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.
Trading home wins is math just as unforgiving as the Warriors’ record. Kerr and his players will know they need to find a way to change it. Fast.
Scott Cacciola contributed reporting.