A daunting 3-1 series hole is normally enough to create an air of pessimism around an NBA squad, even if that team is the defending champion, 73-win Golden State Warriors. And considering how Golden State and two-time MVP Stephen Curry have been decimated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the last two games of the Western Conference finals, a glass-half empty feeling would be almost understandable.
However, as the Warriors hope to stave off elimination in Thursday’s Game 5 at Oracle Arena, head coach Steve Kerr is rallying his troops and banking on their success from last year and not necessarily their historic 73-win regular season run this season.
"We are the defending champs," Kerr told reporters Wednesday. "Most teams that were down 3-1 in the conference finals, I'm guessing weren't the defending champs. We feel very confident. We have potentially three games, two of them at home. If we can do what we've done for two seasons and protect our home floor, it's 3-2 and we have momentum."
Kerr’s also clearly banking on the Oracle’s fervid and supportive crowd, which pushed the Warriors to a 39-2 record in the regular season and 6-2 in the playoffs. However, according to The Mercury News, the average ticket price for Game 5 is $100 less expensive than Game 2, suggesting fans aren’t as optimistic as Kerr or even Curry.
Curry’s facing a crossroads in his career. He’s already considered one of the greatest shooters of all-time after making a jaw-dropping and record-busting 402 threes and leading the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game. As he improved, so did Golden State and the team seemed destined to couple a new regular season wins record with a second straight title.
But that was before the injury that’s reportedly limited Curry’s overall play the last couple of contests. He’s reportedly playing at “70 percent” and may still be bothered by the knee injury that caused him to miss six playoff games and evidently a 5-for-21 rate from deep in Games 3 and 4.
How Curry responds, as well as All-Star forward Draymond Green, will likely determine the Warriors fate for the rest of these playoffs. After punishing Portland for 22.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists in the previous round, Green’s scored only 12 points and shot 2-16 from the field while committing 10 turnovers the last two games.
As is often the case when a champion appears headed for a fall, the focus of the series has been on the Warriors precipitous decline rather than Oklahoma City’s almost perfect play against one of the best offensive juggernaut’s the league has ever seen.
The Thunder frontcourt, led by Kevin Durant and big men Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, have owned the glass. Oklahoma City’s won the rebounding battle 108-78, including 27-18 on the offensive glass, with Russell Westbrook swooping in and denying any second-chance opportunities the last two contests.
And Oklahoma City’s perimeter defense has been equally as stellar. Golden State’s connected on 30 percent of its threes in the last two contests, and coughed up 21 turnovers in Game 4 thanks to Westbrook, Andre Roberson, and Randy Foye pestering Curry and Klay Thompson.
Predicted Score: Oklahoma City over Golden State, 110-104
Tipoff: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT
Live Stream: TNT Overtime
Betting Odds: Golden State -7.5 points
Over/under: 220.5 points