SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Time and again, Stephen Curry called for his Golden State Warriors to be better, to learn from the glaring mistakes and road losses that piled up in frustrating fashion and with little explanation as to why.
Through all the distractions and challenges of a topsy-turvy regular season and, yes, all those road losses, Curry and the defending NBA champions find themselves in a familiar place as May approaches: looking to close out a playoff series at home.
If they do, there’s a possibility of LeBron James and the Lakers would be up next in an all-California Western Conference semifinal.
“We’ve played in the most pressurized moments, whether it’s the finals or the first round, so we just rely on our experience during nights like this,” Klay Thompson said after Game 5.
The Warriors are whole at last, too. Andrew Wiggins is back after a two-month absence for a personal matter. Gary Payton II is coming off the bench again as a defensive stopper just like he did last year after beginning this season with the Trail Blazers. Jordan Poole is finding his postseason groove and Kevon Looney keeps securing rebounds at an outrageous rate on both ends after coming up big on the playoff stage in 2022.
“Big night for us and you can feel the sense of accomplishment after the game from everybody on the bench, everybody on the floor,” Curry said. “Just of how good of a feeling it was. So, now obviously, we’ve got work to do to close out the series, but we needed this one. Snatch momentum back and hopefully take advantage of it in Game 6.”
To the south of the Bay Area, the Lakers will try again to close out the Grizzlies in Los Angeles, where Memphis hasn’t won this season. The Grizzlies are 2-1 in Game 6s on the road and trying to force just the third Game 7 in franchise history. This franchise has won just four games facing elimination in 13 playoff appearances ever.
“Tonight, I was (expletive), I’ll be better in Game 6,” James said following his 5-for-17 performance that included going 1 of 9 on 3-pointers for 15 points in Wednesday’s 116-99 loss.
If the Warriors and Lakers each win Friday, Los Angeles will come to the Bay Area for Game 1 of the next round — but the Kings are counting on one more chance to Light the Beam at Golden 1 Center.
“We’ve been in this situation all year,” Sacramento’s Malik Monk said Thursday. “Lose a couple, they think we’re down then come back and win a couple in a row, so just another task in front of us.”
— NEED TO KNOW: The Warriors try to improve to 19-0 in playoff series against Western Conference opponents under Kerr — dating to 2014-15 — and Golden State has won the last six home meetings with the Kings.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Looney has corralled 72 rebounds over the first five games of the series, including a career-high 22 Wednesday, and 21 of his boards have been on the offensive glass after he led the NBA in offensive rebounds during the regular season. He is averaging 14.4 rebounds in the playoffs and the Kings must find a way to deal with his physical presence and opportunistic play in the paint.
— INJURY WATCH: De’Aaron Fox didn’t look troubled by a broken index finger on his shooting hand, scoring 24 points in Game 5 but committing a team-high six turnovers. “Just gotta be better in the second half,” he said, noting he was “fine” playing with the finger injury.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Sacramento earned a No. 3 seed in NBA Coach of the Year Mike Brown’s first season to end a 16-year playoff drought, but now the Kings will have to win in the Warriors’ raucous Chase Center. Harrison Barnes pointed to Sacramento’s 19 turnovers in Game 5 as a glaring issue along with the Warriors’ 11 offensive rebounds — seven by Looney and four by Payton.
What does desperation feel like for the Kings? “You’ll see tomorrow, for sure,” Monk said.
Los Angeles leads 3-2, Game 6, 10:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: The Lakers remain on the verge of reaching the second round for the first time since 2020, when they won the franchise’s 17th championship in the Orlando bubble. These Lakers also are 13-4 coming into this game.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: James. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer is 38, and now this series has turned into a marathon every other night with travel between Tennessee and California on the off day. He played 45 minutes in Game 4’s overtime win for the Lakers, then was the first out in Game 5’s loss after shooting 5 of 17.
— INJURY WATCH: Lakers center Anthony Davis has dealt with a sore right hip that had him using a heating pad in Game 4. He stayed on the floor as play went the other way in the fourth quarter Wednesday night. Davis got lucky with a foul called on Austin Reaves to give him time to get up and walk down while rubbing his low back. Luke Kennard, the NBA’s top 3-point shooter at 49.4%, suffered a shoulder stinger that sent him to the locker room. With Kennard on the court for just 17:39, Memphis outscored the Lakers by 26.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Grizzlies. The NBA’s second-youngest team finally got the best performance from its three stars in the same game with Desmond Bane, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. each posting double-doubles. For Bane, it was his first in the playoffs of his young career. For Jackson, it was his first in this series. Now they have to prove they can do it again to push this series to a deciding Game 7 back in Memphis, where the Grizzlies posted the NBA’s best home record at 35-6 this season.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.