PHOENIX – By this time next week, the Golden State Warriors will start their pursuit of getting to the NBA finals for the fourth consecutive year with a chance of winning their third NBA title in four years.
Glory days, indeed.
Well, sort of. Steve Kerr, the Warriors head coach and former University of Arizona star, said this season may have been the toughest of the last three. And remember that the previous two seasons he went through major back surgeries. Back injuries aside, it’s been, well, tough.
“It’s been a long grind, but I expected it coming in,” said Kerr, who is finishing up his fourth year with the Warriors, which has won 59 games and more than 50 for the fourth straight year. “Having done this with the Bulls and the Spurs (as a player), when you’re successful for many years with one (championship) on top of another, it takes its toll.
“This has been the most difficult of the four years I’ve coached.”
And yet, he has the Warriors as the No. 2 seed in the West going into this week’s playoffs with a good – to very good – chance to get back to the NBA finals in June. Of course, Houston and others will have something to say about It, but part of the Warriors’ issues have been injuries and the continuing injuries.
“People just look at it and say, ‘I think it would be amazing and you guys are competing for championships and you have a great life,’” he said, after his Warriors beat up on Phoenix 117-100 at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “And, all that is true, but the emotional and physical toll of going for titles in a league where everyone is so competitive (and) other people want it just as badly as we do. It takes its toll. There is a reason why, if you look at the history (of the NBA), very few teams have gone to the finals four years in a row.”
Miami, behind LeBron James did it earlier this decade, but that was the last time. Three times in a row is more prevalent. The Los Angeles Lakers did that in 2008-11 and earlier (in 2000-03) as did Kerr’s Bulls in 1996-98.
Kerr said, in fact, that what he went through – and saw – as a player prepared him for this season.
“It’s influenced everything I’ve done this year,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s helped (he smiled). I knew what I was getting into.”
Steve Kerr on Warriors cutting Omri Casspi pic.twitter.com/y3EczGjlj8
He knew it would be a “grind (in) the journey … a physical and emotional toll (because) the journey gets harder.”
He said he tried to keep his players freshman, playing them less earlier in the season as he attempted to pace them.
“None of it worked,” he said.
On Sunday, star Steph Curry sat out again and will be out for at least another couple of weeks with a knee injury.
Former Arizona star Andre Iguodala sat out Sunday’s game with knee soreness as did Shaun Livingston. In all, many of the team’s big-time stars from Kevin Durant to Klay Thompson to Draymond Green have combined for more than 60 “did not play” games.
“We’ve got a chance to do something really special,” Kerr said. “We have an unbelievable group in the locker room with guys who are really talented. Fingers are crossed, if we can be relatively healthy next weekend … there will be no Patty (McCaw) and Steph (but) if everyone is ready to roll, I love our chances.”
Klay Thompson on his hot shooting night pic.twitter.com/DgziPPtUsu
Clearly, getting a chance to win its third title in four years is a big deal. But again, it’s not easy.
“The climb is definitely easier than maintaining position on top of the mountain,” he said. “The climb is full of energy and mystery and once you are there, there is a whole bunch of people trying to hit you with a baseball bat.”
That seemed to happen last week when the Warriors fell to Indianapolis by 20 on the road. He called the performance “embarrassing” and “pathetic” and added the team didn’t seem to “care.”
“I probably chose my words poorly in Indianapolis when I said they didn’t care,” Kerr said Sunday night. “That didn’t mean they didn’t care. What that meant to me was they didn’t box out, they didn’t get into passing lanes, they didn’t compete at a high level. But when you say that somebody doesn’t care, that can be interpreted as questioning their character.
“I think everybody knows how I feel about our guys. I love our guys and they’re an amazing group, a championship group. I probably chose my words poorly, but what I’m trying to remind our guys is in order to win in the playoffs, you better be defending at a high level. For the most part this year we have, but the last eight-nine games, we have not. It’s not so simple that you just flip a switch.”
Sunday, it wasn’t much of a test. After all, the Suns are arguably the worst team in the NBA and it played without many of its stars. Nonetheless, Kerr said, “you can always take something from each game. To us, it was about executing better and keeping everybody healthy. I think we accomplished those things.”