CLEVELAND — With LeBron James’s seemingly fatalistic comments on Wednesday, there was an air of an impending finality about the Golden State Warriors’ shootaround on Friday.
With Game 4 of the NBA Finals set for tonight at 6 p.m., and James having done everything he could do, short of scoring 100 points per game by himself, a sweep — and a third Golden State title in four years — appears a foregone conclusion.
“Don’t jinx us,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who has done arguably his finest coaching job this season, in shepherding the team through its first true taste of adversity since he arrived. “Don’t ask us about anything other than the game tonight.”
On Thursday, Klay Thompson — who shot 4-of-11 from the field — encapsulated his and Stephen Curry’s attitude headed into what could be the final game of the season, after the two combined to go 7-for-27 from the field.
“You always think in the back of your mind if I do this better individually we could have won by this much,” Thompson said. “We could have stopped this … Me and Steph, obviously, are thinking that over these next couple days and we’ll have a better performance from us if we do that.”
During Friday’s shootaround, Andre Iguodala — the Warriors’ best defender on James — moved easily and freely, without ice or braces on either of his ailing knees. Defense having been a hallmark of Kerr’s teams in Oakland, it could be what clinches the series, even though Kerr said the fireworks — like the 43 points Kevin Durant scored on Wednesday — get most of the headlines.
That said, Durant has made a compelling case for Finals MVP. In the three games, he’s shot 55.9 percent from the field, 47.4 percent from three and 95.2 percent from the foul line. He’s averaged 31.7 points per game, 6.7 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 10.3 rebounds.
After his hyper-efficient shooting night in Game 3 — during which he went 15-of-23 from the field, 6-of-9 from three and 7-of-7 at the free throw line — Durant was focused on Friday.
“I’m just trying to be as calm as I can, and it’s exciting to be up 3-0 in the Finals — any player would say that,” Durant said. “Knowing that, 48 minutes of focus and intensity will get you to where you want to go to, that’s all you can ask for, coming into the year. Forty-eight minutes to win a championship, I’m looking forward to it.”
Curry, despite his 1-for-10 performance from three-point range in Game 3, was relaxed. So was Draymond Green, with both his knees wrapped in ice, talking about shoes and fashion with reporters. He’s quietly averaging 9.3 points, 2.3 steals, 8.3 assists, one block and seven rebounds in the Finals.
“I’m really pleased with our maturity,” Kerr said. “I actually really think the last few years have shown up, in terms of our experience in these Finals. I remember the first year in 2015, just seeing the chaos, and just being so up and down.”
There was the infamous shouting match between Green and Kerr during halftime of a game at Oklahoma City. There was the early balance Kerr had to find between so many competing, generational shooters like Curry and Thompson. There was establishing an offense that lived on the edge, being at its best when being loose and free, but also maintaining discipline.
This season, even after missing Curry for six weeks with an ankle injury, with Thompson playing on one ankle, with Iguodala missing six games with a bone bruise in his knee, with Patrick McCaw fearing losing the use of his legs, with a frustrating rookie season for Jordan Bell turning into a postseason to build on, there is calm.
“Now, it seems really business-like,” Kerr said.
This is a team that has been here before — a close-out game in the Finals — but hasn’t been here before: In three straight NBA Finals meetings, the Warriors — as good as they’ve been — have not swept James and the Cavaliers.
“Anything can happen if you give a team confidence,” Thompson said on Thursday. “Nothing is ever guaranteed in this league. So might as well leave it all out there on the floor, not think in the back of your mind all we have to do is get one of the next four … just play your absolute hardest, exert all the effort you’ve got, and we should be good.”