CLEVELAND – The Warriors go home hoping it is their postseason salvation. The playoffs on the road, after all, were more treacherous than they ever could have imagined.
Oracle Arena won’t be much better for the Warriors, though, unless they turn up their tenacity.
Grit and resolve once again were lacking in a 115-101 loss to the Cavaliers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors were outrebounded and outshot. They were outscored in the paint and on the fast break. They failed to compete at the hyper-intense level exhibited by the Cavs.
They were too often caught flat-footed or otherwise unready as Cleveland, led by LeBron James, started fast and rarely let up to force Game 7 on Sunday in Oakland.
“It’s not explainable -- inexcusable,” Klay Thompson said of a first quarter in which the Warriors fell behind 31-11.
“We put no pressure on their defense,” Draymond Green said. “When you dig yourself a hole like that, especially on the road, it’s tough to come back against a good team.”
James delivered a second consecutive masterpiece: 41 points – including 18 in a row in the second half – 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots.
“He’s playing great,” said Steph Curry, who scored a team-high 30 points. “He’s doing things that are game-changing and helping his team win. He’s been more aggressive shooting the ball. We’ve had some breakdowns, but he’s played well. There’s no two way about it.”
The Warriors looked overmatched by the Cavs, particularly James. Andre Iguodala, the designated LeBron Stopper, clearly was hindered by back stiffness that robbed him of agility and bounce.
So James controlled the proceedings, orchestrating the action to his own personal rhythms. His teammates, with Tristan Thompson (15 points, 16 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (23 points) being particularly effective, followed, much to the delight of the sellout crowd.
“They deserved to win the game,” coach Steve Kerr said. “They outplayed us. It was too difficult to come back from 20 down. We made a good push in the second half, but that first quarter was a good punch from them.”
The Warriors rallied well enough to get within seven in the fourth quarter, but James took over, scoring and assisting the Cavs to victory. He had 17 points and four assists in the fourth quarter.
He was too much for the Warriors in Game 6, just as he was too much for them in Game 5 on Monday at Oracle Arena. He had help, much of which came in the form of grunt work.
Grunt work that is required for success.
“They’re great at home,” Thompson said. “They outrebounded us, made us uncomfortable in those first eight minutes. But we’ve just got to give them credit how they play at home and play with great energy.”
The Warriors went 73-9 in the regular season, setting an NBA record. They were 34-7 on the road, another record. They are 4-6 on the road in the postseason, including losing two of three in Cleveland.
And now, after going up 3-1 through four games, the Warriors are in the precarious position of having to win Game 7 to repeat as champions. They’ll be at home, but that won’t be enough.
“We were in adversity the last series, down 3-1, and had to rattle off three straight wins,” Curry said of the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City. “So things haven’t gone our way despite how the regular season went. The playoffs haven’t been easy, haven’t been a breeze. Hasn’t been anything perfect about it.
“So, yeah, it’s frustrating. But with the work we’ve put in and the opportunity we’ve given ourselves with a Game 7 to win The Finals at home, you’ve got to be excited about that, regardless of how these two games went.”
For the Warriors, it’s win Game 7 or face a long, bitter summer, becoming the first team in NBA Finals history to lose the series after taking a 3-1 lead.