This was misery for the Warriors and their fired-up fans, who made for the exits early during Monday’s 112-97 NBA Finals loss to the Cavaliers that sent the series back to Cleveland for a Game 6 on Thursday night.
They wanted so badly to do it for Draymond Green, do it for each other, and for their home crowd this time.
Instead, Golden State is going to Ohio again. One flight the Warriors surely would have preferred not to take at this road-weary stage of another extra-long season, but it will be well worth it if they hoist a second straight trophy when these NBA Finals finally end.
Their “Strength in Numbers” mantra was tested once more in a game that mattered so much. The Warriors lost at home for only the second time this postseason and fourth overall.
Yet there’s no panic now for the defending champions after LeBron James and the Cavs forced at least one more game in what has become quite the testy rematch. The Warriors lead the series 3-2 and still have the upper hand.
“We’re all disappointed. We want to win,” guard Shaun Livingston said. “With the stakes being what they are right now, obviously it’s a gut punch. But it’s the finals. It’s not going to be easy. They’re not going to lay down. It doesn’t matter who’s on the court. We’ve got to play.”
Golden State will get a boost having emotional leader and All-Star forward Green back after he sat out Game 5 serving a suspension for a Game 4 swipe at James’ groin. Fans chanted “Free Dray-mond! Free Dray-mond!” and large cutouts of his face waved from all corners of Oracle Arena as he watched from a baseball suite next door in the Oakland Coliseum.
“You want to win here more than anything for your fans. They deserve to see us win, but you just suck it up and move on,” Thompson said. “We’re still in a great position.”
While Green returns for Game 6, the Warriors might be down big man Andrew Bogut. The 7-foot center sprained his left knee early in the third quarter Monday and was scheduled for an MRI exam Tuesday before the team traveled. Bogut has been an imposing presence with his shot-blocking ability, but the Warriors have some depth at the position and often use a center-by-committee approach with Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights among others like Anderson Varejao getting regular opportunities to contribute.
“If there’s a chance he’s out Thursday, our bigs are just going to have to step up. Been doing it all year,” Thompson said.
Defensively, the Warriors must find a way to keep James and Kyrie Irving from going off the way they did Monday, with each scoring 41 points.
Not that the always-confident Warriors are overly concerned. They are a group that bounced back from every rare loss during a record-setting, 73-win regular season. Golden State is 14-1 following a defeat.
“We’re in the same place we were last year, up 3-2 heading back to Cleveland. If you told me this before the series, I would have taken it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “So we’re in a good spot. We’re disappointed we didn’t win tonight, but, like I said, they outplayed us. They deserved the win. And we’ll go back to Cleveland and we’ll play a better game for sure.”
Golden State doesn’t have much further to fall after shooting a postseason-low 36.4 percent – its first game below a 40 percent clip – despite getting 37 points from Thompson with six 3-pointers and Curry’s 25 with five 3s.
“You tip your hat to them. They had a great night,” Curry said.
The Warriors are trying to close out the fifth championship in franchise history and third since moving out West from Philadelphia in 1962-63. Each of the last two since coming to the Bay Area have been clinched on the road – the first title in 40 years last June and also in 1975, when the Warriors won at Washington with a four-game sweep of the Bullets.
“It (stinks) that it happened tonight 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,” Thompson said. “But you work hard in the series early to put ourselves in this position again on Thursday, and we’ll be ready.”