There are still three rounds to go—and they all require even more energy and mental toughness than the Warriors have mustered so far against the Utah Jazz.
“The emotions are crazy after you do something big like that,” Davis acknowledged Thursday after the Warriors returned home from their first back-to-back losses since March in their opening games against the Jazz, who visit Oakland for Game 3 on Friday night.
“You don’t try to have a letdown, but we’re a young team that gets a lot out of the emotion we felt in the first round,” Davis said. “Now we’re trying to go back to work, and we’re getting it. … We need some energy and momentum, and hopefully coming home will bring that.”
The Warriors are back to reality after their improbable triumph over the Dallas Mavericks, and reality wasn’t pleasant for much of their up-and-down season.
Golden State’s flaws—questionable depth, poor team-wide shot selection, awful low-post defense and spotty late-game execution—were exposed by the Jazz, who coolly overcame their own problems after blowing double-digit fourth-quarter leads in both games.
The biggest factor in the next two games could be the change in buildings. The Warriors are out of the Utah arena where fans shouted all manner of profane, foul invective at Golden State’s Stephen Jackson—and even pulled on Davis’ jersey after he hit a 3-pointer near the sideline late in the Warriors’ overtime loss in Game 2, according to the guard.
“We’re confident now because we’re back in our building, and we’re a totally different team there,” said Al Harrington, who scored 38 points in the Warriors’ first two games in Utah after managing just 27 in six games against Dallas. “That’s what we’re hanging our hat on. We get confident when our fans are behind us, and it just flows from that.”
The hoops-crazy Bay Area is ready for the Warriors’ return, from the banners and signs decorating downtown Oakland to the basketball buzz that’s in the air. Game 3 is sold out with another bunch of the same raucous fans that intimidated the Mavericks and sometimes seemed to will home the Warriors’ big shots.
And shortly before Golden State began practice at its downtown training complex Thursday, most of the club’s front-office staff—dozens of people from executives to secretaries—entered the gym wearing bright-yellow “We Believe” T-shirts, clapping and chanting “Let’s go, Warriors!”
Davis exchanged high-fives with nearly everybody before the Warriors went to work.
The Warriors have thrived on emotion for two months—ever since Davis returned from injury and led Golden State’s fantastic finish to the regular season. But coach Don Nelson knows emotion sometimes doesn’t help late in games, when precision and execution would be more useful.
“We played two great games there,” Nelson said. “We could have won both of them. Yes, we are in trouble. Our hands are full right now. We’re playing a very good team that’s playing as well as they have all year.”
The Warriors led by five points in the final minute of Game 2, but Mickael Pietrus missed two free throws with 16 seconds to play. Davis, who made a turnover earlier, bricked another free throw with 6.2 seconds left, allowing Deron Williams to tie it with a short jumper before Utah’s overtime romp.
By keeping their cool when the Warriors lost it, the Jazz are in position Friday to all but clinch their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 1998.
“We know the series is not even close to being over,” Williams said after the Jazz practiced in Utah on Thursday. “We’ve got some tough games in Oakland, and hopefully we can still win. It would do a lot for our confidence, winning one on the road.”
The Jazz are a nightmare matchup for the Warriors, both inside and out. Utah has two proven low-post scorers (Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur) versatile enough to play on the perimeter, while Williams is gaining national attention for his strong play against Davis.
Nelson called Williams “a young Baron Davis” on Thursday, with “the same kind of ability and drive and competitiveness. I just think he’s the best young point guard in the league. There’s nothing we can really do about him.”
Though the Jazz have a commanding series lead, they realize Game 2 hinged on the Warriors’ mistakes. Derek Fisher’s emotional return to the court also propelled Utah, but that boost won’t help in Game 3 unless the Jazz keep doing what they do better than Golden State.
“We’re going to continue to try to pound the boards,” Boozer said. “We know we have a size advantage, and we’re going to try to exploit that. … We have to play much better to match their intensity.”
AP Sports Writer Doug Alden in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.