CLEVELAND -- They are one win from history, and it has become apparent nothing will stop the Warriors, as long as they are healthy, from getting that victory.
Through three games of the NBA Finals, they have walked through every bit of ammo Cleveland has, from its ferocious rebounding and physicality to Kevin Love’s three double-doubles to Rodney Hood coming from the far end of the bench to drop 15 points to, of course, a 51-point game by LeBron James.
As the Warriors look ahead to Game 4 on Friday, they know they can close it out immediately and return to the Bay Area with their third title in four seasons.
They beat the Cavaliers in six games in the 2015 Finals, lost in seven in 2016 and won in five last season, winning the first three games, being pounded by the Cavs here in Game 4 and then returning to Oakland to win Game 5.
Well, here the Warriors are again, in Cleveland, up 3-0 for the second straight year, with Game 4 on deck.
“We want a different outcome. We want a different outcome,” Shaun Livingston said Thursday, repeating for emphasis. “We want to have a chance to sweep.”
Though most of Livingston’s teammates avoided using the word “sweep,” there is no question that’s what they crave. And it’s something very much within their grasp.
The Warriors approach Game 4 being driven by two factors. They’d like to perform at peak level, and they don’t feel they have. And, yes, they’d like to complete a four-game sweep of The Finals, something they’ve not done.
“We were here last year, a 3-0 lead, and we just kind of laid an egg,” Draymond Green said. “So we understand that and you learn from it.
“I don't think we've put our best game together yet, which is encouraging, because what better time to do that than tomorrow?”
It’s almost the poetic way to exact revenge for the burn of 2016, when the Warriors went up 3-1 on the Cavs before becoming the first team ever to blow such a lead in The Finals.
“Obviously with that happening, it gives you a little more focus,” Green said.
“We've never done that in our four years; sweep The Finals,” Livingston said. “It's an incredible opportunity, incredible opportunity. Had the shot last year, and I think it's a challenge. It's like the game within the game.” What could bring a more gratifying conclusion to a season of highs and lows, with more questions and concerns than any of the previous three under coach Steve Kerr, than winning via sweep?
“It's been our most inconsistent season,” Kerr said. “It's been our most difficult season. But our guys sense the finish line, and they turned it on right from the beginning of the playoffs defensively. That's been what's been key, I think, to get us to this point where we're on the cusp.
“So that's why we're here. Now that we are one game away, we'd like to eliminate that inconsistency and put forth our best effort, our best game tomorrow.”
The Warriors got back-to-back extraordinary performances from Kevin Durant in Games 2 and 3. They got a record-setting effort from Stephen Curry in Game 2. They’ve gotten consistent energy and two-way effectiveness from Green.
The Warriors also were forced to go the first two games without Andre Iguodala, who was injured in Game 3 but is listed as probable for Game 4. Klay Thompson sustained a leg injury in the first quarter of Game 1 but is playing through the pain.
The season, unfinished, is already enough to bring out Curry’s philosophical side.
“At the end of every season and run that we've had, there is always an appreciation for things you learn, things you've gone through,” he said. “Going into this season, I don't think anybody could have guessed or predicted the ups and downs and the roller coaster we've been on.
“So, it’s definitely a different year, just overall, personally with injuries, as a team with dealing with injuries, dealing with the kind of expectations that have been placed on us from the outside and the noise around us as a team. Trying to understand that throughout the regular season we had to continue to get better, whether that was a slow process or not, and understand when the playoffs came around that probably wouldn't go 16-1 to win a championship. That it's probably going to be a lot harder because teams are keying in on us and shifting their lineups and stuff like that. That's been how it's been.
“For us to do what we did in the Conference Finals and win a Game 7 on the road, we had never done that before. And now to be one game away, it's been a crazy ride. So now we've just got to finish the job.”
The Cavaliers don’t have enough firepower to win Game 4. Kyrie Irving, who hung 40 points in Game 4 last June, is not an option. James has carried this team so far, and is beginning to look weary.
The stage is set for a perfect finish for the Warriors. They’re built to do it.
|Game 1||Warriors 124, Cavs 114 (OT)|
|Game 2||Warriors 122, Cavs 103|
|Game 3||Warriors 110, Cavs 102|
|Game 4||Cleveland -- Friday, June 8 at 6pm|
|Game 5||Oakland -- Monday, June 11 at 6pm|
|Game 6||Cleveland -- Thursday, June 14 at 6pm|
|Game 7||Oakland -- Sunday, June 17 at 5pm|