If there is anything that can stop, or even slow, Golden State on the way to its third straight trip to the NBA Finals, it hasn’t been found yet by the three teams the Warriors have faced so far in the playoffs.
On Monday, the short-handed San Antonio Spurs, injury-ravaged losers of the first three games of the Western Conference finals, will take one more shot at beating Golden State when the teams square off for Game 4 of their best-of-seven series.
No team in NBA playoff history has come back to win a series after losing the first three games. The chances that the Spurs, with or without injured star forward and erstwhile MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, can do so are monumental, at best.
Leonard is a near-certainty to miss the contest due to an ankle injury. Fellow Spurs forward David Lee (knee) also could sit out.
The Warriors rolled to a 120-108 win on Saturday behind 33 points from Kevin Durant, 17 of which came consecutively during the third quarter after the Spurs closed within 69-65. Golden State’s wave and wave of talented players came alive when the Warriors were needed the most, and — all the great coaching and proper preparation aside — San Antonio just couldn’t muster a meaningful response.
“For us to win, we have to play at a 10 level and they have to play at a 7,” San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili said after the loss in Game 3. “We know it’s going to be very tough. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Kawhi, so we have to be out there, compete, feel good about yourself, give everything you have, and if it’s enough, great. If it’s not, great, too.”
Golden State has now won all 11 games in this postseason — it swept the Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz before taking the first three games in the conference finals — and has garnered victories in 26 of its past 27 overall contests.
“As players, you want to go out there and win as much as possible and play as great as you can,” Durant said when asked about the Warriors’ domination. “Whatever happens with the score happens. So, we leave that to the fans who feel upset. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
About the only chance the Spurs would seem to have to extend the series past Monday to a Game 5 in Oakland on Wednesday would stem on some level of complacency by Golden State. If Stephen Curry’s comments after Game 3 are to be believed, it’s more likely that the Warriors will go for the knockout punch and their third straight series sweep in Game 4.
“I’m not surprised that we are up 3-0 — our goal is to win every game we play,” Curry said. “Obviously, sometimes it doesn’t happen like that, but we’ve answered a lot of challenges throughout the course of the playoffs and learned a lot of lessons, obviously through winning.
“But against the Spurs, they challenge you no matter who is out there, and you’ve got to play well to beat them. So, we obviously know Game 4 is going to be even tougher, with the chance to close it out. They’re going to go down swinging, so we have to really come in focused and with a lot of energy to get it done on Monday.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said Sunday after the team’s practice that he does not expect Leonard to play on Monday.
“It wouldn’t make much sense,” Popovich said. “If (Leonard) was unable to play yesterday, I don’t think there’s going to be a miraculous healing by tomorrow.”
If this is the end of the line for the Spurs, it has been a memorable — if incomplete — campaign. San Antonio is a team no opponent can take for granted, so writing off the Spurs is hard, even with these dire circumstances.
“I’ve been saying this the whole time — the Spurs are not just going to lay down for us,” Warriors acting coach Mike Brown said. “The building is going to be energized. The group is going to be ready to play, so we have to make sure that we come out and we play the right way.”