TORONTO (CBS SF) — There is a certain comfort zone when a team reaches a fifth consecutive NBA Finals, but the Golden State Warriors say they are embracing the new challenges confronting them as they open play Thursday night against the Toronto Raptors.
For the first time, Golden State is opening a Finals series on the road, in front of a hostile crowd, in a different country, against a team carrying the hopes of an entire nation. And across the way, the superstar will not be named LeBron James but will be Kawhi Leonard.
“It’s very different and it’s exciting,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on the eve of Thursday’s Finals opener. “Toronto has always been a favorite stop, favorite city of mine…It’s a great crowd. Going way back before I was even coaching the Warriors when I was doing TV (analyst work) the two arenas that I felt were just the most electric were Oracle and here. You could tell there was just kind of an organic love and energy and passion for basketball.”
“As a team, we can feel how important this is to an entire country,” Kerr continued. “It’s a different vibe, a different feeling. It’s exciting. It’s great for the game.”
The numbers reveal why Golden State will not be intimidated Thursday night. The Warriors have a 39-31 record in Game 1 in any playoff series, and have won their last 12 series opening contests. In the NBA Finals, Golden State has an 8-2 all-time record in Game 1, including 4-0 since 2015.
The Warriors have also won at least one road game in each of the last 22 playoff series, extending their NBA record.
Kerr also knows the last four Finals appearances have been an aberration.
“Obviously, having been in Cleveland four straight years…that’s was the exception,” he said. “This is more the rule…You’re not supposed to go the Finals four straight years and if your lucky enough to do that you’re not supposed to play the same team. That was an oddity. This is more what Finals normally feel like. You’re going against a team that frankly you don’t know that well.”
Steph Curry said the Warriors began “locking in” on the challenges coming to Toronto presents the moment the Raptors clinched the Eastern Conference title.
“Five days ago when they won (Eastern Finals) Game 6, we kind of locked in what that experience is going to be like — One, starting on the road in the Finals and Two playing against a different team other than Cleveland.”
“This entire year has been kind of wild for us,” he added. “Chasing the same goal but doing it with a lot of noise around us. To be able to start here in Toronto against a different opponent, in our fifth straight Finals, creates a great edge for us and I like the energy we are coming in with.”