PORTLAND, Ore. — They lost one starter in the first round. Lost another in the second round. Lost a subsequent starter in the next round, in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
The Warriors won Game 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers anyway. 119-117 in overtime. On the road. After trailing by 17 points.
Golden State was desperate for a few days of rest, so the defending champs threw everything they could pull from themselves Monday night into a furious fourth-quarter rally at Moda Center. That was enough to push the game into OT, during which they staggered to the final buzzer with a two-point victory over the Blazers, completing a four-game sweep that was about as perilous as any sweep can be.
“I’m ready to retire,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area, before cracking a smile.
“But not until after The Finals.”
Kerr was joking. He also was leaning over a railing on which he rested his elbows.
Fatigue hung over this coaching staff and these players like 90-pound lead jackets. After averaging 103 games over the past four seasons, the Warriors are at 98 and counting in Year 5 as they become the first team since the 1960s Boston Celtics to make five consecutive journeys to the NBA Finals.
“It’s really hard to differentiate each run,” Klay Thompson said. “They have been different in their own unique ways, but it has felt like one big season lumped together for the last five years. And we would have it any other way.”
This postseason, the Warriors endured six games in the first round before vanquishing the stubborn LA Clippers. Six more in the second round, summoning two years of malice and execution in equal amounts to dispatch their enemies in Houston.
The Warriors knew the Blazers, coming off an exhaustive seven-game series with the Denver Nuggets, were vulnerable. That meant they had to resort to some emotional trickery to fight off any potential for complacency.
That scheme was aided by the absences of DeMarcus Cousins (injured in the first round) and Kevin Durant (injured in the second). The Warriors realized that shrinks their margin for error to something that will fit through the head of a needle.
That’s where Draymond Green came in. The firebrand guard-forward-center took care of that bit of business, defending as if his family’s safety were at stake and pushing the rock at every opportunity, forcing his teammates to come along for the ride or be left in his wake.
Green received plenty of help from Stephen Curry and Thompson, the other two starters still standing. Thompson’s offense was less than reliable this series, but his defense was enormous. Curry mostly kept the nets hot, averaging 36.5 points over the four games.
“You’ve got to give credit obviously to Steph and Draymond. They set the tone tonight,” Thompson said. “But our bench has been incredible. Kevon Looney, a double-double, 12 [points] and 14 [rebounds]. Quinn Cook coming in making a difference. Shaun Livingston played great. [Andrew] Bogut, everybody.”
That’s what it took to overcome the loss of Cousins and Durant, who were joined on the inactive list by Andre Iguodala in Game 4. The Warriors proved they can be as gritty as they are pretty.
“When you’ve won a championship or two, there’s a little bit of pressure that’s taken off because you’ve already proved you can win the big one,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “There’s a sense of, ‘Man, that was so much fun, I want to do it again.’ And that accounts for how they played in pressure situations like tonight and like [Game 3].”
The road to the three-peat is mostly behind the Warriors. They’ve won 12 of 16 games and are setting their sights on four more wins, against either Milwaukee or Toronto in The Finals.
Five in a row, though, that’s high living. That’s historical. The stuff of dynasties.
“Basketball careers aren't that long. If you can get 10 [years] out of it, you're lucky,” Green said. “To be to five straight Finals, I don't even know what to say about it. This is what you play for. This is our goal every year, and to get here five straight times is special.”
The Warriors got here the hard way, with the roster getting leaner every round. They did by coming back from deficits of at least 17 points in Games 2, 3 and 4 — the last two at Moda Center.
“Our guys are not afraid,” Kerr said. “They’ve got nothing to lose. They’ve forged their reputations for life. They’re champions. So why not get greedy and go for more?”
The first priority Monday night was to create some down time, a few days to savor and recover. They did. They’ll get some rest. They’ve earned it.