Warriors

Comparing Warriors' 2-0 Finals lead in 2016 to 2-0 Finals lead in 2017

Comparing Warriors' 2-0 Finals lead in 2016 to 2-0 Finals lead in 2017

CLEVELAND -- Even as the Cavaliers return to the warm embrace of Quicken Loans Arena, the scene of their NBA Finals revival one year ago, it’s apparent the Warriors in these NBA Finals not like the Warriors of those NBA Finals.

Indeed, the only similarity is both Warriors teams entered Game 3 on the road with a 2-0 series lead.

The Warriors of 2016, however, came into Game 3 with a hobbled Stephen Curry, a far too emotional Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes at small forward and a sense that perhaps a back-to-back championship was in the cards.

They proceeded to lose four of the last five Finals games, and the series, collapsing as much under the weight of their own shortcomings as the relentlessness and increasing swagger of the Cavaliers.

The 2017 Warriors come into Game 3 Wednesday night with a healthy Curry, a more stable Green, Kevin Durant at small forward and, above all, a rock that has lingered in their collective gut since last June, when they infamously became the first team to lose a 3-1 lead in The Finals.

It’s not easy to discern which of these four factors is most significant, even if Cavaliers superstar LeBron James believes he has the answer: “KD.”

The presence of Durant, instead of Barnes, is the most visible difference between the Warriors of last June and the Warriors of today. Durant has been the best player in the series, fantastic on defense and provided more offense in two games than Barnes did in seven. He is completely neutralizing James.

But Curry’s health cannot be underestimated. One year after bad wheels undermined the mind-blowing agility that sets him apart, those physical gifts are on full display. Unable to shake the lumbering Kevin Love in 2016, Curry is back to embarrassing anyone with the gall to challenge him on the perimeter.

And Green’s head has leveled to such a degree it’s darn near flat. He apparently learned from his mistakes of last year, when his firebrand ways blazed so hot he found himself suspended for Game 5. He took it hard, blaming himself for the Warriors failure to win it all for the second consecutive year.

Yet the overall drive exhibited by these Warriors is unlike anything they have shown before. It’s stronger than that which pushed them to the championship in 2015, even stronger than that which pushed them to win 73 games last season, shattering the single-season NBA record.

[RELATED: Draymond: 'Guys are locked in like I've never seen before']

“You just see a certain amount of focus,” Draymond Green said Tuesday. “You see a competitive level of where like it hasn't been matched. That's a good sign. But just the way guys have been locked in, focused on the task at hand, I mean it's been a special thing.”

It’s a focus that is sharpened by bitter memories of last June, even if some of the names have changed.

“That was last year,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Half the guys on the team this year are new.”

Zaza Pachulia and David West and JaVale McGee and Matt Barnes are, along with Durant, the new veterans. Pat McCaw and Damian Jones are rookies. The roster was renovated last summer.

But the most important new member, the team’s new superstar, Durant, can identify with what the Warriors went through. He was a leader of the Oklahoma City team that last May coughed up a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

Leads are history, right. The Warriors went up 2-0 on Cleveland last June by posting a 15-point win in Game 1 and a 33-point rout in Game 2. They’re up 2-0 now after winning Game 1 by 22 and Game 2 by 19.

The numbers are similar numbers, but the vibe is different.

“I think guys are locked in, like I've never seen before, understand the task ahead and know that this is going to be the hardest game of the series,” Green said.

If Games 1 and 2 are any indication, everybody who takes the court for the Warriors in Game 3 of these Finals will bring the appropriate level of concentration. They’re different now, and potentially much better than a year ago.

“As a team I think so,” Klay Thompson said. “We're moving the ball great, we're shooting the ball at a high clip, and our defense has been unbelievable.

“So, I mean, it's easy to draw back on last year because it was a tough series for us. We obviously had a lead and we lost it. We just got to learn from it and not try and make the same mistakes twice.”

Warriors consider lineup change vs. Clippers as they seek ruthlessness

Warriors consider lineup change vs. Clippers as they seek ruthlessness

OAKLAND – The Warriors wouldn’t ever acknowledge that they have reached the point of desperation in a first-round series. Too proud. Too accomplished.

But that’s where they are as they approach Game 6 against the Clippers, who have lost three of the first five games but never once shown any sign of surrender.

The Warriors are not necessarily desperate to win Game 6 because, should they lose, they still have Game 7.

They have to be desperate to reestablish the identity they have forged over the vast majority of Steve Kerr’s five-year run as head coach. Talented, skilled, smart, unified and ruthless.

