CLEVELAND — Going 16-0 in the postseason was never the goal for these Golden State Warriors. The only thing they truly care about is reaching 16 wins.
So, there was no disappointment on the faces of players and coaches after the Dubs lost Game 4 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 137-116, on Friday.
On Thursday, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr recalled the 1996 Finals, when he was on the Chicago Bulls — another one of the greatest NBA teams of all-time — and they took a 3-0 lead before losing the next two.
“In the end, you just want to win. The other stuff doesn’t really matter,” he said. “People can talk about it in historical context, but you just get it done, win the series and let everybody else talk.”
So with the potential undefeated-playoffs landmark off the table, the Warriors can return to Oakland with a chance to accomplish what they’ve set out to since June 19, 2016.
It won’t be easy. Not if the Cavs play like they did on Friday, when they shot 53 percent on 45 attempts from beyond the 3-point line.
Several statistics stood out in Game 4: LeBron James became the all-time leader in triple-doubles in the Finals by scoring 31, grabbing 10 boards and throwing 11 assists; Kyrie Irving netted 40 points; JR Smith scored all 15 of his points on long balls, including one from the halfcourt logo as the shot clock expired.
“They did exactly what we thought they would do,” Draymond Green said afterward. “I can’t foresee them coming to Oracle and hitting 24 threes.”
At face value, that seems like an obvious statement. Regression to the norm is inevitable. But if there was ever a team that could do it again, it’s these Cavs. They’re the only group to shoot at least 45 3-pointers and convert at a better than 50-percent clip. They’ve done it three times now.
“That’s part of who we are,” James said.
Can they do it three more times without a letup, though?
Probably not, because it will all come down to repeat performances from guys like Tristan Thompson — who broke out of his Finals-long slump to play something resembling solid basketball — and Smith.
Several Cleveland players said they derived extra motivation from things the Warriors said that they saw on social media: That they wanted to celebrate in Cleveland again, that they not only wanted to beat the Cavs, but they wanted to embarrass them.
Thompson: ‘Talk all you want…you’re not about to punk us. S–t, you’re not about to punk me. You’re not about to punk Tristan Thompson.’ pic.twitter.com/m5Nmsu8Rqt
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) June 10, 2017
“Guys are going to talk. We’re going to respond, but they aren’t going to punk us,” Thompson said in front of his locker. “Not me. They’re not about to punk Tristan Thompson. You got the game fucked up with that one.”
“If we win Game 5, we’re going to go to 7.”
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) June 10, 2017
The Cavaliers proudly walked around Quicken Arena after the game, happy to have avoided an embarrassing end to The Trilogy, eager to make bold statements. (“If we win Game 5, we’re going to go to 7,” said Richard Jefferson.)
But the Warriors were hardly deflated. Kerr strode into his postgame press conference with the same coolness he had when he announced he was returning to the sideline earlier in the series. Draymond gave a sermon about how undeterred they are.
What they were exuding, basically, is that it isn’t 2016, when they couldn’t clinch the title despite racing out to a 3-1 series lead.
“I’m pretty sure Draymond won’t get suspended for Game 5,” Kerr joked when asked to compare the two seasons. “Maybe he will. I don’t know.”
The jokes at the Warriors expense will fly in the lead up to an if-necessary game many thought would never happen. They expect that: “Just the world we live in,” to borrow a phrase from Green.
But role players typically don’t shoot well on the road, and it took a historic shooting night at home for the Cavs to get in the win column.
The latest chapter of this great story wasn’t the decisive throat stomp that many Warriors fans craved. It’s going to be something more complicated. It’s going to take more than four games for Golden State to close their rivals out.
On Monday, the Warriors will have that chance. And if they do it, they’ll be the first Bay Area team to win a title playing at home since 1974 (as long as you don’t count the 49ers winning Super Bowl XIX at Stanford).
That would just be as sweet as embarrassing your rival.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 10, 2017
Contact Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.Cleveland CavaliersGolden State WarriorsKevin DurantKyrie IrvingLeBron JamesNBA FinalsNBA PlayoffsStephen CurrySteve Kerrtyronn lue