HOUSTON - Sitting in the Rakuten Performance Center two months ago, Warriors forward Draymond Green accurately conveyed Golden State's attitude towards the rest of the league.
“If we compete can’t nobody can beat us," Green said. "And even sometimes when we don’t compete people still can’t beat us.”
For much of the regular season, the Warriors have lived by Green's credo, looking like a dominant force at times and a curious collection of immense talent in others.
The mindset has resulted in a roller-coaster postseason. In the first round, the Warriors dominated the eighth-seeded LA Clippers in stretches. They built large leads -- only to see them erased at home -- before finally dispatching them in six games. Now, after losing their first game of the Western Conference semifinals, the Warriors are looking for a complete game entering Game 4 Monday evening.
"I think the biggest adjustment is always the emotional one, the fight, the competitive spirit," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before the team's film study Sunday afternoon. "That's the first adjustment that we have to make. That's the adjustment they made last night."
In Saturday's Game 3 126-121 overtime loss, Golden State struggled, surrendering 71 combined points to Rockets guards James Harden and Eric Gordon. Houston outrebounded the Warriors 67-48, including 17-7 on the offensive glass. Aside from Kevin Durant's 46 points and six assists, the team mustered little offense.
"They fought harder, and the rebounding battle completely flipped from Games 2 to 3," Kerr said. "We've got to box out. We've got to rotate. We've got to be in the right place at the right time. We've got to anticipate what's happening. And we've got to fight for every possession."
The most curious performance from Saturday's game was Stephen Curry, who scored just 17 points on 7-of-23 from the field. Entering Game 4, he's averaging 19.2 points in his last six playoff games on just 38.3 percent shooting from the field, including 29.4 percent from 3-point range over that span.
Down the stretch of Saturday's loss, Curry missed a point-blank layup that would have given the Warriors a one-point lead. In overtime, with the Warriors down 121-118, he split a double team at the top of the key, creating a wide-open layup attempt that he missed. Curry missed his last six shot attempts, including a botched dunk, over the last 17 minutes of the game.
"I thought he was really trying to get himself going early in the game, maybe took a couple quick ones, but I'm fine with that," Kerr said. "Whatever it takes for Steph to get a groove, that's what he's going to do."
Following the performance, one of the worst of his playoff career, Curry vowed to be better. Less than 24 hours after the loss, his teammates expressed confidence in the guard going forward.
"I think Steph has a good balance of beating himself up and just moving on with life, and I think that's important," Green said. "It's part of the reason he's the shooter that he is. I think if you talk to anyone who plays basketball, the toughest thing is to miss shots and keep shooting. Your confidence wavers, you just start to think. Steph will miss four in a row and then heat check the fifth one from 35 feet. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it definitely works for him."
More important than Curry's shooting is the rest of the Warriors' All-Star cast. No Golden State All-Star is shooting better than 50 percent in the series and, while up 2-1, the champs are still waiting for a breakout game from a player not named Durant.
When asked if a complete performance could finally come in Game 4, Green went back to the message he spoke back in Oakland some months ago.
"I mean, that's always good, but if that complete game never comes, we know we can still win," Green said. "You know, you always expect that at some point you're going to put it all together. We haven't, and we're up 2-1. I like that. That's pretty good."