Toronto is enjoying itself these days. All of Canada is, actually. On the afternoon after the Raptors beat the Warriors to go up 1-0 in the NBA Finals, Steve Kerr acknowledged the feel-good vibe. He lauded the Scotiabank Arena atmosphere and said hearing the crowd sing along to “O Canada” for such a big game was “one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of.” He called it beautiful.
That is not the kind of attitude you’d generally expect from the head coach of the team that’s behind in the NBA Finals. But, as with all things Golden State, this too must be graded on a curve exclusive to the Warriors. If they seem oddly relaxed in what would be a tense moment for any other organization, that’s because they are. This ongoing run of five consecutive finals appearances has made them rightly confident in themselves.
Kerr’s ruminations on the Canada of it all came a little less than 12 hours after the first game, but Steph Curry didn’t even need that long to demonstrate how relaxed they all are. Right after Game 1, Curry concluded that it wasn’t apocalypse now: “It’s not the end of the world.” As he reminded everyone, the Warriors have “proven our resiliency.” Where the other 29 teams in the NBA might be having a full-blown panic attack at the moment, the Warriors calmly assessed what went wrong in the first game in Toronto and what needs to change before Game 2 on Sunday. The manner in which they broke it all down said so much about how they view the competition and, more importantly, themselves.
On Friday afternoon, Draymond Green did the obligatory bit about giving the Raptors credit for a game well played. He credited Pascal Siakam for having a very Spicy P performance and lauded the Raptors for their speed, especially in transition. Toronto had 24 fastbreak points in Game 1. The Raptors defense also forced the Warriors into uncharacteristically sloppy play that resulted in 16 turnovers. But to Green’s mind, what transpired in Game 1 and what might unfold in Game 2 had everything to do with the Warriors. He said Golden State missed shots that they usually hit. And he thought their transition defense could benefit from simply giving more effort and communicating better. He said that now that the Warriors “have a feel for it” they’ll know how to adjust. “So it’s on us,” he summarized.
Those last four words were something he repeated several times. It was as good a window into the Warriors philosophy as anything else. Ask them a question about the Raptors—or the Blazers or Rockets or Clippers before them—and more often than not they tend to turn introspective. It’s not arrogant so much as the most pronounced and deserved manifestation of the old sports axiom if we play our game. For most teams that’s a cliché and wishful thinking. For the Warriors it’s been truth for years now. It’s almost like everything and everyone else are immaterial and invisible to them in a way, as though even with someone standing beside them the only reflection they can see in a mirror is their own.
Along with the unending string of parades, that attitude might be why a lot of non-Bay residents root against them. A reporter asked Green about that on Friday in a lengthy question that included the declaration that “most people back in the States” and everyone in Canada wanted to see the Warriors lose and consider Golden State “the enemy of the series.” That’s the kind of preamble that can go sideways on you pretty quickly when you’re trying to get Green to engage. Instead, Draymond had a disarming reply.
“Yeah, that’s cool,” he said. And everyone laughed. “People in the States are rooting against us because we beat all their teams.” He offered that it was “all good” because “their team is sitting at home with them.”
It’s not really bragging if it’s true. And so here the Warriors sit, down 0-1 on the road to a really good Raptors team, but don’t expect to see them sweat just yet. Or ever. Boiled down: The Warriors aren’t worried because only the Warriors matter to the Warriors.
Based on what Marc Gasol told @YourManDevine, it doesn't sound like he'd enjoy spitting hot takes on #NBATwitter— The Ringer (@ringer) June 1, 2019
Luckily, that's why we're all here! That and more from today's team availability with Dan and @JohnGonzalez from Toronto. #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/kYGeXqywhz
The Raptors’ speed became a recurring media theme after Game 1. Someone wanted to know whether Kerr recalled Golden State facing something similar in a previous series. The head coach considered it for a second and said it wasn’t reminiscent of any other team the Warriors have played—it was reminiscent of the Warriors themselves. He said Draymond and Siakam push the ball in transition in similar ways, and he compared the point guard tandem of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet to the way Golden State sometimes deploys Curry, Shaun Livingston and even Andre Iguodala. Just like the Warriors, Kerr noted the Raptors can “push the ball from a lot of different positions” and pressure the defense by playing fast.
“So yeah, if anything, they remind me of us,” Kerr concluded.
It was the ultimate praise, even with the whiff of navel gazing. (As VanVleet told me Saturday after practice, “those guys won a couple of rings so I don’t think that’s a bad compliment.”) It’s hard to blame Kerr and company for so often filtering almost everything through their singular world view. They’re one of the best teams of all-time. At some point, that doesn’t leave them with much to compete against—except themselves.
Given their sustained success, it’s no wonder they aren’t shook by losing Game 1 to Toronto. This is the first time under Kerr that they’ve lost the first game of the NBA Finals, but it’s not the first time they’ve fallen off the pace in a postseason series. Since Kerr took over, they’ve been behind in four other playoff matchups. Last postseason they were down 3-2 to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. In 2016, they were down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. In 2015, they were down 2-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round. Again in 2015, they were down 2-1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Each of those situations felt more dire than the predicament (to the extent that it is one) the Warriors currently find themselves in—and as we know, Golden State won all four of those other series.
The Warriors have been there and done that, and now they are here and quite confident they can do this, too. In fact, Curry told Yahoo he was “very confident” and instructed the writer to put “‘very’ in all capital letters.” After Game 1, he also calmly outlined the points of emphasis moving forward—limiting the aforementioned Raptors’ speed and fast break points and cutting down on what he called “sloppy turnover that really didn’t kill us but just added to their momentum.” And while the Warriors said Kevin Durant won’t return for Game 2, Yahoo reported that KD could rejoin Golden State when the series shifts to Oakland. Between the shared postseason muscle memory and the chance for KD-quality reinforcements, Curry offered a simple but understandable assessment: “We’ll be alright.”
Here, again, it didn’t come off as arrogant. More like what else would you expect him to think or say? There have been a lot of “I” and “us” statements out of their camp since Game 1 about what they need to fix and especially about holding themselves accountable. Green, in particular, outlined what he needs to do better—be more aggressive defensively, for starters—and said when you’re as good as the Warriors are, you have to hold yourself accountable. But while they have earned every right to think that way, it is still hard for some people to accept them voicing it. Why, someone asked Green, was it important for the Warriors to be so focused on being “self accountable?” The implication to the question was that the Warriors were spending a lot of energy talking about themselves and not nearly as much discussing the opponents that put them in this hole. Draymond didn’t recycle the “it’s on us” line this time, but the underlying translation was roughly equivalent.
“Uh,” Green said, “because we’re champions.”