By Tim Reynolds, AP
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The level of tension is growing rapidly for the Golden State Warriors. Someone gets suspended, someone gets hurt, someone gets ejected, and lots of someones make no effort to hide their frustration. A comfortable two-game lead in the NBA Finals becomes a dicey one-game lead, then no lead at all.
The biggest moment awaits.
The biggest challenge does, too.
Shots aren’t falling for the Warriors at the same rate they were in the regular season, stops aren’t coming like they were a couple months ago either, the aches and pains are piling up and what looked like a sure-fire title not long ago is at best a shaky proposition now. Game 7 of the finals is on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Golden State is hoping being at home helps deliver a championship-saving elixir.
“Things haven’t gone our way despite how the regular season went,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “The playoffs haven’t been easy. Hasn’t been a breeze. Hasn’t been anything perfect about it. So, yeah, it’s frustrating, but the work we’ve put in and the opportunity we’ve given ourselves with a Game 7 to win the finals at home, you’ve got to be excited about that.”
The Warriors got questions for months — starting around December, believe it or not — about whether they were concerned that the strain of chasing Chicago’s 72-win mark that stood as the NBA’s gold standard for 20 years would leave them ailing or fatigued at playoff time.
Questions like those seem a bit more valid now.
To be clear, Andrew Bogut’s left knee didn’t become susceptible to season-ending bone bruises because of how difficult becoming the league’s first 73-win regular-season team was; J.R. Smith crashing into him in Game 5 of this series took care of that. Curry’s combination of fouling out, mouthpiece-throwing and getting ejected in Game 6 on Thursday night wasn’t because the first 82 games left him tired and cranky. And the Warriors’ inability to corral LeBron James in this series can be best explained by acknowledging again that when James is at his best he’s the most unstoppable force in the game.
The grind of March and April has nothing to do with any of that.
But it can certainly be argued that even though the Warriors spent about half the season without head coach Steve Kerr while he recovered from back surgeries and got every opponent’s best shot in every game — such is life for reigning champions — the playoffs have delivered more challenges in 20something games (including a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conferenc e finals against Oklahoma City) than the first 82 offered combined.
“I think if you start out every season and you say `We get a Game 7, we get one game at home to win the NBA championship,’ I’ll take it every time,” Kerr said. “So I can’t wait for Sunday. I think we’ll be fine. Obviously Cleveland has played well the last two games, and we’ve got to play better. But I’m confident we will. We’re in a spot that 29 other teams would love to be in.”
Kerr got fined $25,000 on Friday for being critical of referees after Golden State’s loss in Game 6, and Curry got fined another $25,000 for throwing his mouthpiece into the stands after fouling out of that game.