Warriors’ Game 3 arrogance adds pressure now

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The Warriors sat a star who reportedly wanted to play and was seemingly healthy enough to play.

In the NBA Finals.

It’s the height of hubris – a presumptuous decision that could determine the 2019 champion. In either direction.

Klay Thompson will return in Game 4 – not with Kevin Durant, as hoped – more prepared to contribute. Golden State is banking on a long series, and Thompson should hold up better for the duration.

But the Warriors now face a predictable 2-1 deficit against the Raptors. Golden State’s confidence in it ability to dig out of this hole is incredible.

I’ve railed against the notion of Warriors invincibility for years. Even as other teams timed their rebuilds to finish after Golden State’s reign ends, Warriors championships were never predestined. Golden State had to earn this at every step.

The Cavaliers’ 2016 title proved that. The Rockets’ strong push last year proved that. And Toronto’s inspired performance in these NBA Finals is proving it.

The Raptors outplayed the Warriors in Toronto, though only enough to get a split. Then, Golden State undercut its own chances in Game 3 by sitting Thompson.

Stephen Curry played great, but the Warriors didn’t have enough firepower to keep up, and the Raptors won by 14. Usually, a decisive home loss like that signals the end of the series.

Teams that lost a home game by 14+ in the NBA Finals have lost the series 25 of 26 times.

Slightly widening the sample, here’s every time a home team lost by at least a dozen in the NBA Finals. When the road winner won the series, it’s red. When the home loser won when the series, it’s blue. The current Finals are black:

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In 1972, the Lakers overcame a 22-point home loss in Game 1 to beat the Knicks in five games. Los Angeles was quite experienced, in the Finals for the fourth time in five years.

Likewise, the 1988 Lakers – who lost to the Pistons by 12 in Game 1 – were in the midst of three straight trips to the Finals. They had the wherewithal to gut out a seven-game win.

These Warriors are in their fifth straight Finals. When healthy, they might be the best team of all time. They can absolutely come back to beat Toronto.

That’s what’s so remarkable about this strategy. It isn’t necessarily wrong. Golden State’s faith in itself – even down 2-1 – has been earned over several years of elite play.

But Game 4 will test this approach. The Warriors will be healthier. They’ll also be at home. Golden State’s near-write-off of Game 3 makes tonight’s Game 4 highly important.

“To me this is a one-game series tomorrow,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said yesterday.

Yet, it seems even the trailing Warriors aren’t matching that urgency. Even with Game 5 and a potential Game 7 in Toronto, they’d still believe they can come back from down 3-1. Durant could return. So could Kevon Looney. Others playing through injury could further recover.

Many have viewed Golden State championships as inevitable. That sentiment is unfair to the Warriors, diminishing everything they’ve accomplished. This era hasn’t been as easy as they’ve made it look.

But this series is showing that nobody believes in the Warriors like the Warriors believe in themselves.