Throughout the course of Dub Nation’s 73-win season and the playoffs, Steve Kerr was bound to have his moment. If the lauded head coach of one of the greatest regular season squads in NBA history was worth his weight in Golden State gold and blue, then he would come up with a way to stave off elimination, adjust to OKCs height, length and speed and advance the series to 3-2 heading back to Oklahoma City.
Kerr was a clutch player on multiple championship squads. He was the three-point specialist who often took late-game shots with the assists coming from some of the greatest closers in history. He’s used to the moment of truth being on his back.
And on Thursday night, he was killer in the clutch in his role as a sideline stalker and the result was a 120-111 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
History shows that teams suffering 3-1 deficits face PM Dawn odds of survival, but Kerr was outspoken before and after the game about his teams home-court advantage being the great equalizer in this series. He insisted that they can still make the magic happen.
“We’ve had so much fun the last two years…Our guys have had a spectacular run and they don’t want it to end,” Kerr told reporters. “No matter how you look at it, if you’re not the last team standing, it’s a difficult way to go out.”
Despite Golden States inspired play early in Game 5, you could smell the drunken confidence seeping from OKC fans, as they expected Durant and Westbrook to make a comeback similar to the dramatic Game 1 victory they snatched in Oracle Arena.
The heart of an NBA champion never dies easily.
Kerr’s been in these situations before as a player and hes almost always come out on top, so why doubt him now? He understands the stakes more than Billy Donovan, who has been getting props for “outcoaching” Kerr so far in this series.
However, as we approach the midnight hour, history says Donovan is more likely to make a rookie mistake. Kerr has already been through the wars.
When the game was within reach for OKC in the fourth-quarter and the season was on the line for Golden State, Kerr made an odd power move. The NBAs Coach of the Year, removed his starters and relied on the height and intensity of his talented bench to change the flow, disrupt OKCs defensive advantage and expand the lead.
Andre Iguodala (eight points, eight assists) hit a three-pointer off a dish from Harrison Barnes with 11:07 left in the fourth to boost the Warriors lead back to six (83-77).
Backup point guard Sean Livingston (six points, two dimes) hit a sweet turnaround, fadeaway jumper with 9:41 left in the fourth to increase the Golden State lead to 89-79.
Then big Mo Speights (14 points) started throwing his body around and caught an And-1,” giving the defending champs their biggest lead of the night, 95-83 with 7:57 left in the game. The Oracle exploded after he kissed it off glass and tumbled on top of KD, who scored 40 points.
OKC tried to fight back, cutting the lead to five on a Durant trey with 4:24 left in the game, but the double-digit cushion and a missed three-pointer by Durant that could have cut the lead to three sealed the deal for Golden State.
A defining Golden State victory wouldn’t be proper without 31 points and some fist-clinching, arm-flailing, trash talk from the two-time defending MVP. After hitting one of his acrobatic layups over a taller defender late in the fourth to basically ice it, Curry shouted: Were not going home! Were not going home!
Not yet anyway.
But Kerr will have to dig into his bag of tricks a couple of more times and take bold chances as he did in a do-or-die Game 5 to help Golden State along in their quest to win back-to-back championships.
Only nine teams in NBA history have successfully overcome 3-1 deficits to win a series. Youd have to think that a defending NBA championship squad that obliterated regular season competition could be the tenth.
I’ve heard fans say that “anyone can coach Golden State to an NBA championship” with the talent they have. Its the same nonsense people used to spit about Zen Master’s Bulls with MJ and Pippen and again when he three-peated with Diesel and Mamba.
Golden State could have packed it in after Game 4. Kerr could have stuck to the game plan and let his starters throw another game away.
Instead he took control of the situation as great coaches do, and if winning a chip didn’t impress you in 2015, the 2016 Warriors saga might be the affirmation of Kerr as a superstar coach.