SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry said he meant to hit the scorer’s table and not a fan when he threw his mouthpiece in disgust. But like his shot in the NBA Finals, Curry was way off.
It was another sign that the reigning champion Warriors are cracking under the pressure and hulking presence of LeBron James in this series. Now, after being the biggest regular-season winners of all time, the Warriors are trying to avoid being the biggest chokers.
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The Cavaliers have charged back from 3-1 down to even the series at 3-3. They will try Sunday to become the first team to erase a 3-1 hole in the Finals and capture the title. After winning 73 games, and seemingly being in control of these Finals after four games, Klay Thompson said the season would be a failure if the Warriors lost Game 7 on their home floor.
“One hundred percent,” Thompson said. “We expected to win the NBA championship coming into this season. It’s either win the whole thing or bust for us. It’s no fun getting second place.”
James knows the feeling. He’s playing in his sixth straight Finals, and seventh overall, and has finished runner-up four times, including the last two years. But James becomes possessed when facing elimination, and has been on a mission the last two games.
He’s averaged 41 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, 3.5 steals, three blocks and only 1.5 turnovers since the Cavs fell behind 3-1. Curry was the regular-season MVP, but he’s averaging 23.5 points in the Finals and shooting only 41.9 percent. James is doing it all, and continuing to show he’s the league’s best all-around player.
“I don’t get involved in that,” James said. “I try to be the best player I can be for this team every night, lead these guys out.”
The series turned when Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 after an altercation with James. The Warriors believed James baited Green. The Cavs have risen to the challenge since and the Warriors have fallen apart mentally, physically and emotionally.
“It’s frustrating,” Thompson said. “We let down our fans and our organization.”
In Game 6, Curry lost his cool after picking up a controversial sixth foul on James with 4:22 left in Cleveland’s 115-101 win. Steve Kerr said James “flopped.”
Curry reacted and threw his mouthpiece after fouling out, and was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Friday. Kerr criticized the officials afterward, calling three of the fouls “absolutely ridiculous.” The league also fined Kerr $25,000.
From a health standpoint, Andre Iguodala was limited in Game 6 with lower back tightness. The Warriors hope the two days off will help him. The Warriors lost Andrew Bogut for the series in Game 5 with bone bruises in his left knee.
The Warriors have been forced to play small, and it has benefited the Cavaliers. Tristan Thompson has dominated the boards and played with so much energy. The Warriors haven’t been able to match it. But they don’t think that will be an issue in Game 7.
“We know what kind of team we are, what we’re capable of, what we’ve accomplished so far and how together we are,” Curry said. “We haven’t splintered at all. I think we’re more mentally tough than letting two games not go our way kind of put any doubt in our heads.”
One of those games was in Oakland, without Green, and the Warriors struggled on both ends, losing by 15. It was only their fourth home loss all season, and their most lopsided.
But they have faced adversity in this postseason, erasing a 3-1 deficit against the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, and believe they can bounce back from the last two losses.
“Our confidence comes from being the defending champions, from winning at an incredibly high rate the last two years,” Kerr said. “And let’s be frank, we were put in a pretty difficult position in Game 5 without one of our best players, and we didn’t respond well.
“If you start out every season and you say we get a Game 7, we get one game at home to win the NBA championship, I’ll take it every time. I can’t wait for Sunday. I think we’ll be fine.”