Up until this year's Western Conference finals with the No. 1-seeded Houston Rockets, the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors had yet to be truly tested since Kevin Durant chose to call the Bay Area his home.
They cruised to a second title in three years on the back of a near flawless 16-1 postseason record in 2016-17, and made their way through the first two rounds this year with just a pair of losses to the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans. Now locked 2-2 with Houston as the series heads back to the Lone Star State for Game 5 and a potential Game 7, the Warriors are facing some real adversity for the first time in quite a while.
"They (Rockets) won 65 games this year for a reason," Warriors guard Stephen Curry told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami following his side's 95-92 defeat at Oracle Arena. "They're a good team. We're a great team. We understand it's going to be a dog fight and the difference between winning and losing is a little finer than it was last year ...
"Every year going into the playoffs, you know it's going to be a different type of journey. And it's hitting us right now. So it's a good feeling to keep us sharp. I think nothing's too overwhelming for us.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr echoed Curry's sentiments to Kawakami, admitting that his team's road to the 2017 championship was "about as easy as it gets," and how the playoffs are supposed to be "an emotional and physical roller coaster."
Curry led the Warriors in scoring with 28 points, but he needed 26 shots to obtain them, which didn't do his squad's 39.3 field goal percentage any favors.