Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says the defending NBA champions have endured their most difficult season in this year’s campaign, feeling the impact of a fourth consecutive NBA Finals journey.
The Warriors carry a 3-0 lead over Cleveland into Friday’s fourth game in the best-of-seven series, leaving them one win shy of their second consecutive title and third crown in four seasons.
“Every journey is a new one each season,” Kerr said. “Yet the cumulative effect of multiple journeys adds up, and we have felt that this year.”
At this point in Golden State’s fourth consecutive final versus the Cavaliers, the Warriors have played 82 playoff games over four seasons, the equal of an entire extra campaign.
“I think it has been our most inconsistent season. It has been our most difficult season,” Kerr said. “But our guys sense the finish line, and they turned it on right from the beginning of the playoffs defensively.
“That’s been what has been key to get us to this point where we’re on the cusp. Our defense has been fantastic through however many playoff games we’ve played. So that’s why we’re here.
“Now that we are one game away, we would like to eliminate inconsistency and put forth our best effort, our best game. That’s the plan.”
Even so, this Warriors squad is on the brink of joining the NBA’s top dynasties—the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics—as the only clubs to claim three crowns in four seasons.
“The finals brings the best out of you,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “And when the competition is as great as it has been every year we’ve been here, it tests you mentally and physically to get through these series.
“There have been so many different challenges we’ve faced. Some we’ve succeeded at and some we haven’t. Definitely (I’m) a better player than I was before these four series have started and hopefully there will be an appreciation for that when it’s all said and done.”
Talent at ‘all-time high’
Kerr, himself a five-time NBA champion as a player, says the Warriors are topping the league at a time when the NBA boasts its greatest talents.
“It really is shocking when you see the talent,” Kerr said. “The talent level right now I think is at an all-time high in the league.
“It’s very different. You don’t have the aircraft carriers, you don’t have Shaq (O’Neal) and Patrick Ewing and Hakeem (Olajuwon). But the skill level on the perimeter is so shocking. Sometimes I try to picture myself playing in the finals now. Twenty years ago, I survived. It was tough, but I survived. I could find guys to guard.
“I can only imagine right now. It has gotten so tough. You have to have so much versatility and size and speed and strength to be able to survive on the floor because of this incredible skill level.
“Because these guys can make shots from 30, 35 feet without blinking. Now you’ve got to go out there and pick them up. Now they’re driving by you. And they’ve got four 3-point shooters in many cases. So guarding and playing defense today is the most difficult it has ever been.”
Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who scored a playoff career-high 43 points in game three, said familiarity has made Golden State more dangerous, as has an ability to set aside emotions, his grim stare after a key late-game hoop Wednesday living up to the “assassin” label tagged upon him by Cleveland’s LeBron James.
“We’ve been through a season with each other already as champions, so we know exactly what we need to do in order for us to win,” Durant said.
“The emotions and all that stuff doesn’t really matter. We just try to play a solid, focused game, and we’ll figure out how to feel afterward.”