SAN FRANCISCO — Watching the Warriors practice Saturday, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were prepping for game 32 on a random December Tuesday, not a must-win Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
The Warriors were loose, joking around during shooting contests, blasting music and looking unfazed by the deficit they face. Except for the script NBA Finals logo adorning the court and pretty much everywhere else your eyes glanced inside the Chase Center, this looked like every other Warriors practice.
“The value of experience, playoff experience, you really do understand the ups and downs of a playoff series. It’s really important to turn the page one way or the other…” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s all about how you respond.”
Those laidback California vibes masked a veteran team’s understanding of the response required of them Sunday.
“For us, coming into Game 2, we’ve just got to go in desperate mode because it’s a must-win,” Otto Porter Jr. said. “We have to win this game.”
“We are going to play with desperation tomorrow, and I think that’s when we are at our best,” Klay Thompson said.
“So the locker room after Game 1 was rough. We all know the opportunity we let slip in terms of that fourth quarter,” Stephen Curry said. “But it doesn’t kill your confidence that you can’t come out Sunday and win that game, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Warriors trail the Celtics 1-0 in the NBA Finals following a fourth quarter collapse in Game 1, where Boston outscored them 40-16. It was Golden State’s first home playoff loss this postseason.
Warriors players gave lip service to the chess match adjustments they will make in Game 2, which included defensive tweaks to get more stops so they can get out and run — the Warriors need to be in transition more. However, players on the record echoed what some Warriors staff admitted off the record — the Celtics played harder and were more aggressive in the fourth and the Warriors have to match that energy.
“It was a little bit of attention to details, and we kind of relaxed in that third quarter, but Game 2 will be different,” Porter said.
That attention to detail has to start from the opening tip. Golden State felt it made defensive mistakes early that let Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and other Celtics get comfortable, then their confidence was overflowing in the fourth quarter when Boston put up a 40 spot.
“I think we have to play with more force on the defensive end,” Draymond Green said. “I think there were times in the game when they didn’t feel us, when you’re playing against a great team at this level at this point in the season, they have to feel you every possession.
“There were times they didn’t, and then once you get into a rhythm, due to them not feeling our pressure, then it’s tough to stop.”
“We let our guard down earlier in the game, and that allows guys to be more comfortable when they are taking shots. And when you get a couple of early ones that you get a really good look at it, it just makes every shot easier after that,” Kerr said. “I think it was our coverage breakdowns, personnel breakdowns earlier in the game that sort of fed into that.”
The Warriors oozed the confidence that three titles and five trips to the Finals will bring — they talked like a team believing it would shift into another gear on Sunday. That they would find a way to win and even the series.
Golden State needs to because while the Celtics were hot from 3 in that game (21-of-41) there were also plenty of things they figured out as the game went on they can bring to Sunday night. Boston is going to be better, Golden State has to match that.