SAN FRANCISCO — Moments after clearing his bench 48.3 seconds before a double-digit defeat became official, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr approached his star players.
Understandable if Kerr felt compelled to scold them for the Warriors’ eventual 120-108 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals on Thursday. Instead, Kerr gave them either a handshake, fist bump or light hug. The moment captured what the Warriors believe they can lean on to ensure a different outcome in Game 2 on Sunday (8 ET, ABC).
“We stick together through the thick and thin, wins and losses,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “We’re not going to splinter because we didn’t play like we wanted to. We’re just going to continue to play as hard as we can. And I just know if we do that, we’ll be better.”
The reason for the Warriors’ optimism? Not only do their star players have experience with winning three NBA titles in five Finals appearances, they also have a proven track record in rectifying losses.
The Warriors dropped to 21-3 in Game 1s since 2015, but they have responded quickly after those two other defeats. Following a six-point loss to Oklahoma City in Game 1 of the 2016 Western Conference semifinals, the Warriors responded with a 27-point win in Game 2. After a nine-point loss to Toronto in Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the Warriors adjusted with a five-point win in Game 2.
As for the Warriors’ current season? They did not lose consecutive playoff games in the first round (vs. Denver), West semifinals (vs. Memphis) and Western Conference finals (vs. Dallas). In the regular season? Different story.
They had four two-game losing streaks, one three-game losing streak, one four-game losing streak and one five-game losing streak. But those developments coincided with Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green nursing overlapping injuries with a young roster. Heading into Game 2, the Warriors do not have any players listed on their injury report.
It’s about winning four games by any means necessary. For 42 minutes, we did enough to win a game, and that’s not how basketball works.”
— Warriors guard Stephen Curry
“We’ve always embraced challenges,” Green said. “It’s no different. We’ll embrace this one. So, it’s not a hit to the confidence at all.”
Nonetheless, the Celtics have handed the Warriors a laundry list of items to clean up.
The Warriors succeeded with forcing Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (12 points on 3-for-17 shooting) and Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (24 points on 10-for-23 shooting) to score inefficiently. The Warriors hardly paid much attention, however, to the marksmanship that Marcus Smart (4-for-7), Al Horford (6-for-8) and Derrick White (5-for-8) showed from 3-point range.
“It’s going to be tough to beat Boston if they are making 21 threes and they are getting a combined 11 from Horford and White,” Kerr said after Game 1.
The Warriors appeared to have the game secured entering the fourth quarter with a 92-80 lead. But then the Celtics outscored the Warriors, 40-16, while the Warriors shot 41.2% and committed seven turnovers.
“It’s just about trusting each other on both sides of the ball,” Thompson said. “I missed some rotations. We’ve just got to be better as far as being on a string together and moving and hitting the open man.”
The Warriors had become encouraged with Jordan Poole’s season-long growth during his fourth season. They even became more intrigued when he emerged as both a dependable starter and closer during the playoffs. They saw a different version of Poole in his Finals debut. In Game 1, Poole labored with nine points on 2-of-7 shooting and four turnovers.
“Boston did a good job on Jordan and put a lot of pressure on him,” Kerr said. “There’s probably some things that we can do to help free him up. He’s a hell of a player. So, he’ll bounce back and play better.”
Green vowed to do the same thing after finishing with only four points while shooting poorly both overall (2-for-12) and from 3-point range (0-for-4). The Warriors value Green for his defense, not so much for his shooting. Yet, the Warriors have always wanted Green to remain a scoring threat — both so he can facilitate for Golden State and stretch defenses.
“I’ll continue to stay aggressive,” Green said. “They will fall.”
As suspected, Curry hardly had any of the same issues. He stormed out with 21-first quarter points while shooting 7-for-9 overall and 6-for-8 on 3-pointers. The Celtics surprisingly left Curry with either uncontested shots or open looks off pick-and-rolls. After that first-quarter burst, however, Curry failed to continue his shooting clinic in the second quarter (0-for-2), third quarter (3-for-8) and fourth (2-for-6).
While Curry sat for the first 2:25 of the fourth quarter, the Celtics stormed out to a 7-0 run. Afterwards, Curry suggested he may need to play beyond his 38 minutes.
“It’s about winning four games by any means necessary,” Curry said. “For 42 minutes, we did enough to win a game, and that’s not how basketball works. I think everything starts to come on the table when you look at trying to get ourselves back in the series on Sunday and taking it from there.”
The Warriors trust they will do that and conceded their frustration following Game 1. Yet, they said they abstained from finger-pointing and slumped shoulders. Instead, they vowed they will spend Friday and Saturday discussing adjustments while soaking up game footage and practice drills.
“Just about being honest about what went wrong and holding each other accountable and coming out with another level of effort and desperation that we need,” Curry said.
NBA history isn’t exactly on the Warriors’ side. Teams that win Game 1 of the Finals eventually win the series 70.7% of the time (53-22). Nonetheless, only eight out of 17 NBA teams have won an NBA title after winning Game 1 on the road. The Warriors also have their own recent history that leaves them expressing relative optimism with their current circumstances.
“Guys are bummed, as you would expect,” Kerr said. “But it’s a seven-game series for a reason.”
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