OAKLAND: If the Golden State Warriors needed a group therapy session after their calamitous loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night, a 108-102 ending in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals with Game 2 on Wednesday, they had plenty of options for the role of lead psychiatrist.
They could go with head coach coach Steve Kerr, the five-time champion as a player whose titles teams all lost at least one playoff home game during their respective runs. They could ask Steve Nash, the future Hall of Famer/Warriors player development consultant whose Phoenix Suns once started their 2010 postseason with a home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round before later reaching the conference finals.
Or, of course, these defending champion Warriors could ask themselves. After all, their 2015 crowning took place after they overcame 2-1 series deficits to both the Memphis Grizzlies [in the second round]and the Cleveland Cavaliers [in the Finals]. Save for the 2000-01 Lakers, who established the playoff gold standard by going 15-1 en route to the title, adversity is hardly atypical this time of year.
“We’d prefer to go 16-0 in the playoffs, and win the championship with 30-point games every time,” Kerr said after his team’s practice on Tuesday. “(But) the reality is this is what it’s about. I was part of five championship teams as a player, and it was never easy.
“There’s a reason we pour champagne on each other’s heads when we win. It’s hard, and it’s a grind, and this is a great reminder of that.”
But if anyone wondered how the Warriors unwound in those post-Game 1 hours, when that proverbial panic button was just begging to be punched, that clearly wasn’t the case. To hear Draymond Green tell it, they’re happy to be in this position.
“There wasn’t [any]postgame message,” said Green, who had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists in Game 1. “I saw Steph [Curry] after the game. He smiled and said, ‘We ain’t been here before.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know. I like this. This will be fun.’
“If you can bounce back from something like this, it makes it all the more sweeter. I’m relishing this opportunity. This is where you see what you’re really made of. This is where you bounce back and everybody is against you and don’t think you can do it and blasé blasé. This is where it gets fun.”
Or, if they don’t pull off this Game 2 that is unofficially a must-win, maybe not. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 243 of the 260 teams that have gone down 2-0 in a seven-game playoff series went on to lose (55 of 59 in conference finals matchups). And based on these past two weeks, no one should be doubting the Thunder’s ability to get that job done. Home teams that went down 2-0 are 3-20 in best of seven series overall and 0-9 in conference finals.
While much has been made of the fact that the Warriors haven’t faced a 1-0 series hole in the past two postseasons, Game 1 said more about Oklahoma City than it did Golden State. From their Game 2 win over the 67-win San Antonio Spurs on May 2 to the win over the Warriors on Monday in which Oklahoma City survived a 17-of-51 combined shooting night from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they have now won five of six games against two of the most dominant regular season teams of all time.
Slaying the Spurs, who won a franchise-record 67 games in the regular season only to be shown the door so abruptly, was no small feat. Consider this: of the 10 teams that won at least 67 games in the regular season, eight went on to win the championship (the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks were upset in the first round by the Warriors; the 1972-73 Boston Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New York Knicks).
The Thunder revelation, of course, is that this team is now about much more than their dynamic duo. Steven Adams is fast becoming one of the best big men in the league. Enes Kanter, the efficient scorer who was a legitimate candidate for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award, is no longer a defensive disaster. Dion Waiters, once considered a wildcard by every measure, has become a reliable, versatile and valued reserve.
In his heart of hearts, even Thunder general manager Sam Presti would have to admit some surprise at how quickly they’ve all come together.
“The other guys are playing better,” Green said. “KD didn’t play well last night to KD’s standards. Russ didn’t play to Russ’s standards, yet they won the game because the other guys are playing better. So that’s something that we’ve got to take care of and make sure that everybody else is not getting off and having really good games. I mean, you can’t expect KD 10 for 30 every game and Westbrook 7 for 21, but we can do a better job with the other guys.”
If not, they may need a hoops therapy session after all.