Richard Jefferson played a key role in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals on Friday night. The 36-year-old forward chipped in eight points on four field-goal attempts, grabbed three rebounds, dished an assist and blocked a shot in 22 minutes off the Cavs’ bench, all while working his tail off to give LeBron James a break from guarding Warriors star Kevin Durant and acting as an important screen-setter and ball-mover when Golden State tried to guard him with one of its lumbering centers.
With the scene now shifting back to Oracle Arena for Game 5 on Monday night, though, the veteran swingman seems intent on making his next important contribution off the court, and inside the Warriors’ heads.
Here’s what R.J. said about the Warriors’ mindset going into Game 5 holding a 3-1 lead at home during Sunday’s media availability session, according to the official transcript released by the NBA:
“I think they’re going to view this as a Game 7 situation. I really and truly believe so. For us, every game’s a Game 7. But for them, this particularly is a Game 7 from the standpoint of they don’t want to go back to Cleveland, and they understand that anything can happen in Game 7. I think both teams know that and understand that.”
“So for them, they view this as the one opportunity where everything’s kind of in their favor. I don’t know if it will be in their favor if it goes back to Cleveland. Who knows, with all the pressure, if it goes to Game 7, it would be in their favor. So this is the one game where they have not as much pressure and they have an opportunity to close it out in front of their home fans.”
But while the transcript cuts off after Jefferson responds to a question about how Kyrie Irving seems to come up with his best performances when the Cavs are in potential elimination games, Jefferson’s interview session continued for another few minutes. In that time, the freewheeling vet framed Monday’s contest as a must-win game not only for the Cavs, who have to deal the Dubs their first home loss since April 10 just to stave off elimination … but for the Warriors, who have some pretty bad and very recent memories about not being able to finish Cleveland off.
“I feel very, very confident in our team, in our ability,” Jefferson said. “I can just tell you this: a lot of people didn’t believe that we wanted to get on a plane [by winning Game 4 after losing Game 3]. Right? To come back here? And I can guarantee you: they don’t want to get on a plane and go back to Cleveland. Because then we’ll probably be getting on a plane and coming back here again.”
Asked a follow-up about whether there’s pressure on the Warriors to get the job done on Monday, Jefferson’s response was instant and unequivocal.
“You’re damn right it is,” Jefferson said. “It’s not on us. Where’s the pressure on us? They had a 73-win team and they added a former MVP. You know? We added Kyle Korver and Deron Williams; they added an MVP to a 73-win team. After being up 3-1. And KD was up 3-1. You know? The pressure is all on them.
“We believe that we are defending champs. We believe that we have enough here to win a championship, and we haven’t played great thus far. There’s no pressure on us. There never has [been]. There’s never been that. It’s been about them proving last year was a fluke, about KD validating the move here […] Nah. We feel very comfortable.”
The Warriors would probably dispute the notion that they’re spooked by the prospect of heading back to Cleveland up 3-2, but Golden State guard Klay Thompson did acknowledge on Sunday that they’re motivated to make a return trip unnecessary.
“Oh, yeah, oh, yeah,” he told reporters. “It’s a long flight. You want to reward your home fans and you obviously don’t want to extend the series any longer than it has to be when you’re in this position. So you just got to take it tomorrow, and it’s on us.”
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