OAKLAND, Calif. — Even though the Cavaliers managed to avoid an NBA Finals sweep with a Game 4 blowout of the Warriors on Friday night, there is a certain hopeless air about their attempt to become the first team in league history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. But as veteran forward Richard Jefferson sees it, the Warriors are the team facing immense pressure in Game 5 Monday night at Oracle Arena.
The skeleton in the Warriors’ closet is their Game 5 loss to the Cavs that began their tailspin a year ago, when they became the first team ever to lose an NBA Finals series after taking a 3-1 lead. Asked before Sunday’s practice if there’s pressure on the Warriors to close out the series in Game 5, Jefferson was emphatic: “You’re damn right there is. It’s not on us. Where is the pressure on us?
“They had a 73-win team [last season] and they added a former MVP [Kevin Durant]. We added Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. They added an MVP to a 73-win team after being up 3-1 [last year and losing] . . . The pressure is all on them.
“We are the defending champs, and we believe that we have enough here to win a championship. We haven’t played great thus far, but there’s no pressure on us. It’s been about them proving that last year was a fluke and K.D. validating the move here. It’s been validated, but we feel very comfortable.”
Jefferson doesn’t believe the magnitude of the Game 4 blowout scored by the Cavs damaged the Warriors’ psyche in any way. But it did boost the Cavaliers in the sense that it reinforced their resolve to keep fighting.
“I can tell you a lot of people didn’t believe that we wanted to get on a plane and come back here,” Jefferson said. “I guarantee you they don’t want to get on a plane and go back to Cleveland [for Game 6] because then we’ll probably be getting on a plane and coming back here again. We believe our fans in Cleveland are so good and we play so well at home that if we win Game 5, it’s probably going to go seven, and anything can happen in Game 7.”
Jefferson, who began his 16-season career with the Nets and made two losing appearances in the Finals with them, got his championship ring last year with the Cavs and considered retiring. But they encouraged him to come back for another season, and though he turns 37 on June 21, he has been a valuable contributor off the bench.
LeBron James credited Jefferson for his strong defense in Game 4 against Durant, who still scored 35 points but was held to 40.9 percent shooting (9-for-22). James generally covers Durant, but the Cavs mix up looks by using Jefferson, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert against him.
“I’ve guarded K.D. since he came into this league,” Jefferson said. “He’s one of the best talents the league has seen. It’s the same with guarding LeBron. I had to do that [with other teams], all the high-level small forwards, Carmelo [Anthony of the Knicks]. You have your hands full . . . There is no stopping K.D. There is no stopping LeBron or Steph [Curry] or Kyrie [Irving]. It’s just trying to give them different looks that take away one or two possessions a game.”
Jefferson said the Cavs will try to maintain the same formula that worked in Game 4, when the Cavaliers played with an angry, aggressive edge and took charge early. But it will be much more difficult on the Warriors’ home court.
“They’re going to come out with an amazing focus,” Jefferson said of the Warriors. “Their fans are going to be amazing. They have a great environment and a high-level team. They want to win it at home. They’re going to try and do it, and we’re going to try and hold them off one more night and get it back to Cleveland.”