HOUSTON -- It was a single two-word phrase, flying off the tongue of Draymond Green. And it matters because no one on the roster is better than Green at accurately reading the thoughts and emotions of the Warriors.
That’s how Green described the team’s reaction to experiencing and reviewing its deeply lamentable 95-92 loss in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Rockets.
If Green is on target, and he usually is, the Warriors won’t allow themselves to give away any more games, certainly not after building double-digit second-half leads against the team that presumably poses the greatest threat to their goal of repeating as NBA champs.
“We know we let one slip away,” Green said after an evening practice in Houston. “So definitely, guys are pissed off.
“But encouraged as well. I love the way this team responds when our back is against the wall. I don’t mind our backs being against the wall, because I know what we’re capable of and I know the level of focus and intensity that this team brings when that is the case.”
The Warriors are at their best when they curl their lips and furrow their brows and summon an exquisite blend of rage and intellect and remorselessness. With the resolve being displayed by Houston in this series, the Warriors are going to need all three of those components to get beyond the Rockets and make a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
This version of the Rockets is not like the previous versions, those emotionally fragile and defensively challenged squads the Warriors eliminated in five games in 2015 and again in 2016. These Rockets are showing backbone and a level of moxie not visible in a Houston team since Hakeem Olajuwon was laying waste to centers a quarter century ago.
These Rockets are not leaving the court unless the Warriors blow them off, as they did in Games 1 and 3.
The Warriors enjoyed crushing them both occasions, and both games demanded a statement. Game 1 was about establishing a hierarchy and proving they could win in Houston. Game 3 was about going back home and putting on a show.
Game 4 was about putting on a show . . . but fumbling the finale.
“When you don’t win, you play every possession back in your head,” Stephen Curry said. “You play the whole fourth quarter back to figure out ways that you could do something better to help the team get a win.
“It’s a frustrating feeling, obviously, but we’re great at turning the page and being resilient and finding a way to bounce back.”
The Warriors have played 14 postseason series under Steve Kerr and only twice have they been 2-2 after four games. Both times, in 2015, the recovered to win Games 5 and 6, first against Memphis in the conference semifinals and then against Cleveland in the NBA Finals.
This is the first time, though, that they have been locked in a 2-2 tie without homecourt advantage. It’s a new experience, an unfamiliar sensation, but one capable of bringing them together.
Common unrest can be a powerful force.
“Yeah, if use it in the right direction,” Kevin Durant said. “If you want to correct the mistakes, play a little bit more aggressive and angry, but smart, you can channel in the right direction.
“We know that this team is tough to beat, especially at home. So we’re looking forward to going out here and seeing if we can get it done. And we’re confident that we’ll go out there and play well.”
They’ve replayed Game 4 because it was too distasteful to ignore. They let it burn, and it hurts. Losing is supposed to be painful, and always is to the true competitor.
“Every single game that I coach,” Kerr said, “I look back at the tape and second-guess myself. But it’s exposed during the playoffs because the stakes are higher. I didn’t sleep very well (after Game 4). There were some things that I could have done a better. Our players feel the same way.”
So it should be a “pissed off” Warriors team that takes the floor Thursday night at Toyota Center. Game 4 is gone, but it serves as a painful reminder that winning at the highest levels requires ruthlessness, a useful by-product of anger.
||Warriors 119, Rockets 106
||Rockets 127, Warriors 105
||Warriors 126, Rockets 85
||Rockets 95, Warriors 92
||Houston -- Thursday, May 24th at 6pm
||Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
||Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm