Steve Kerr 'amazed' by activism of Florida survivors fighting for change

Steve Kerr 'amazed' by activism of Florida survivors fighting for change

OAKLAND -- After spending his All-Star break in Hawaii, Warriors coach Steve Kerr returned to his routine Wednesday feeling better about himself, his team and, moreover, his country.

Oh, he’s still disgusted by the events of Valentine’s Day, when 17 children and adults were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

But one week after closing a pregame news conference by his expressing disdain for politicians voting in lockstep with the National Rifle Association, Kerr is pleased that students in Florida and beyond are pleading for common-sense gun laws.

“It’s phenomenal,” Kerr said after practice. “What those kids are doing is heroic, it’s heartfelt and I think it’s the beginning of some change. I really believe that.

“I’m amazed every time I see them on TV or online. It’s heartbreaking but inspiring all at once.”

In the immediate wake of the shooting, Kerr addressed the issue and reminded people that they have the power to facilitate action in the face of perpetual inaction.

“It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death, day after day, in schools,” he said last week. “It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country, to actually do anything. And that’s demoralizing.

“But we can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they’ve financed their campaign.”

Students and parents across the country have started pushing back against politicians whose campaigns receive financial support from the NRA. They’re urging a change in previous voting habits. And, short of that, they’re asking voters to usher them out of office.

“I feel very encouraged,” Kerr said Wednesday. “We’ve got a generation that’s grown up with these school shootings and mass shootings and they’re fed up.

“Historically, it’s the young generation that has initiate change.”

Kerr then compared the current groundswell to that which occurred a half century ago, when the nation’s youth fought against the ravages of the war in Vietnam.

“When you think about the Vietnam War, it was all the old white guys who kept sending all the troops over to fight this ridiculous war,” he said, pointing out the activism of the 1960s.

“It’s the young people of the country now who are going to create the change that we need in terms of how we handle gun violence and how we do our best to curb it. It’s amazing to watch.”

The Warriors' top priority for the final 24 games is crystal clear

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AP

The Warriors' top priority for the final 24 games is crystal clear

No squad in the NBA is better at summoning the big comeback than the Warriors. They have immense faith in themselves and their firepower, as well they should. They believe they’ll always find the road to victory because they usually do.

But it can get ugly when they don’t.

The “We got this” mentality has become as much a curse as it is a blessing, which is why addressing it will be Priority One when players and coaches reconvene at team headquarters Wednesday after a six-day layoff.

The Warriors have not yet been able to shake their habit of lazy, hazy, sloppy, choppy first quarters. It likely cost them their last game, a 123-117 loss at Portland that sent them into the All-Star break on a sour note, so it will be fresh in the minds of coaches and players.

“The game’s got to matter from the beginning,” coach Steve Kerr said as the team went into the break.

“We obviously need to fix the first quarters,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s a consistent theme.”

The numbers expose two unwanted truths. The bad: the Warriors have committed too many turnovers, particularly in live-ball situations, which allow opponents to find a rhythm. The worse: Their early-game defense has been almost reliably atrocious, and it’s not simply the result of turnovers that give opponents easy buckets in transition.

Sometimes, it’s just inattention. Temporary loss of focus here, a tepid effort there. The Warriors have been burned by some of the more basic offensive maneuvers, such as backdoor cuts. They’ve been torched by their rebounding failures, leading to second and sometimes third shots for the opponent.

This is not the kind of stuff generally associated with a prideful defending champion. Yet it happens with alarming regularity in the opening minutes.

It’s why the Warriors have entered the second quarter trailing in 17 of their last 30 games. And why on seven of those occasions, they trailed by double digits. Though they can gobble double-digit deficits like popcorn -- their 13-10 record in games in which they trailed by at least 10 points is the best in the NBA -- it’s a troubling tendency.

A look at their last 22 games reveals 13 opponents shot at least 50 percent in the first quarter. Of those 13, six have fired away at better than 60 percent, topped by Houston’s 68.2-percent first quarter on Jan. 20.

Turnovers are a problem, but it’s one the Warriors can more easily overcome. Back in November, they gave the 76ers 11 first-quarter points off turnovers, falling behind 47-28 after one, and still came back to win by eight. They gave the Cavaliers 11 first-quarter points off turnovers on Christmas Day and won by seven.

They got back in both games with defense, and it’s the surest way to cure them of their first-quarter apathy.

“We have to have more of a sense of urgency,” Kevin Durant conceded.

The Spurs 11 days ago shot 62.5 percent in the first quarter, taking a 37-27 lead. The Warriors turned up the defense, holding San Antonio to 40 percent over the final three quarters and won by 17.

There’s your blessing.

In their last game before the break, the Warriors fell behind the Trail Blazers 40-27 after one quarter, with Portland making 5-of-11 shots from deep. The Warriors scrambled back, limiting the Blazers to 7-of-22 beyond the arc over the final three quarters and tying the game in the fourth quarter -- but faded late and lost by six.

