OAKLAND, Calif. — Two veteran coaches had a similar message for their teams on the eve of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.
“It starts 0-0,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Game 4. “It doesn’t matter if we won (the previous game) by one or 41.”
In fact, the Warriors did win Game 3 on Sunday by 41 points, 126-85, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven.
The margin of victory not only was the largest in Warriors postseason history, but the margin of defeat also was the biggest ever for a team that won 65 or more games in the regular season.
Stephen Curry, who had missed 17 of his 20 3-point attempts in the first 10 quarters of the series, sent the Warriors’ home crowd into a frenzy by making 4 of 5 in the second half Sunday en route to 35 points.
It was a performance that brought back memories to Kerr of the Boston Celtics’ Danny Ainge.
“I don’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember what Danny Ainge said 30 years ago,” Kerr warned. “They won a playoff game by 40, and he said, ‘This is not the Tour de France. You don’t start with a big lead because it’s not based on time or how much you won by.’
“It’s the NBA, so it’s 2-1 (in the series). So doesn’t matter what happened (Sunday). We have to be ready for a great team that’s going to come out like they did in Game 2, attacking, hair on fire and taking the force to us, and we have to be ready for that.”
The Rockets’ margin of defeat Sunday was almost identical to the number of fewer points scored by Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza in Game 3 than in Game 2.
Key members of the James Harden/Chris Paul supporting cast — Gordon, Tucker and Ariza — combined for 23-of-33 shooting and contributed 68 points to a 127-105 series-evening home win in Game 2.
On Sunday, they went a combined 8 of 24 and 23 points in the blowout loss.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni wasn’t singling out anyone when he assessed the Game 3 performance.
“We didn’t bring our best game,” he observed. “But I’m hoping for the best (in Game 4). I hope we play great and them bad. Never know.”
The loss was the Rockets’ fourth of the postseason. They rebounded with wins after each of the first three, romping by an average of 20.7 points.
This time, they’ll be up against a Warriors team that has won an NBA-record 16 straight playoff games at home.
D’Antoni went as far as to say the pressure is on the Warriors, who would hand the home-court advantage back to Houston with a loss in Game 4.
“I hope so,” Kerr reacted to his rival’s statement. “We’re much better when the pressure’s on. He’s right. We’re at home, so if they win, they have home-court advantage. So, yeah, pressure’s on us. It’s kind of on them, too.”