Saturday, May 18, 2024

Warriors in rare territory, trail Kings 2-0 in NBA playoffs

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SAN FRANCISCO—Klay Thompson pondered the Golden State Warriors’ current playoff situation and expressed some relief. In years past under the old best-of-five format, the defending champions would have been on the brink of elimination trailing 2-0.

Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have never been in the hole like this, down by two games—and this is a group that has practically seen it all over the past decade while capturing the franchise’s first championship in 40 years with the 2014-15 title and three more since, reaching the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals in five straight seasons from 2015-19 along the way.

But the upstart Sacramento Kings, coached by former top Warriors assistant Mike Brown, who helped Golden State accomplish so much as a top assistant, are coming to Chase Center on Thursday night for Game 3 of the best-of-seven first-round series with some serious momentum.

“Luckily, it’s first to four. It’s not the old format where it’s first to three,” Thompson said, “that would be not so much fun.”

The Warriors had gone 27 consecutive playoff series during the Curry era without falling behind 2-0. Steve Kerr hadn’t seen it, either, since he began coaching the team in 2014-15. Now, this group will need a mighty comeback and will now have to do it without emotional leader Green, who was suspended late Tuesday for one game without pay after he stomped on Domantas Sabonis during the fourth quarter of Monday night’s 114-106 defeat at Golden 1 Center.

The Kings said Sabonis underwent tests that determined he had a bruised sternum and is questionable for Game 3.

Sabonis was called for a technical foul for grabbing Green’s leg and Green received a flagrant-2 foul that led to an automatic ejection and the discipline by the league. The NBA made the announcement of a decision by executive vice president and head of basketball operations Joe Dumars.

“The suspension was based in part on Green’s history of unsportsmanlike acts,” the release said.

Green has always walked a fine line with the officials and even his own team. He began the season with a short leave of absence after punching teammate Jordan Poole in the face during training camp.

Green has been called for six flagrant fouls and 27 technical fouls in 147 career playoff games. He was ejected from a playoff game against Memphis last season.

Green was suspended for a crucial Game 5 loss to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals for accumulating too many flagrant fouls in the playoffs that season. The Warriors wound up losing in seven.

He’s hardly the only concern right now.

So far this series, Golden State has misfired from three-point range—a team featuring three shooters with 200 or more three-pointers in Curry, Thompson and Jordan Poole and Thompson with an NBA-best 301—and has been sloppy taking care of the ball.

After Monday’s game, Curry challenged the Warriors to be smarter on both ends.

“You do this as long as we have, whatever it is, 28 series or whatever, we’ve never been in this situation, so you got to stay together and stay locked in on things we need to do better,” Curry said of the deficit. “Embrace the challenge of protecting our home court, which we’ve been great at all year. And at the end of the day, all we got to do is win one game here, somehow, some way, whatever game it is.”

Only 26 of 334 teams that fell behind 2-0 have ever rallied to win in a best-of-seven series—a .078 percentage, according to Sportradar.

This also marks just the fifth time a defending champion has trailed 2-0 in a first-round series and all the others went on to lose. The 2012 Mavericks were swept by the Thunder 4-0; the 2007 Heat lost all four matchups to the Bulls; the 1984 76ers fell 3-2 to the Nets and the 1957 Philadelphia Warriors lost 2-0 to the Syracuse Nationals.

“The way our guys fought, they showed what they’re made of,” Kerr said. “So now it’s a matter of going home and licking our wounds a little bit. We get a little rest with a couple of days in between games and we go home and take care of our home court.”

And with Curry, Green and Thompson’s experience, they never count themselves out on the big stage.

“It’s a new challenge. After the game I was thinking about that, thinking like, ‘Man, I think this is one we haven’t seen yet,’” Green said. “We’ve conquered all the rest of them so why not go conquer this one. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

This is a group that has regularly been challenged before and bounced back—even during this topsy-turvy regular season and its struggles. The Warriors dealt with injuries and Andrew Wiggins’ extended absences for a personal matter to avoid the play-in game and earn the sixth seed from the Western Conference.

“It’s unfamiliar territory, but we’ve been down 3-1. We’ve been up 3-1. We’ve been through everything. So we rely on our experience,” Thompson said. “We take a great off day and we recollect ourselves, and do what we do, and that’s play well at home—always.”

Image credits: AP

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