Cleveland (AFP) – Defending champion Golden State returns to an all-too familiar NBA Finals venue Wednesday at Cleveland with hopes of putting a stranglehold on the best-of-seven championship series.
The Warriors opened up a 2-0 lead after back-to-back opening wins at home to take a giant stride towards a third crown in four years in what is their fourth straight finals meeting with the Cavaliers.
“In the finals, this is the only building I know what that experience, that atmosphere, is like,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “We know how Cleveland plays here, with a lot of energy and force. We understand how hard it is to win in this building.”
Curry struck for an NBA record nine 3-pointers in game two but comes to Cleveland knowing the fight is far from done.
“No matter what has gone on in the series, when you change venues, you’ve got to reassert your dominance and try to find that right momentum to start,” he said. “I want to be a part of leading that charge and playing an amazing game and really taking control of the series.”
Teams leading 2-0 have won the finals 88 percent of the time but no team leading 3-0 has ever lost, something that keeps the Warriors hungry and the Cavaliers desperate.
“They won two games on their home floor. Now we’ve got to come back and do the same thing,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
“We’re very confident we can do that. The guys are engaged and locked in. Winning tomorrow is a step forward, but then go out and win game four also. We know we can. We believe.”
Bouncing back has been a trademark for LeBron James, the Cleveland superstar who has helped the Cavs go 8-1 at home in these playoffs and 5-1 after losses until the finals.
“We’ve been very persistent and very resilient throughout this whole season,” James said. “We have an opportunity to protect home, as Golden State has done. We look forward to the challenge. It’s a very tall task. But we have an opportunity.
“We’re down 2-0 and I don’t like the way I feel. When you’re down like this versus a team like this, there’s no good feeling.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr is glad to have a familiar situation for his team in the road challenge.
“We’ve been here before and that’s the biggest thing,” Kerr said. “We’re used to the dynamic of being ahead in a series and then having everything shift when you go on the road — especially when you play Cleveland.
“LeBron, this crowd and their environment, we know the kind of force they’re going to bring. And we have to be prepared for that.”
– ‘Haven’t played our best’ –
Kerr remains uncertain about forward Andre Iguodala, idled by a left leg injury.
“He’s doing better,” Kerr said. “So I would upgrade him to questionable. I’m hopeful he can play, if not tomorrow then in game four.”
Lue said he plans to look at guard Rodney Hood off the bench to add some zing to the struggling Cavaliers attack.
“We definitely haven’t played our best basketball,” Cavs guard J.R. Smith said. “We feel confident in the position we’re in. We’ve just got to go out there and make it happen.”
“We all feel that we can still win this series, and that we can play a lot better,” said Cavaliers guard George Hill.
Lue wants more physical toughness and better communication on the defensive side, especially guarding Curry.
“Our switches and our schemes have been pretty on point,” Cavs forward Kevin Love said. “But our communication and making it tough for him could be better.”
– ‘Going to be crazy’ –
Nearly 20,000 screaming Cavs supporters won’t hurt Cleveland’s cause, either.
“Atmosphere is going to be crazy,” Cavs forward Jeff Green said. “Our fans give us another boost of energy that we’re going to need. It’s going to be fun.”
Warriors star Kevin Durant is ready for craziness.
“We’ve just got to embrace whatever happens and look forward to a crazy environment with a team that’s desperate,” Durant said. “The job is not done and you can’t relax or be comfortable when you’re still trying to win this thing.”