The Golden State Warriors will be the first to tell you that they're not looking ahead -- that they're solely focused on the next game and nothing else. History, however, overwhelmingly tells us that they're almost certainly headed to their sixth NBA Finals in eight seasons.
The Warriors' 109-100 Game 3 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday gave them a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, and no NBA team has ever -- ever -- come back from that deficit in a postseason series. It's not a small sample size either. Teams that are up 3-0 have gone 146-0 in their playoff series over the course of NBA history. Given the way that the Warriors have played against the Mavericks, and in the two series before that, it's almost impossible to imagine them becoming the first to blow such a lead.
That said, Golden State isn't a franchise likely to take a lead for granted. They infamously lost the 2016 Finals after holding a 3-1 advantage, which resulted in years of mockery and viral memes. So you can expect Golden State to come out looking for the kill Tuesday in Game 4 against a Mavericks team that looked frustrated and dejected toward the end of Game 3.
"We obviously know the job's not done, but it's a good feeling to know that we came and got a win," Stephen Curry said after Game 3. "We can play with house money on Tuesday and try to get it done."
Finishing a series quickly is always valuable -- it allows time for players to rest, injuries to heal and coaches to prepare -- but it appears even more crucial for the Warriors given what's transpiring on the other side of the bracket. The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are in the middle of a bloodbath, with the two teams exchanging vicious blows like Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago. Here's a quick sample of the injuries that have already affected the series:
- Jimmy Butler was only able to play the first half of Game 3 due to knee soreness.
- Jayson Tatum suffered a nerve impingement in his shoulder and briefly went to the locker room in Game 3.
- Marcus Smart missed Game 1 with a foot sprain, then played through what looked like a severe ankle injury on Saturday and is questionable for Game 4.
- Kyle Lowry missed the first two games of the series with a hamstring injury.
- PJ Tucker left Game 2 early with knee inflammation.
- Robert Williams missed Game 3 with knee soreness.
- Al Horford missed Game 1 due to health and safety protocols.
That's not even mentioning Tyler Herro, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, who have all appeared on the Heat injury report throughout the series. With the physicality on display, and the fact that the battle seems destined for seven games, it's hard to imagine either team coming out with a full, healthy roster.
The Warriors, on the other hand, have two key bench players, Andre Iguodala and Gary Payton II, who are out for at least another week while Otto Porter Jr. left Game 3 with a foot injury, but for the most part they've been able to stay healthy. That's no easy task when your team's core players -- Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green -- are all over 32 with playoff mileage approximating the circumference of Jupiter and recent injuries they're still working through.
"It's very important," Thompson said of potentially getting extra rest before the NBA Finals. "We want to be whole going to the next round."
The first game of the NBA Finals will be on June 2, so if the Warriors complete the sweep on Tuesday they'll have eight full days of rest. Meanwhile, if the Eastern Conference finals goes to seven games, the winning team will only have three days off before the start of the Finals.
The Warriors have already shown what they can do with a rest advantage this postseason. They dispatched the Memphis Grizzlies in six games, which gave them four days off before the start of the Western Conference finals. The Mavericks only had two days off after an emotional Game 7 win over the Phoenix Suns, and were blown off the court by a rested Golden State team in Game 1 -- even more evidence suggesting that the Warriors would greatly benefit from a sweep.
First thing's first, however -- the Warriors need to win on Tuesday. With a veteran group, they surely know how valuable those extra days of rest would be, so they'll likely come out with a singularity of purpose in Game 4.
"Being one win away from the Finals means absolutely nothing," Green said after Game 3. "You have to win one more game, and that game isn't gonna be easy. So we've gotta make sure we come in with an even better focus level than we did tonight. ... Closeout games are always the toughest. We gotta come out and win the game. They're not gonna give it to us."