BOSTON -- The last time the Warriors had an opportunity to close out the NBA Finals on the road, they swept the Cavaliers into summer with a 23-point victory in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
They have a similar opportunity Thursday night in Boston, where a Game 6 win would finish the Celtics and give the Warriors their fourth championship in eight seasons.
This time, for three reasons, will be considerably more difficult. One, the Warriors didn’t win the first three games by a combined 35 points, as they did against the Cavaliers in 2018. Two, these Celtics are superior to those Cavs. And three, the Warriors are not as imposing as they were four years ago.
But they are, according to coach Steve Kerr, mentally locked in.
“I sense great focus and confidence,” Kerr said five hours before tipoff Thursday. “I think our guys are in a good place heading into tonight.”
The outcome of Game 6 likely will be determined by three specific factors. Here are the keys to victory for Golden State:
Follow the Defense
Though Boston finished the regular season playing the best defense in the NBA, the Warriors have been better on that end in three of the first five games. The result is three wins.
Game 2 illustrated, aside from the first quarter, the textbook path to success. After the Celtics rolled up 30 points in the opening quarter, shooting 50 percent, the Warriors limited them to 58 points on 33.3 percent shooting over the final three for their most impressive win, 107-88.
Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown shot a combined 8-of-15 from the field in the first quarter, managing only 5-of-21 after that.
The crucial segment was the third quarter, during which the Warriors limited the Celtics to 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting -- and also forced five turnovers, turning them into 11 points.
If Golden State’s defense shows up, the road to victory is paved.
Win the Backcourt Battle -- Decisively
The Warriors have Stephen Curry coming off a Game 5 in which he missed all nine of his 3-point shots, which means, according to Draymond Green, Curry will be “livid” for Game 6.
The Warriors also have Klay Thompson in a Game 6. That’s his happy place. It’s as if his electrolytes come together and he reaches peak performance.
They also have Jordan Poole coming off solid performances in the last two games and believing more is in store.
It’s an explosive group, but it may have to do more than simply outscore the Boston trio of Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Brown, each of whom is a capable scorer.
In Golden State’s three wins, its guards were plus-12 (Game 5), plus-20 (Game 4) and plus-28 (Game 2). In the two losses, they were plus-8 (Game 3) and minus-5 (Game 1).
A double-digit margin tilts strongly toward the Warriors.
A Draymond Game
Green has had, to be sure, an uneven series. Good in two games, ordinary in two games and atrocious in the other -- and yet, the Warriors have built a three-games-to-two lead.
He’ll once again be the primary target of fans at TD Garden. He’ll once again be ridiculed if he misses a layup or a 3-pointer, and he has done plenty of both; he’s 0-of-11 from deep in the Finals. His defense, his money element, has steadily gotten back to norm. And, lastly, that fourth-quarter benching in Game 4 lingers in his mind.
All which means he’s primed to show up and deliver big. If he brings over-the-top defensive energy early, the Warriors can ride that wave. If he drains a 3-pointer, it’s therapeutic for his entire offensive impact.
Few players in NBA history chase victory harder than Draymond. With only one win needed to fill his cup, it’s hard to believe he will let this series pass without making his presence felt in a significant way.