SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry got up from the floor quickly after being fouled, looked toward the fans in the crowd — clad in yellow T-shirts with the words “gold blooded” written on them — and must have thought they were not as excited as they should have been.
He waved his arms and yelled — then screamed twice more for good measure — and the white-knuckled Warriors crowd responded with a roar, accepting his direction unquestioningly, an orchestra following its conductor.
Curry’s Golden State Warriors had entered Thursday night’s game, the third of their first-round playoff series against the Sacramento Kings, in an uncomfortable spot. They were facing their first 2-0 playoff deficit since Steve Kerr began coaching them in 2014. They were without Draymond Green, their defensive anchor and do-it-all forward, whom the N.B.A. had suspended for stepping on the chest of Kings forward-center Domantas Sabonis in Game 2 on Monday.
But as they have all season, the Warriors figured it out on their home floor, holding the league’s highest-scoring offense under 100 points for only the fifth time this season in the 114-97 victory. The Kings still lead the series, 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday. But it, too, is at Golden State, and for that reason alone the Warriors were feeling the series was far from over.
“We always play great at home,” Klay Thompson said. “We got to get one on the road; we understand. But we know what we’re capable of in this building. We won a championship here. We’re capable of anything.”
Pick any of Curry’s baskets on Thursday night — the six 3-pointers, the various layups and jumpers that made up his game-high 36 points — and notice that shortly after each score he seemed to hold the crowd in his hands: posing, dancing, directing.
It was a luxury Curry did not enjoy in the first two games of this series in Sacramento, when the Warriors had the look of a team in trouble. After the victory, Curry had pointed to the Warriors’ shortcomings on the road in the first answer of his news conference.
“We’ve shown that despite our self-inflicted wounds with turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds, that we are capable of beating that team any night,” he said. “It’s just nice to have something to show for it now.”
Whatever momentum the Warriors created may propel them to another win in Game 4. It remains puzzling, though, how that momentum seems to disappear as soon as they step off their home floor.
The Warriors were 33-8 at San Francisco’s Chase Center in the regular season, a home record bettered this season only by the Denver Nuggets (34-7) and the Memphis Grizzlies (35-6), the top two teams in the Western Conference. On the road, however, Golden State was a dreadful 11-30.
Struggles on the road are typically reserved for young and inexperienced teams. The fact that the Warriors’ championship-tested core — Thompson, Curry, Green and Kerr — has performed so poorly on the road might have been the season’s most curious contradiction.
The statistics offer a clue: The Warriors simply don’t play good enough defense on the road, where they allowed more than 10 points a game (122.4) more than they did at home (111.7). No other team has more than a 6.9 differential. (Offensively, the Warriors don’t seem to miss a beat away from home, where their scoring averages on the road (119.7) and at home (118.2) are only fractionally different.)
The issue is not a secret inside the Warriors’ locker room.
“If you’re poor defensively, it’s really hard to win on the road,” Kerr said in November. “You need to be able to string together stops to get momentum and keep the home crowd out of it. If you’re trading baskets, the other team’s feeling good, it’s just really hard to win that way.”
He returned to the point in March, saying of his team’s middling record, “We know that the answer to all this is in our defense.”
On Thursday night, there were three prevailing chants inside of the Chase Center: “boos” for Sabonis; roars of “Looon” for forward Kevon Looney; and chants of “M-V-P!” each time Curry approached the free-throw line. Kerr said the design of the arena, which opened in 2019, makes for a more “intimate crowd.”
“The roof is not sky high like a lot of the new arenas,” Kerr said, adding: “You can feel the crowd. They are right on top of you.”
Eventually, though, the Warriors, the No. 6 seed in the West, are going to have to win a game on the road to progress in this postseason, including out of the first round. “Until someone wins a road game, everyone’s just holding serve,” Kerr said.
When the Warriors return to Sacramento, the crowd almost certainly will be unforgiving, especially to Green, who stood on a table there and yelled at heckling fans before being ejected in the Game 2 loss. Even at Chase Center on Thursday night, fans in purple and black Sacramento gear were sprinkled throughout the sea of gold T-shirts, desperately trying to bring a taste of Golden State’s road woes to its home. Yet the cheers for the Kings and boos for the Warriors were always drowned out by the home fans roars.
But the journey has been like this for Golden State. With Curry, they became the league’s most exciting show for years, dazzling and changing the N.B.A. with dynamic 3-point shooting on their way to four championships. But as much as their dominance has brought the Warriors new fandom, like with any dynasty, it has made opposing teams and fans even more determined to be the team to dethrone them.
That energy seemed apparent in its second-round series against Memphis last season, when the Grizzlies and their raucous fans seemed not to care much about the pedigree of the Warriors, initiating trash talk with the team’s stars.
There was also the Houston Rockets team led by James Harden and Chris Paul that had the Warriors on the brink of elimination in 2018, leading their playoff series, 3-2.
But both seasons ended with Golden State championships. In 2018, Golden State won Game 7 against Houston on the road to advance to the N.B.A. finals. Last season, after they got past Memphis and then Dallas, they beat the Boston Celtics in the N.B.A. finals in Game 6 — on the road. They’ve shown that they can brave the harsh road crowds and win. The Warriors hope that their road struggles this year are just one more difficult chapter in another championship book.
“We’ve conquered all the rest of them,” Green said after Game 2, “so why not go conquer this one?”
Scott Cacciola contributed reporting.