of desperation,” Thompson said. “So to match or surpass that is going to take the hardest effort we’ve had to put in all year.”
When the Warriors closed their series against Denver, Stephen Curry said Golden State may have forgotten about the guts it takes to wrap up a series, especially to start the game. This trend continued in the Western Conference Semifinals and Finals as well. But now the Warriors are leaning heavily on not just their playoff experience, but also their wins in title-deciding games.
“You just understand what the nerves are like,” Curry said. “We understand the specifics of how we have to approach the game from a physical perspective, our game plan adjustments from Game 5 to Game 6, understanding what the building will look like, that energy, being prepared for it.”
Curry said he would remind him – and his less experienced teammates – of that before the game. But after that, it’s about the mindset the Warriors have been preaching all season: stay locked in on what’s happening in front of you.
“At the end of the day, once you’re there, you just have to be in the moment,” Curry said. “You need to be present as much as possible, not worrying about the consequences of winning or losing. The only opportunity you have is those 48 minutes. The more you can trick your mind into being in the moment and going there Staying is the best advice I can give anyone in this situation because it’s probably going to be the toughest game you’ve ever played in your career because of the stakes.”