Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is nothing if not measured.
He was calm last season when the Warriors trailed the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-1 in the NBA Finals only to reel off three consecutive victories. He was calm as a player, a key three-point threat for those championship teams with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
So it was hardly surprising to hear Kerr, a day after his Warriors were thrashed by the Cavaliers, speaking with a measured perspective despite his team’s 30-point loss in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
“This is what the playoffs are all about,” Kerr said. “The spotlight and the speculation and the criticism and the dramatic change in perception about what’s happening. Fourteen hours ago, sixteen hours ago everything was great. We were doing great and ‘Boy, what are the Cavs going to do? Are they going to get swept?’ They’re a great team, they win a game, now all the sudden it’s lineup changes, and oh my god, Steph Curry, I can’t play well and what’s Klay going to do?”
To be fair, the several hundred media members credentialed for the NBA Finals hardly knew what to do with themselves after some predicted a sweep after the Warriors won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 48 points. The Cavaliers, in contrast, hardly looked like the team that stormed through the Eastern Conference, the Warriors’ switching completely taking the Cavs out of their offensive rhythm. But Kerr’s point was taken.
And it was clearly a message that resonated with his players as well.
“You get paid a lot of money, you get criticized,” said Klay Thompson, who himself was held to just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting in Game 3. “To me, it’s not that big a deal because I’ve learned it can change every game. We’re up 2-0 and everything’s feeling great and then you lose a game and it seems like the world’s falling apart.”
Despite the lobsided nature of each game so far – each winner has won by an average of 26 points – each team has successfully defended home court. That shouldn’t be surprising given that the Warriors are 11-1 at home this postseason, and the Cavs are 8-0. And yet not two days ago, it was the Cavs’ season that was desperately on life support.
But beyond the extreme nature of each result, whether Kerr will admit it, there is legitimate concern about how the Warriors have earned their 2-1 lead.
It’s the first time all season Curry has failed to score 20 points in three straight games. He attributed cheap fouls to breaking up his rhythm and forcing him to the bench, but he’s looked nothing like the wizard who averaged 27.9 points in the conference finals. The Cavs’ defensive closeouts on him have been superb, and he hasn’t had much breathing room. Neither has his fellow Splash Brother, who’s had his two worst shooting performances of the postseason in Games 1 and 3 with nine and 10 points, respectively.
In an odd turn of events it was the Warriors’ bench which bolstered their early NBA Finals lead, not their All-Stars. In an age when NBA benches typically shorten as the postseason progresses, it’s a tribute to the Warriors’ depth if there ever was one. Thompson, owning the fact that the starters weren’t good enough, vowed Friday would be different.
“The best part about this team is that everyone’s so competitive, we’re all embarrassed for Game,” Thompson said. “We really are. We’re going to have a better showing.”
Curry isn’t immune to the expectations heaped on him as the NBA’s first unanimous MVP. But he’s also not callous enough to bemoan his poor individual effort when he was asked how he would rate his Finals thus far.