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Analysis: ‘Strength in Numbers’ paying off big for Warriors

June 3, 2019
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Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) and teammate Shaun Livingston (34) celebrate their win against the Toronto Raptors following the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — The mantra for Golden State during Steve Kerr’s five seasons with the Warriors has been “Strength in Numbers.”

It’s more than a marketing slogan.

It’s a catchy phrase on shirts, for sure, and it’s emblazoned plenty of places for all to see — even on one shoulder of Stephen Curry’s gray sweat suit, with the NBA Finals logo on the other side. But it’s hard to imagine a time where it means more to the Warriors than right now, when the only thing being tested more than their mettle is their depth.

The champions are heading home off a win ailing, but not trailing. Whether it was DeMarcus Cousins playing 28 minutes, or Quinn Cook tying a playoff career-high with three 3-pointers, or all 13 Warriors getting into the game — some of them for only four seconds, but in nonetheless — the two-time defending NBA champions found a way.

Game 2 is in the books. Golden State 109, Toronto 104. Series tied at 1-1.

Off to Oracle Arena in Oakland, California for Game 3 on Wednesday night.

“When you get to this stage, our DNA shows up,” Curry said. “It’s not just something you just throw out there to have nice shirts and give out to the crowd at Oracle and have all this marketing stuff. It’s literally how we approach every day from training camp to June. How we support each other, how guys stay ready throughout the year ... it shows itself over the course of a season.”

Examples of how they support each other can be found everywhere.

Kevin Durant — who missed his seventh consecutive game with a calf strain — was in the tunnel connecting the court and the visiting locker room as time expired, absolutely giddy to greet his teammates and repeatedly clapping his hands. Klay Thompson, who left early in the fourth quarter with a hamstring pull, gingerly walked out with just his uniform and socks on, icepack strapped to his leg, to give some hugs.

Much was said this year about strife and discord in the Warriors’ locker room.

Durant and Draymond Green had a particularly high-profile argument earlier in the year. Seems like a lifetime ago now. The Warriors know what’s at stake, and they’re clearly united.

“I’m very proud of our team — and in particular all the guys off the bench,” Kerr said.

For the record, the Raptors weren’t particularly impressed with themselves after winning Game 1 and weren’t particularly down about losing Game 2.

The Raptors knew this wasn’t going to be easy. They also know an opportunity was missed Sunday night, but they weren’t sounding gloom-and-doom alarms.

“You guys didn’t think this was going to be a sweep? I don’t know what you guys thought this series was going to look like, but we went into it expecting a dogfight,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “And, yes, we won Game 1. I think everybody else outside of our locker room was a lot more excited than we were. We understand what this team brings and what type of effort it’s going to take to beat these guys.”

Kerr came up with the “Strength in Numbers” idea himself. It didn’t originate in some white-board session among marketing people; it started in the Warriors’ locker room and then worked its way throughout the organization. By now, clearly, the Warriors believe in its meaning.

Durant got hurt late in Game 5 of the second round against Houston, in a close game at the time that could have gone either way. The Warriors won that night, then went to Houston and clinched the series in Game 6, then swept Portland in the Western Conference final — and head home after a split in Toronto.

There’s no guarantee that Durant comes back for Game 3.

Thompson told Kerr that he’d be ready to play, but that’s hardly assured either.

Cousins just played 28 minutes after playing eight minutes, total, in seven weeks while recovering from a quad tear. Kevon Looney, who’s been mostly excellent for Golden State in these playoffs, might be out with the chest or shoulder issue that sidelined him during Game 2 — the Warriors said it was a chest contusion, while Looney was clearly grabbing at his shoulder in pain.

“We’ve got to go home and protect our home floor,” Kerr said. “And we’ll see about all the injuries.”

Game 2 was the fifth consecutive game where the Warriors got down by at least 10 points at some time in the game. It was the fourth time they recovered and won. They keep getting themselves into messes, and they usually get out of them.

It’s not ideal.

But if they must do this the hard way, that seems to be just fine with them. Kerr’s mantra is getting heeded.

“We need three more wins and we need it to keep going,” Curry said. “But that’s a part of who we are in our DNA. It’s not just what we say.”

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds@ap.org

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