OAKLAND — This Golden State Warriors team has a knack for making the impossible, possible.
Six days ago they suffered their third loss of the Western Conference Finals to Oklahoma City, dropping two consecutive games for the first time this year.
And the margins of victory for the Thunder indicated there was no comeback to be had. The Warriors lost Game 3 by 28 points and Game 4 by 24. Fans of the movie “Friday” know that translates to “Bye Felicia.”
The odds were stacked to neck-breaking heights, with nine teams in NBA history coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the postseason, and only two of those able to do it in the conference finals.
But here we are, ready to add one more to each of those splits.
Standing on paper-thin ice, the Warriors rallied and reeled off three improbable wins — highlighted by Klay Thompson’s 41-point masterpiece in Game 6 — and officially lowered the casket in Game 7 on a deafening Monday night at Oracle Arena, 96-88.
“We were not just down 3-1, we had gotten blown out two straight games,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “So obviously everything started with Game 5, kind of rediscovering ourselves and our style. Then Game 6 was kind of magical.
“What Klay did that night, basically putting us on his shoulders and allowing us to have this opportunity tonight at home, it’s a pretty remarkable comeback, and it shows, I think, a lot about our guys and their will and grit.”
The size of their stones was being tested once again as the Warriors faced a deficit after the first half, trailing by as many as 13 in the second quarter.
Those who have followed the 73-win campaign knew how instrumental those sequences after halftime have been to their success, and Game 7 was more of the same.
Not only did Golden State outscore Oklahoma City 29-12 in that frame, but it was the way in which the Warriors did it that made it so remarkable.
Kerr is one of those rare coaches in that he doesn’t feel the pressure to shorten his rotation in the postseason. He’ll utilize every detail hidden inside the roster, both tangible and intangible, pull it out, and then maximize it in a way that only the NBA’s longest-tenured coaches can. The difference is that he’s doing this in his second year.
To contrast, first-year Thunder head coach Billy Donovan let eight guys see playing time and, the eighth man, Randy Foye, got a whopping five seconds.
Eleven of Golden State’s 13 players saw action in the most important game of the year, and it was Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa — two Brazilians who barely combined for three minutes on the floor — that helped give the defending champs their largest lead of the game of 13 points. Each sank a basket and Varejao even picked up two assists to help the Warriors get the breathing room they needed.
Even in Game 5, the unit of Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights and Harrison Barnes were the driving force in punctuating the first sentence of the comeback story with their early fourth-quarter outburst.
“Just give our guys coming off the bench huge credit,” Thompson said. “We really have true pros on this team ... When their number gets called, they’re ready to go out there and perform.
“That’s what won us the title last year. We plan to do the same thing (this year).”
Sure, MVP Stephen Curry looked pre-MCL-sprain good and dropped 36 points (13 of 24), with eight assists and five rebounds, and Thompson was good for 21 points.
It’s just that obnoxiously accurate motto “Strength in Numbers” that keeps floating around in my head when I try to find ways to slice this team up and make sense of what we’re all witnessing.
The all-time measuring stick, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, essentially had a seven-man rotation with guys averaging 15 minutes or more per game. This Warriors squad has nine guys in that category.
There’s this uncanny ability to keep opponents from getting comfortable with specific matchups that’s always paying dividends when it’s time to make adjustments.
That type of game-changing creativity is how the infamous “Death Lineup” of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iguodala and Draymond Green was forged.
It’s also how Golden State solved the Memphis Grizzlies’ puzzle during the playoffs last year, putting Andrew Bogut on Tony Allen to silence the actual shooting threats while anchoring the paint. The Warriors won three straight and closed the series in six games after that.
They moved around defensive assignments again, at times putting a smaller guard or forward on Serge Ibaka so the Warriors’ big men could still protect the rim and grab any misses. That put less pressure on Thompson, who primarily guarded Russell Westbrook, and Iguodala the last two games when he was on Kevin Durant.
“Like I said after Game 4, if I think anybody can do it, it’s this group. Because once we figure something out, we can get it rolling,” Green said. “I think, although we lost Game 4 and we got punished, I think we figured it out.
“It wasn’t easy. That’s a great team we just beat and we had to continue to fight. And I knew if we continued to fight, which I had no doubt in my mind that we would, that we could do it.”
Golden State now turns its attention to a rested Cleveland Cavaliers team that’s hungry to avenge last year’s six-game loss in the Finals.
They’re one of the few squads that can match both the strength and the numbers the Warriors boast, and many will undoubtedly pick LeBron James and Co. to take the crown from the defending champs.
Luckily for the Warriors, though, they’re pretty good at defying the odds these days.