TORONTO — Canadian rapper Nav's “Champion” reverberated throughout Scotiabank Arena about 10 minutes into Warriors practice Sunday afternoon. In the song's chorus, Travis Scott croons, “We got the trophy like a champion,” capturing Golden State's collective mood heading into an elimination Game 5 on Monday night.
Throughout the Warriors’ five-year run, they have been loose in the face of elimination, and despite being down three games to one in the NBA Finals against the Raptors, the two-time defending champs’ confidence hasn't wavered.
"I feel great," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "We still have an opportunity to go out and win a series, and that's all you can really ask for."
Green's conviction comes from experience. Three years ago, down three games to one to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors won three consecutive games to earn a Finals berth.
While the stakes are similar, Golden State's current series comes with some variants. Because the Raptors finished with a better regular-season record, they hold home-court advantage in the series, meaning the Warriors must win two of their next three games on the road.
"Every series is different," Green said. "It takes on a life of its own. But most importantly the same message that was applied then should be the same message that is applied now."
Despite the differences, like Oklahoma City three years ago, Toronto has dominated the onset of the series. In 16 total quarters, the Warriors have outscored the Raptors just three times. DeMarcus Cousins, who missed nearly two months with an injured quad, is shooting just 30 percent from the field. The Warriors’ bench, which struggled throughout the regular season, ranks second to last among playoff teams in scoring at 25 points per game.
In Game 4, despite controlling the first half, the Warriors surrendered a 20-6 run to the Raptors over the final five minutes of the third quarter, helping Toronto take a 79-67 lead into the fourth, pushing the series to the brink. Two days later, the Warriors’ mantra went from making history to something different.
"It's just a matter of, can you win one basketball game right now?" Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "Can you go out tomorrow, play an amazing 48 minutes, quiet this crowd that's going to be probably unbelievable tomorrow, and slow down a team that's been playing amazing, especially these last two games, and just win one basketball game and take it from there? And if we focus on that mission, our history kind of speaks for itself in terms of being able to get that done.
”Just win one basketball game, and then we'll worry about the rest."
The Warriors were in a similar situation in 2016 against the Thunder. Through their first three wins of the series, Oklahoma City beat Golden State by an average of 19.3 points, including a 118-94 Game 4 home victory to take control of the series.
Following the loss, Curry averaged 32.7 points, 7.7 assists and 7.3 rebounds over the last three games to help the Warriors win the series. Now, Curry has an opportunity for a repeat performance.
"No matter the outcome, our preparation from adjustments within our team to adjustments we have to make on the fly," Warriors guard Andre Iguodala said. "Guys are locked in and ready to go."
Reactions from each team following Game 4 are an easy indicator of how they function. While the Raptors walked off the Oracle Arena floor with a focused silence, the Warriors, winners of three of the last four NBA titles, maintained an air of confidence. Prior to Sunday's practice, the champs talked strategy and even joked with media members as the music played.
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By the end of practice, the Warriors were boosted by the news that Kevin Durant was upgraded to questionable for Game 5. Now, they will continue their quest for another trophy.
"The mood is good," Kerr said. "We have an amazing opportunity and challenge. We're going to do everything we can to meet that challenge. We're excited about it."