BOSTON — The Golden State Warriors find themselves in a position they’ve been in many times before: one win away from an NBA title.
Playing in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in the past eight years, there is a dose of cautious optimism flowing through the Warriors’ locker room as they take a 3-2 series lead into Boston for Game 6 on Thursday night (9 PT on ABC). But the Warriors also made it clear that no one is celebrating yet.
“You do yourself a disservice if you think about things that don’t even exist yet,” Klay Thompson said.
The Warriors have struggled in closeout games this postseason, failing to wrap up each series they’ve played with their first opportunity — all coming on the road.
The stakes awaiting them on the other side of their next game against the Boston Celtics only makes it more difficult.
“Clinching is probably the hardest game you’ll play,” Andre Iguodala said.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he doesn’t see a common thread in the games Golden State has dropped.
Perhaps it’s more about their opponents’ survival instincts. Before Game 4 of the first round, Denver’s Nikola Jokic said he didn’t feel that his team deserved to be swept when it trailed 3-0 in the series. That propelled the Nuggets to a Game 5 win. In the second round, Memphis outworked the Warriors from the start. In the Conference finals, the Mavericks were looking to avoid the sweep, just like the Nuggets.
In each of the Warriors’ three failed closeout opportunities, they trailed by double digits at the half. They managed to stay close in the first quarter, but the second quarter became a big problem, especially against Memphis and Dallas.
Golden State has also had a problem defending the perimeter. The Warriors’ opponents have shot 53-for-115 (46.1%) from beyond the 3-point line in those three losses. This could present an issue against the Celtics, as Boston has hit 317 3-pointer this postseason, the most all time in a single playoff year.
In this series, Games 4 and 5 were the first set of consecutive losses the Celtics had strung together since late March, when they lost to the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat. Before that, they hadn’t dropped back-to-back games since January.
“We know [the Celtics are] going to play with a sense of desperation,” Thompson said. “So for us to match that or exceed that, it’s going to take the most effort we’ve had to give all year.”
When the Warriors closed out their series against Denver, Stephen Curry said that Golden State might have forgotten the grit it takes to wrap up a series, especially to start the game. That trend continued in the Western Conference semifinals and conference finals, as well. But now, the Warriors are relying heavily on not only their experience in the playoffs but in winning title-clinching games.
“You just understand what the nerves are like,” Curry said. “We understand the specifics of how we need to approach the game from a physicality perspective, our game plan adjustments from Game 5 to Game 6, understanding what the building is going to feel like, that energy, being prepared for it.”
Curry said he will be reminding himself — and his less experienced teammates — of that heading into the game. But after that, it’s about the mindset the Warriors have been preaching all season long: stay locked in on what’s happening in front of you.
“At the end of the day, once you get out there, you just have to be in the moment,” Curry said. “You got to be present as much as possible, not worry about the consequences of a win or a loss. The only opportunity you have is that 48 minutes. The more you can trick your mind into being in the moment and staying there, that’s the best advice I can give anybody in that situation, because it’s going to be the hardest game you probably ever played in your career because of what the stakes are.”