They’re still talented and skilled. They’re generally smart. The unity has become uneven. That ruthless thing, however, has never been more elusive than this season – and it has carried over into the first five games of these playoffs.

So, on Thursday, before the team left Oakland for Los Angeles -- where Game 6 will be played on Friday -- Kerr uttered phrases that serve as euphemisms for desperation.

“Everything’s always on the table,” Kerr said. “Every playoff game, everything is always on the table. We consider everything. We go over every possibility. We hash it out. We ask the players their opinions on stuff and we make adjustments.

“That’s how the playoffs work.”

Kerr said the staff is evaluating rotations and units. Asked about a possible change in the starting lineup, he played coy.

“We could,” he said. “You never know.”

If there is a change, it will come at center. Andrew Bogut, who played so well in Games 3 and 4, struggled in the 129-121 loss in Game 5 on Wednesday. He had six points, five rebounds and two assists. He played 17 minutes and was minus-15 in the plus/minus.

Backup Kevon Looney was, by contrast, effective, as he has been for most of the series. Playing 22 minutes, he scored five points and grabbed seven rebounds, finishing a team-best plus-15.

But the issues with this team run deeper than can be solved with a single change. The Warriors have not been able to sustain the “killer instinct” required on championship teams. They’ve had it in the past, so it’s still somewhere within their collective DNA

They’re often playing it cool, even as LA is running hot. And they’re no more tired, at least physically, than the Clippers.

“I didn’t see fatigue (in Game 5),” Kerr said. “I just saw a lack of urgency, and you can’t win a playoff game without urgency. It’s not that easy.”

The first indicator of ruthlessness is effort. The Warriors brought it in Game 1 and for the better part of Game 2, before they completely and inexplicably lost it – and the game. They hit 10 on the ruthless meter in Game 3 and brought enough of it to squash a Clippers rally and prevail in Game 4.

It never appeared in Game 5.

“When we get a nice lead, we just tend to relax a little bit,” Kevin Durant said after Game 5, which the Warriors never led by more than four. “I’ve said it before, teams are looking for something just to get them back into the game.”

The Clippers didn’t so much as look for something in Game 5 as come and take it.

“More than anything, they played harder than we did,” Kerr said. “Schemes go out the window when a team plays harder than you. Schemes don’t matter unless you compete. I always say it, every year, that the first adjustment you have to make is to playing harder. And then you can get into switching rotations and matchups.

“In LA, we played really hard. In our last two home games, we let our guard down. The one thing you should know from watching the Clippers all years is that this is a competitive, fun team that enjoys playing together. They’re not going to go away. You’ve got to put them away by competing.”

[RELATED: Beverley's grit and hustle has Clips on Dubs' heels]

The Warriors in Game 5 met most of their offensive goals. They had 31 assists and eight turnovers. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant combined for 91 points on 49.1-percent shooting. They know they have the Curry/Durant pick-and-roll, and they’ll use it if a boost is needed. But the problem in Game 5, as well as the pivotal portion of Game 2, was an utter lack of defensive focus, execution and effort.

They fixed it last postseason and won a championship.

The Warriors know the formula. Desperate times in the NBA playoffs call for an inspired defense. Without it, even the Warriors are vulnerable.

Montrezl Harrell has message for Warriors after Clippers' Game 5 win

Montrezl Harrell has message for Warriors after Clippers' Game 5 win

The Los Angeles Clippers are feeling themselves, and for good reason.

Given zero chance to beat the Warriors heading into their first-round NBA playoff series, the Clippers have pushed the two-time defending champions to a Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Friday.

Down 3-1 in the series, most expected the Clippers to roll over Wednesday in Game 5 at Oracle Arena. But Lou Williams dropped 33 points and Montrezl Harrell added 24 as the Clippers grabbed a 129-121 win.

After the victory, Harrell had a quick, NSFW message for the Dubs and he screamed it as he sprinted back to the locker room.

"Bring that ass back to LA" Harrell shouted, via The Undefeated's Marc Spears.

Be careful what you wish for.

While the Warriors have admittedly been looking past the Clippers to a potential second-round date with the Rockets, the Dubs likely will be locked in Friday. Golden State has all the firepower needed to smolder the pesky Clippers, and the last thing they want is to have an unnecessary Game 7 because they were unfocused at the task at hand.

[RELATED: Lou Williams thinks Dubs made mistake by looking ahead to Rockets]

Harrell has been an issue for the Warriors all series, tormenting them in the pick-and-roll with Williams. His energy and ferocity have been unmatched by anyone on the Warriors, including Draymond Green. 

But with the Dubs having to bring their derrieres back to Southern California, we expect the Warriors' energy level will be a little different in Game 6.