I never thought I’d say it, but Steve Kerr in on the brink of becoming one of the best NBA coaches of all time.
Red Auerbach. Phil Jackson. Gregg Popovich. Steve Kerr.
Yes, that could be a realistic grouping within the next two weeks — or sooner.
If Kerr leads the Golden State Warriors to their fourth NBA title in five years, it would be remarkable. However, there’s more to the reasoning behind mentioning him with some of the best ever.
Let’s face it: The Toronto Raptors are a formidable foe, the Warriors haven’t played very well and Golden State has some serious injury questions. Yet, still we sit at 1-all as the series shifts to Oracle Arena. The Warriors could realistically be up 3-1 heading back to Toronto.
I’ll admit I started to get annoyed Sunday when the Raptors were winning and the announcers seemed to start making excuses for Golden State. Stephen Curry had the look a guy who was sick. Andre Iguodala wasn’t looking 100 percent and, of course, Kevin Durant wasn’t on the floor.
But the Warriors put on a 20-0 run that began late in the second quarter and ended in the third quarter that allowed them to take a big lead, one that they made last despite a late Toronto push. In the fourth quarter, Golden State was able to shut the door despite the fact that by then Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney had left the game, joining a growing list of snake-bit Warriors.
This is where Kerr’s brilliance — which at other times is understated because he has such great players — shines brightest. It takes us beyond a coach who has five All-Stars on his roster.
Players such as Andrew Bogut (who didn’t play in Game 1), Alfonzo McKinnie, Jordan Bell (who didn’t play in Game 2), Jonas Jerebko and Quinn Cook have each stepped up at certain points when the Warriors needed them. And the reason they’ve been able to do this is because of Kerr’s coaching and his system.
While those players might not be as talented as guys such as Curry, Thompson and Durant, they can be plugged in with a similar basketball IQ that allows them to keep Golden State in motion — whether it’s Cook portraying a poor man’s Curry or Bogut reading Draymond Green on alley-oop lob passes or Bell or McKinnie making hustle plays not on the stat sheet or Jerebko knocking down a corner 3-pointer.
Simply put: They know how to play and know where to be. That comes from coaching and players buying in despite entering particular games knowing they might not even get on the court.
As we prepare to watch Game 3 on Wednesday, Durant has been ruled out and it’s unclear if Thompson or Looney will be available. Then there’s the questions as to how Curry is feeling (was he actually sick last game?) and how healthy Iguodala is. Will DeMarcus Cousins again be expected to play big minutes?
All these questions are the reasons I say Kerr will prove he belongs among the best coaches of all time — if the Warriors win this series. One thing I think people forget about assembling a team with such star talent is that there’s not a whole lot of money left to go to the complementary players.
As Kerr has shown so far, he’s coached these guys into a position in which “next man up” is not a problem.
Kerr also showed his ability to adjust his game plan as the Warriors were much better defensively in Game 2 than in Game 1. After all, basketball — especially in the NBA Finals — is all about adjustments.
In the end, I think the Warriors will have some combination of their stars playing, to varying health degrees, and will need some of the others to step up. So far, so good.
It’s the perfect opportunity for Kerr, who’s greatness as a coach sometimes is overshadowed by the fact he has such great players.