CLEVELAND — “No heroics necessary. Just be rock solid.”
That’s what Steve Kerr told the Golden State Warriors before Game 6 of the NBA Finals, when they had in front of them an opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing Monday loss and secure their second consecutive championship in Cleveland.
Whatever they were on Thursday, it was the opposite of rock-solid. Sloppy passes, rushed shots, unnecessary fouls and a completely out-of-character ejection for Stephen Curry — it all led to a 115-101 loss to the Cavaliers, making the Warriors vulnerable to the same sort of 3-1 collapse they were the beneficiaries of in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
All season, the Warriors have allowed themselves to thrive on chaos while at the same time executing complicated, innovative sets at a high enough level to win 73 games. Since Game 4, a win in Cleveland, that essential balance has tilted too far to one direction. Draymond Green allowed his vital passion to turn to recklessness, drawing a one-game suspension for his hit to the groin of LeBron James.
Without Green, Golden State’s defense fell apart in Game 5, and Andrew Bogut went down with a season-ending knee injury. On Thursday, Andre Iguodala found himself limited by back spasms that he attempted to play through.
In a season that this far has seen just about everything go right for the Warriors, vaulting them into the greatest-team-of-all-time discussion, everything seems to be going off the rails all at once ahead of Sunday’s decisive Game 7.
The Warriors’ catastrophic night in Cleveland culminated in Curry, who had been a bright spot with 30 points and six made three-pointers, fouling out with just over four minutes left in the game. Curry, usually as composed as any of the NBA’s big-time stars, let his emotions get the better of him this time, throwing his mouthpiece into the crowd, leading to an ejection.
“I’ve thrown my mouthpiece before,” Curry said after the game. “I usually aim at the scorer’s table. I was off aim. I definitely didn’t mean to throw it at a fan, but it happened. I went over and apologized to him because that’s obviously not where I was trying to take my frustration out.”
In his coach’s mind, Curry had every right to be upset. Kerr began his postgame press conference by all but ensuring that the NBA will take something out of his bank account, and he got his money’s worth with the officiating.
“He’s the MVP of the league,” Kerr said. “He gets six fouls called on him, three of them were absolutely ridiculous. He steals the ball from Kyrie clean at one point. LeBron flops on the last one. Jason Phillips falls for that, for a flop. As the MVP of the league, we’re talking about these touch fouls in the Let me be clear, we did not lose because of the officiating. They totally outplayed us and Cleveland deserved to win. But those three of the six fouls were incredibly inappropriate calls for anybody, much less the MVP of the league.”
Curry’s outburst was, at the very least, a sign of investment in the outcome of the game. The Warriors didn’t lose interest or edge, just composure.
“I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece,” Kerr said. “He should be upset. Look, it’s The Finals and everybody’s competing out there. There are fouls on every play. It’s a physical game. I just think that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the way we run our offense, we’re running, we’re cutting through the lane, we’re a rhythm offense. If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.”
Now, less than a week after the Warriors had a 3-1 lead and the series all but wrapped up, everything resets. If you believe in momentum, the Cavs have all of it right now. But the Warriors have had their backs against the wall already, and they responded. They feel they can again.
“It’s no time to panic,” Klay Thompson said. “I mean, one game, winner takes all in Oakland. I like our position we’re in. But can’t discredit what Cleveland does. They’re here for a reason, man. They’re a really good team. They’ve got an all-time great, and they’ve got an incredible player in Kyrie Irving and everybody knows their role. So we’ve just got to make them uncomfortable Sunday. Have appropriate fear. Respect them, but never fear them, man. We’ve beaten this team before, and we’ve just got to realize that we’re a deeper team, and when we play at our best with great effort we’re almost dang near impossible to beat.”