OAKLAND, Calif. — Steve Kerr gave his Golden State players a much-needed mental day off with time to rest their weary bodies, and he got back to work trying to figure out how to save the season against a powerful Thunder team that shows no signs of slowing down.
Back to the basics, back to doing the little things that got the Warriors this far.
After a record 73 wins in the regular season, the Warriors are on the brink as they go into Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Thursday night in Oakland trailing the Thunder 3-1 after a second straight lopsided loss in Oklahoma City.
No denying it’s a daunting task for the defending champs – especially given that MVP Stephen Curry is a far cry from being completely healthy.
“Well, it’s a sense of reality staring us in the face. We’re down 3-1,” Kerr said Wednesday. “Momentum can shift quickly in the playoffs. We’ve seen that the last couple years. Let’s take care of business at home, get some momentum back and we’ve got a chance.”
All season long, the Warriors have taken the best efforts from every opponent. The just haven’t shown the vulnerabilities that appeared the past two games in Oklahoma City, where Golden State lost back-to-back games for the first time during its record-setting season.
The flight home was hardly fun following Tuesday’s 118-94 defeat.
“It was not festive. It was quiet,” Kerr said.
The Warriors shot 41 percent and committed 21 turnovers that led to 18 Thunder points. Curry was 6 for 20 and missed eight of his 10 3-point attempts to score 19 points, sparking further talk that he’s far from full strength. The unanimous MVP has dealt with ankle, knee and elbow injuries this postseason alone.
Kerr isn’t about to put a percentage on his superstar’s health.
“I don’t do that. If he were struggling with anything, I would know,” Kerr said. “Nobody has said anything about Steph being 70 percent to me. Our training staff, relatives, friends, sources with knowledge of our team’s thinking, nobody has told me he’s 70 percent.”
Golden State will likely need a big night from Curry to get back in this.
Only nine teams in NBA history have rallied from being down 3-1 to win a postseason series, yet Kerr was quick to note, “I’m guessing most of them weren’t the defending champs.”
With the season on the line, first-year Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan expects the Warriors to bring their best while back in front of their home fans.
“Again, we have great respect for Golden State. We know how good of a team they are. You’ve got to get to a place after each game – what happened in the game, what do we need to get better, what do we do well, what are some changes or adjustments we need to make – and then you’ve got to move into the next one,” Donovan said.
“I just don’t believe that Game 5 is a continuation from Game 4. This is its own separate game and we’re going to have to go now on the road to play in a very difficult environment against a great team.”
The Thunder know full well how close they are but also that nothing will be given to them easily. They last reached the NBA Finals in 2012, losing in five games to the Miami Heat.
Oklahoma City stole Game 1 on the Warriors’ raucous home floor in Oracle Arena, where Golden State has lost just three times all season.
“Every game you have a sense of urgency, it’s the playoffs and you know what everybody’s playing for. We’ve just got to come out there and be who we are,” Kevin Durant said. “We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. We have to go out, play the game, and play with passion and energy. And we know the whole crowd’s going to be against us and we have to stick together even more.”
The Thunder are playing with all the poise and passion on both ends, while the Warriors haven’t been able to hang around the past two games, in part because of uncharacteristic miscues.
“They’ve had a lot of frustration over the years. They’re healthy. They’re whole. They are determined, and they want what we have,” Kerr said. “We have a banner hanging up in here and we take great pride in that. It’s a hard thing to accomplish, and they’ve been close, but they haven’t done it, and they’re coming after us. They’re really getting after it and playing well and competing. We’ve got to stand up to that.”