There’s your curse.

“It’s tough when you’re fighting an uphill battle the whole game,” Draymond Green said.

That has been the case for many games this season. In 58 total games, the Warriors entered the second quarter trailing in 29 -- exactly half. There were two ties and 27 occasions during which the Warriors took a lead into the second quarter.

“There doesn’t appear to be a lot of imperative in the first quarter,” assistant coach Ron Adams said this week on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “This is something that has to change. We can’t go into Portland and be down 20; they’re awfully good there. We got back in the game, but we couldn’t quite pull it off.

“That’s what happens when people have good first quarters and believe in themselves and have confidence in their shots. We’ve got to change that first-quarter equation for sure.”

With 24 games remaining and the playoffs coming into view, the Warriors likely will make the necessary corrections. It has to begin with defense.

For the Warriors, 'the motivating factor is not slapping us in the face'

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AP

For the Warriors, 'the motivating factor is not slapping us in the face'

OAKLAND -- For nearly two months now we’ve heard emergency sirens coming from a segment of folks loyal to all things Warriors.

I get it.

They’ve seen the apathetic first quarters and the long stretches of casual defense. They’ve seen Elfrid Payton make his first seven shots, Russell Westbrook hang 21 points in a quarter and Lou Williams go for 50 in a game.

They watched, for crying out loud, the Warriors lose by 20 to the Thunder and by 30 to the Jazz.

And they’re as uncomfortable as they’ve been at any time since the 2014-15 season rewarded their allegiance with the prize they dared allow themselves to imagine. That championship season raised expectations that have since scaled even higher.

There were, however, three separate reasons why the Warriors were so incredible in each of the last three seasons. The problem is that none of those reasons apply to 2017-18, and there aren’t any new ones to stir up anger.

“The motivating factor is not slapping us in the face,” assistant coach Ron Adams said on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “So we have to dig down in a different way.”

This contrasts with the organic motivations in each of the past three seasons.

2014-15: Under a new coach that unlocked their offensive potential, the young Warriors were young and frisky and new to the thrill of consistent winning. Discovering the joy of prosperity is a wonderful thing, addictive in its own way, and they wanted to experience this natural high again and again and again.

This was their honeymoon season and it ended with a parade in downtown Oakland.

2015-16: Coming off the franchise’s first championship in 40 years, the Warriors were subjected to whispers and shouting from NBA folks questioning their legitimacy. They didn’t go through the Spurs. They didn’t have to play the Clippers. They caught a break in The Finals because the Cavaliers were injured.

Annoyed by the chatter, the Warriors opened the season with an edge rarely sustained in any sport, winning their first 24 games en route to a 73-9 record that stands as the best in league history. This was a response to the doubters: Shut up.

2016-17: They entered the season after a summer as a punch line, the first team to blow a 3-1 lead in The Finals. Two of their three consecutive losses were at Oracle Arena, where they had been practically invincible. Then, to the consternation and skepticism of the peanut gallery, they added four-time scoring champ Kevin Durant. Would there be enough balls?

There is no cleansing of such an inglorious finish to the NBA Finals, but the Warriors did all they could to test that theory. They went about annihilating opponents, spending most of the season with the best points differential in league history before settling in at 11.6, No. 4 all-time.

“There was clear-cut motivation,” Adams said.

They followed that up with the most impressive postseason in NBA history, a 16-1 record -- and a 13.5 points differential.

Though other factors, such as the mental fatigue that comes with consecutive extended seasons, come into play it’s also apparent that the powerful forces that previously drove them to such heights are not part of the equation this season.

Sure, the Warriors want to repeat. That’s something the Spurs, the model franchise of the era, have not done. That’s something only six franchises have done.

That’s statistical. That’s an achievement. That’s not something that sits in the gut or puts a chip on the shoulder. There is no chorus claiming the Warriors can’t repeat -- though that could change if the Rockets continue their rampage -- so there is no actual provocation.

The team that has thrived on knocks isn’t being knocked. There is no anger.

“Each individual on the team, both offensively and defensively, we just have to dig down and want it,” Adams said. “And will it.”

This is where Steve Kerr’s experience and belief are a factor. As a member of the great Bulls teams that won three consecutive championships (1996-98), he acknowledges that each year becomes more challenging than the previous. The Warriors have had three seasons of historical greatness, and this is Year 4.

“I don’t think people who haven’t gone through this really understand how hard it is,’ Kerr said in a recent conversation. “I don’t think fans or media really understand. Bringing your best game, physically and emotionally, for four straight years is not realistic. Having been through it as a player, I understand what we’re dealing with.”

It’s a new experience for Adams, so he defers to the head coach.

“Steve is the pacesetter in all of this; he analyzes things well,” he said. “I’m old school, so I look at things maybe through a little bit different lens. But Steve is pretty spot-on in his analysis.”