Give yourself a round of applause, Chase Center. You saw the Warriors through a rough regular season, and have now resuscitated Golden State in the wake of yet another crushing road trip. You are now 12-1, in the postseason, Chase. You are both the Warriors' refuge, and also, the yin to the confounding yang of the Dubs' split home/road personality.
Game 3 on Thursday was a must-win. The Sacramento Kings never led in that game and did not shoot well (neither did the Warriors), but they hung in there, making it a nerve-racking affair until the Dubs pulled away in the second half for the 114-97 W. Exhale, everyone. At least the Dubs avoided the sweep — but they faced another must-win contest in Game 4 on Sunday. With the Warriors leading by five late in the game and firmly in control, a strange mistake almost compounded into a buzzer-beating chance for the Kings to snatch a win. Alas, the magic of Chase Center kept that shot from going in. It ended 126-125, Dubs. Series tied. Take another deep breath, and exhale, but prepare yourselves for the road.
And so here we are again. After thinking that the Warriors were doomed after yet another crushing road trip, they redeem themselves at home with spectacular wins, and we as fans are again filled with the belief that this time, this time, Golden State will string a few road wins together, that they'll flip the switch, turn the corner, right the ship, change the vibe, and finally just win on the goddamn road.
Game 5 — in Sacramento on Wednesday — is not a must-win, but it could be one of the biggest wins of the Warriors' season. The Dubs can control their own destiny and impose their will upon the Kings. Or not. Game 5 could be yet another road loss, with a chance for redemption at Chase one more time, and then a chance to try on the road, just one more time.
Sacramento looked a little shaky in Game 3, perhaps showing their youth and inexperience; the Dubs held them to under 100 points for (I think) the first time this season. The Kings and Warriors, the number one and two offenses in the NBA this year respectively, shot 38% and 40% from the field in Game 3 and 23% and 32% from three. It was kind of a defensive grind — and a fabulous game — but done without Draymond Green (you might have heard something about a suspension) or Gary Payton II. Kevon Looney cemented his playoff reputation as a defensive stalwart with 20 rebounds. "Kinda like Steph and Klay with threes... sometimes as a rebounder, you can just get in a zone," said Looney after Game 3.
Game 4, by contrast, saw lots of offense firing at a lightning-fast pace. The Kings and Warriors shot 47% and 50% from the field, and about 40% each from three. Da'Aaron Fox had his second 38-point game of the series, and rookie Keegan Murray had a breakout game with 23 ultra-efficient points. The Kings were up by nine with about four minutes left in the second half, but the Warriors stormed back almost immediately. It was another fantastic game.
It was all Warriors in the third quarter; they outscored the Kings 37-23, and were holding off a Sacramento surge in the fourth when that strange mistake almost caused everything to fall apart.
With the Warriors up by five with 58 seconds remaining, Steph missed what would have been a three-point dagger. On the next play, Malik Monk charged toward the bucket, going right at Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Monk could only manage a wild shot — ABC analyst Doris Burke said it was one of several plays that exposed Sacramento's "youngness." Steph started to dribble out of the front court and called a time out.
But the Warriors were out of time outs.
So that's a technical foul. Malik Monk made the free throw, and the Kings got possession which eventually led to a De'Aaron Fox three, making it a one-point game. Steph missed a floater on the other end, and — bitting nails and suddenly contemplating down-3-1 scenarios — Harrison Barnes missed what would have been a game-winning three as the buzzer went off. Game over. Series at 2-2 instead of 3-1, by a hair. By a chewed up nail.
"[That was] 100% my fault," said Steve Kerr. The Warriors had unsuccessfully challenged a foul late, causing them to lose their last time out. "I've got to remind the guys we're out of time outs. Steph wasn't aware. That's on me."
Who are these Golden State Warriors — the 2022-23 version? "They are who you thought they were, even though they all said they weren't," wrote columnist Alex Siquig after Game 2 on April 17. Siquig questioned the time-tested credo that the Dubs "had another gear when the moment demanded it. Another level of intensity to call upon when necessary.
"You can't blame the Warriors for leaning on that confidence and the huge pile of victories that made this mind set possible. They've won so much, gutted so many doubters and haters over the years, thrown naysayers into dungeons and kept every single receipt. It’s not Golden State's fault for believing their past could save their present. It’s our fault for not believing our eyes when we saw what we saw."
I'm still not sure what I'm seeing. Or rather, my belief as a fan gets drowns out the rational side of my brain.
Even after watching the Dubs lose 30 games on the road this season, (32 if you count Games 1 and 2), I believe that this time, this time the Dubs can get that key road win they've been looking for — in this case Game 5 — and thus thoroughly control the momentum of the series. But that probably won't happen.
On Sunday, ABC announcer Mark Jones Jones said that the Warriors-Kings Round 1 matchup "feels like it's going to go 7." Though I never make predictions, I would agree. If I was a betting man (I'm not), then logic (backed up by statistics), would dictate that the Kings will take Game 5, the Warriors will take Game 6 . . .
. . . And then the real series can begin.
Top Image: Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images