SAN ANTONIO — The Golden State Warriors were back to taking no chances and no prisoners Monday night, the latest in needing 3 1/4 games to record a 4-0 sweep of a playoff series as the best kind of prep for The Finals — and especially for a likely Finals against the Cavaliers.
Finishing off what remained of the San Antonio Spurs to win the Western Conference title for the third playoffs in a row required one quarter, just as it took until shortly after the final note of the national anthem to ditch the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the opening round and then the Utah Jazz in similar efficiency in the Western Conference semifinals. All sweeps, all completed on the road, all while immediately grabbing control with both fists.
Not merely becoming the first team to ever open the playoffs 12-0, statement enough, the Warriors reached the milestone with the unmistakable killer instinct of outscoring their three punching bags by 57 points — 115-58 — in the first quarter of closeout games. Portland, Utah and San Antonio had no chance, the first two lacking a roster that could compete with the heavy favorite and the last left to wonder what might have been if only someone hadn’t gotten hold of a Spurs voodoo doll and a box full of pins.
“They were so much better than us, so much stronger. We did our best. We shook their hands, wished them luck and go back home to our families.”
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili
None of the three had a chance to even dream the impossible, as the Boston Celtics can after their Game 3 comeback over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. Three times Golden State led 3-0, and three times Golden State played Game 4 with the urgency of the desperate team.
That — not Stephen Curry averaging 31.5 points per game and shooting 46.7 percent on 3-pointers, nor the 28 points per game of Kevin Durant, not Klay Thompson’s defense as he struggled with his shot — has become the symbol of these playoff Warriors. There haven’t been anything close to the mental lapses of the two previous charges into June, one, in 2015, that resulted in a championship and another in a historic Finals collapse against Cleveland. Monday night inside an AT&T Center filled with fans who tried to scream their team to the impossible, when coming back from 3-0 would have required beating history, the opponent and medical science, was the latest proof.
“Experience helps for sure,” Curry said. “Obviously this is a new bunch. But everybody’s had playoff experience before and understands what it takes to win, how each possession is important. It wasn’t a perfect game tonight by any stretch of the imagination. But the way that we started, like you said, was important, especially defensively just to set the tone.
“If you allow them to have life and build momentum, you make it a lot more difficult on yourself to close it out. No matter what the series is, the team playing at home in front of their home crowd, they’re going to play with a different type of energy. We understood that and put our foot on the gas pedal from the opening tip, and that was that.”
Not just on the gas pedal. The Warriors put their foot on the Spurs’ throat.
“It’s the second time, I think, we’ve been gotten swept in (my career) and those have been the easiest to digest because you’ve been outplayed,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said after what may have been his last game before retirement. “The opponent was better than us and in this case way better than us.
“When you lose by an average of 20 points a game in the last three games, you look at them in the eyes and say, ‘Congratulations, man, you beat us fair and square. You were better than us.’ The easiest thing to do. … They were so much better than us, so much stronger. We did our best. We shook their hands, wished them luck and go back home to our families.”
The Warriors go back home to prepare for Game 1 of The Finals in Oakland on June 1, likely against the Cavaliers, up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. Naturally. Of course it would have to be Cleveland as the probable ultimate test of Golden State and its new playoff focus, one year after the Warriors became the first team to ever waste a 3-1 series lead.
A lot has changed since, of course, from the addition of Durant to no longer emphasizing records to, most notably at the moment, the starts to Game 4s: a 14-0 break from the gate in Portland that became a 28-point head start in the opening quarter while shooting 62.5 percent; a 24-point cushion in the first period in Salt Lake City after needing all of five minutes to build a double-digit advantage; and going up 12 points Monday in San Antonio with the defense that helped limit the Spurs to 29 percent from the field the first 12 minutes. The leads after those first quarters were 45-22, 39-17 and 31-19, respectively.
“I feel like we could definitely be better,” Durant said. “Like tonight, we had them on the ropes and they just kept clawing and fighting. So you’ve got to give them credit for that. But for the most part, we haven’t been satisfied when we go up 3-0. We wanted to come out and close it out on the road. Guys have been just focused and energized from the beginning. We’re going to need that from the very start next series, so definitely looking forward to it. In this league, this stuff is hard to come by, so we definitely want to enjoy it. We’ve got two days off, which is also good as well. But we’ve got to lock back in and get ready for the next series.”
Get ready, yes. Lock in, no. The Warriors already are.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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