It was a question that surfaced on several occasions during their superb regular season, and each time the Warriors would brush it off with a shrug:
Is it possible that by winning so many games by relatively comfortable margins, that they might not be equipped to handle the demands of a two-month postseason?
They didn’t know the answer, and hoped they’d never need one.
They do, and immediately.
A spirited fourth-quarter comeback was not enough to prevent a 96-91 loss to Cleveland in Game 3 of the NBA Finals Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. That the Warriors are down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series only hints at what they’re facing.
Games 1 and 2 both went into overtime at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have been practically unbeatable. Game 3 was decided in the final seconds. This is a foreign experience. The Warriors, so composed and confident during the regular season, with good reason, are being exposed to the suffocating heat and unrelenting stress of a postseason now in its eighth week.
And there were times when the toll being exacted showed on their faces and bodies.
“This is what we have to fight through,” coach Steve Kerr said. “If things aren’t going our way, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to fight through it. You’ve got to bring energy. You’ve got to bring life. You’ve got to bring some emotion.
“When the shots go in, it’s easier to do that. But you’ve got to do that when the shots aren’t going in as well. We can’t get our heads down. That’s why I was pleased with the comeback because we looked more like ourselves.”
The comeback was about the only encouraging sign for the Warriors. After scoring 55 points in the first three quarters, they rang up 36 in the fourth. They looked like the team that had the best record in the league. Stephen Curry, scoring 17 of his 27 points in the quarter, looked like the MVP.
With the body language conveying energy and the legs finding thrust, the rally was enough to trim what had been a 20-point deficit to one (81-80) with 2:45 to play.
“We became the aggressors, just like the last few minutes of Game 2,” Curry said. “For us to win this series, we have to play that way the whole game. We have the depth. We have the talent to do it.”
Talent was never in question; it’s one of the reasons the Warriors were favored. But the Cavaliers have consistently shown more desire and determination. They’re playing as if winning means more to them than it does to the Warriors.
Given their underdog tale and Cleveland’s dreadful sports history, perhaps it would.
But this is where the Warriors reveal themselves. Trailing in the series, on the road, being outhustled. Are they going to sit back and take it? That’s how it looked for nearly all of the first three quarters.
That’s also how it looked three games into the Western Conference Semifinals against Memphis, when the Warriors won Game 1 before losing the next two. They responded by winning three straight to take the series.
“We’ve just got to bottle up what we did in the fourth quarter and bring that for 48 minutes, starting in Game 4,” Curry said. “The confidence that we have, knowing that we’ve come back from 2-1, it means a lot. Regardless of if it’s The Finals are not, that’s a huge bonus for us to have gone through that experience before.
“So we have to rely on that. And it all starts with Game 4. We’ve got to win that, and then go home and protect our home court the rest of the series. That’s the mission.”
David Lee came off the bench to provide a nice lift, scoring 11 points in 13 minutes. He was active and purposeful on offense, helping the team unlock its potential.
Iguodala continued his effort to deliver whatever is needed at a particular time, offering 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers.
Curry had the unwanted 1-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio. He had six of each, and three of the giveaways came late in the game and helped the Cavs close out the win.
The futility of Draymond Green continues. He played 30 minutes, despite an aching back, scoring seven points (2-of-10 shooting, 1-of-4 from deep), with seven rebounds.
Harrison Barnes was comprehensively egregious: 0 points (0-of-8 shooting), three rebounds, zero assists and three turnovers in 19 minutes. He was -14 for the game.
The Warriors are in deep water, and it’s rising. They’re good enough to get through this, but they have to raise their intensity and keep high. They have to play each possession as if it might dictate the outcome. The Cavs are very wounded but they are making a lionhearted effort. These are the types of games the Warriors rarely saw in the regular season. They have to adapt or they’ll spend the summer wondering how they were beaten four times by a team with an inferior roster.