OKLAHOMA CITY -- The visiting locker room at the Chesapeake Energy Arena was no funeral. Minutes after Golden State suffered a 133-105 shellacking by the Thunder, there was a moment of smiles and jokes from a quintet of Warriors, led by Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, in the far corner where their lockers bordered one another, before media duties pulled them apart.
The moment was in contrast to an otherwise somber scene for the Warriors, now facing a 2-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals against a healthy Thunder squad playing its best basketball. But a few postgame smiles can't disguise that the players understand the seriousness of the situation they've found themselves in. It just means they still believe they'll get out unscathed.
That type of supreme confidence is what has made the Warriors, the Warriors. It has manifested itself all season. By now, if they didn't believe it coming into the series, Golden State has learned that a healthy Oklahoma City doesn't keel over easily. The Warriors believe in themselves anyway, and nobody doubts that.
But belief can't be directly bartered for wins. Down 2-1, the question is whether the Warriors have finally backed themselves into a situation too difficult to handle.
"We've been there before," Shaun Livingston said. "But it's not easy and they're not going to lay down."
Golden State has indeed been exactly here just last year, trailing 2-1 in a playoff series twice in the 2015 championship run. LeBron James carried Cleveland to two wins in the first three games of last year's 2015 finals, while the Memphis Grizzlies sprung out with a lead after the opening three games. Both teams suffered the same fate, losing the next three games and the series rather decisively.
Cleveland and Memphis were wounded animals, exhausting their energy early on before conceding to their fates. The Thunder are different, boasting two superstars, a head coach excelling under playoff pressure and a window that might finally be angled just the right way.
"Yeah, we've been in this position before, but this is a different team," Andrew Bogut said. "If we're clutching at straws trying to figure out positives, that's one (that we've been here before) you put on the board, but we know what we have to do going into next game."
Hanging over an already bad situation is Draymond Green's second-quarter kick, one that could result in a possible suspension for Game 4. The Warriors, to a man, insisted after the game that Green's kick to Steven Adams' groin in the second quarter was inadvertent, but the video could be seen differently. Russell Westbrook called it intentional at his postgame press conference, and if the NBA agrees, there's a substantial recent precedence of players being suspended for a game. Lose Green for even a game and it's a series-altering outcome.
Anxious. Maybe that's the right word for the postgame atmosphere, when depressed or frustrated or nervous don't quite fit. Like Bogut said, Golden State fully realize this beast isn't quite like ones it has slayed in the past.
"Russell and KD, those guys are tough to stop," Festus Ezeli said succinctly.
Still, the Warriors want you to doubt them. It's almost like they create the skepticism sometimes, when their careless turnovers and defensive lapses sometimes allow teams to hang around or take leads against them when they shouldn't. We've witnessed enough second-half comebacks that there's an omnipresent feeling that no lead against them is safe. The Warriors fall behind -- in a quarter, in a game, in a series -- and then they surge back with explosive basketball that leaves us breathless and in awe. It's a plot so common that they've turned it into a cliche.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr acknowledged the precedent of trailing 2-1, but went back even further for a comparison.
"I was a Laker fan growing up, and I think it was about 1985 they lost Game 1 in the Garden by 45 points," Kerr said, referring to an NBA Finals game in Boston that L.A. had lost by 34. "They won the series."
Most of Kerr's players weren't alive in 1985, but his point stands. Teams lose and then they win. Their plan fails and they regroup, form new ones and leave the other team scrambling. Sports aren't linear. The Warriors still haven't lost on back-to-back games this season, after all.
No one is counting out the Warriors from this series, particularly not the Warriors themselves. But the Thunder are their reckoning. This is their toughest test yet. And maybe, just maybe, the Warriors have found themselves in circumstances that are too great to overcome, even for them.
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