Cleveland (AFP) – Mindful of last year’s missed chance at a perfect playoff run, the Golden State Warriors expect their toughest NBA Finals challenge from Cleveland on Friday as they chase a series sweep.
Defending champion Golden State can capture a third title in four seasons, carrying a 3-0 lead over the Cavaliers into game four of their record fourth consecutive best-of-seven title matchup.
“Game four is going to be the toughest game we’ve played in the series, to close it out,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “We’re going to need energy, effort, focus from every guy that steps foot on the floor.
“We know they’re going to throw some crazy punches and we’ve got to be able to weather the storm and their runs and the crowd and the atmosphere and all that. Just try to keep our composure as best we can because close-out games are the hardest things that you can ever experience in the playoffs.”
The visiting Warriors made an NBA-record 15-0 start to last year’s playoffs with three sweeps and a 3-0 lead on the Cavs before suffering their only playoff loss, eventually taking the title in five games.
We want a different outcome,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said. “We’ve never done that in our four years, sweep the finals. It’s an incredible opportunity. It’s like the game within the game.
“We have to challenge ourselves to come out and try to put this thing away.”
No team in NBA playoff history has won a series from a 3-0 deficit, but no NBA team had rallied from 3-1 in the finals until Cleveland shocked Golden State in the 2016 finals.
“We’re still in the NBA Finals,” said Cleveland’s J.R. Smith. “We still have to keep that enthusiasm, trust and belief that we can get this thing done.”
Cleveland’s LeBron James, in his eighth consecutive finals and ninth overall, is one loss from falling to 3-6 for his career in the championship round.
“We have an opportunity to extend the series, but we’ve got to come out and play 48 minutes,” James said.
“You can’t have mistakes. They’re not going to beat themselves. You can’t have flaws. You can’t have ‘my bads’ or things like that because they’re going to make you pay.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said his team has not given up on itself.
“We know we can beat this team and we have the confidence to do that,” Lue said. “But our focus is not on winning four. Our focus is winning game four.”
– Small margin for error –
Kevin Love recalled Cleveland’s game-four effort last year with backs to the wall.
“We hit 24 threes last year in game four and had a really great showing and didn’t accept defeat,” Love said. “That’s something this team needs to do and continue to be resilient.
“The margin of error against them is so little. In some cases you almost have to be perfect.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green, whose stylist selects suits for each game night, would be happy not to wear more than four.
“We got a chance to close out this series and that’s our focus,” said Green. “I’ve got a game five outfit. It’s pretty dope. I really don’t want to wear it, though.”
– Haven’t seen Warrior best –
Green recalls the humbling loss with perfection so near.
“A 3-0 lead and we just kind of laid an egg. So we understand that and learn from it,” Green said. “I don’t think we’ve put our best game together yet, which is encouraging, because what better time to do that?”
Curry expects Cleveland to go for broke after James unleashed 51 points in game one and a triple double in game three but lost each time.
“They’re going to come out just gunslinging. It’s going to be shots from all over the place,” Curry said. “But we have what we need focus-wise and energy-wise to combat that.”
The Cavs vow to answer the bell.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” said Cleveland forward Tristan Thompson. “We’ve got to go out there and give everything we’ve got. And if we can do that, guys can look in the mirror and live with themselves.”