Ray Ratto

The real message of Steve Kerr unloading on Warriors privately and publicly

The real message of Steve Kerr unloading on Warriors privately and publicly

Coaches speak for theatrical effect – most of the time. Coaches lie when they need the lie to seem truthy – most of the time. Coaches aren’t speaking to you when they talk to the media, but for a different audience, whether it be the players, the league office or the gods themselves.
 
Again, most of the time.
 
But Steve Kerr’s decision to flog the Golden State Warriors both privately and publicly for their effort in a 126-106 loss at Indiana Thursday night is an interesting one because it suggests that he doesn’t believe they can turn their brilliance on and off as they once did, while they still do. And this is the kind of disconnect that can eat at a team, both short-term and long.
 
The matter of consistent effort has been a subtext to this entire season – not quite the daily talker that the injury list has been, but bigger than the carping about the officials and in any event a consistent theme throughout the season.
 
But Kerr aired them out in Game 79, after getting throttled by a team whose own playoff position is pretty much decided (the Pacers are fifth, two games behind Cleveland and 1½ behind Philadelphia with three games left, one of them at Toronto tonight). And Kerr, who is by nature more of a worry wart than he lets on, spoke as a man who believes that a lack of natural urgency corrodes a team’s ability to manufacture it when needed.
 
And the players believe just the opposite, and that they will be as they have been once Curry returns, and once Draymond Green’s panoply of injuries finally heal, and once Andre Iguodala shaves three years off his birth certificate. At that point, the playoffs will fall like a ripe fruit, and the natural order of things will be restored.
 
Nobody can say who is right because the playoff overture has not even begun. The Warriors don’t even know who they will play in the first round, though they might not care about that, either.

The Warriors’ ascendance has been nearly trouble-free, and one made basket in the last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals would give them the dynast-ette people have been trying to grant them.

But bad luck is finally part of their reality, and Kerr’s attempts to make them see the need to overcome it through consistent effort and exertion seem to fail as often as they succeed.
 
As a result of the injuries and their occasionally tepid responses to them, their fall from being presumptive sure-things to crush the field to a superb team among other superb teams to “gee, maybe they won’t even get to the Finals at all” has been a precipitous one -- one which nobody within the team or outside it has been swift to comprehend.

Maybe this is all a matter of everyone being a bit jaded about this winning thing and failing to remember how hard it was to get to warp speed in the first place. For that matter, maybe this is just a by-product of the essential truth of the 82-game season – that once you know where you fall in the playoff picture, the season gets very long and tedious and occasionally not even worth the bother.
 
But it also speaks to how the players’ view of their place in the basketball universe diverges from Kerr’s. He sees ways this merry ride can all go south because coaches are required to see the glass not only half-full but half-full of spit, while the players see only a world in which they are always kings, or will be once Curry returns.
 
The last three regular season games against New Orleans, Phoenix and Utah will not change this dynamic, clearly. But starting April 11, we will find out if Kerr’s tempestuous fretting about effort was just that, tempestuous fretting, or a symptom of a Warrior team that assumed championships just show up on the porch rather than things to be fought for and seized, despite their veteran status and championship experience. Or maybe they won’t win because they were never healthy enough to be who they claimed to be.
 
All scenarios are possible, both happy and dire ones, which is worth noting because three months ago the only scenario was another parade for a team used to having them.

Steph Curry-led Warriors put down heaviest hammer yet in Game 3

Steph Curry-led Warriors put down heaviest hammer yet in Game 3

Stephen Curry seems sufficiently and ostentatiously cured of whatever ailed him, so after three games of the Western Conference Final the narrative chasers have to hunt down a new barking dog.

And maybe it will be “How hurt is Chris Paul?” It's hard to kill an injury narrative once it gets up to speed, and it's often easier to just reassign it.

Golden State’s whirlwind, 126-85 mega-rout of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 returned us to the aftermath of Game 1 when everyone was sure that Houston was incapable of a proportionate response...until Houston did indeed respond in Game 2.

But the possibilities narrow as any series goes deeper, and the Warriors put down the heaviest hammer yet, forcing 19 Houston turnovers, crowding an apparently limited Paul (5-for-16, 13 points in 33 minutes) and James Harden (7-of-16 for 20 in 33 minutes) as they had crowded Curry, and doing it so comprehensively that none of the other Rockets had the will or capability to help ease the pain. The 41-point win was the largest in Warriors’ postseason history, and conversely the defeat was the most lopsided in Rockets’ postseason history.

And Game 4 is still in Oakland. And Curry is whole again, dancing again, and has his oppressor’s soul again.

He started slowly as though all his injuries had united as one to break his spirit, and the Rockets had seemingly figured out how to exploit those wounds and rendered him a liability. He missed eight of his first ten shots and six of his first seven threes, and was 3-for-20 from three in the first 109 quarters of this series. You could imagine climbing inside the skull of Oracle Arena and hear it think, “Can the Warriors win this series without Curry’s help at all?”

And then he slapped sense back into everyone with an 18-point third quarter in which he made all seven of his shots, going boldly to the basket and thus freeing his looks from distance. He energized a crowd on the edge of paralysis and broke the Rockets’ best chance to bring the defending champions to heel.

He finished with 35, returned the joyful anticipation to his building and the conspicuous brass back into his post-score celebrations. In fact, after one such score, he chose to discuss his Wolverine-like healing powers with an appreciative audience and needed to remind himself that there was defense to be played on the ensuing possession.

In sum, he was playing to tell the world to stop talking about his shot as though it had been hit by a bus. And the world obeyed, loudly and abjectly, as it typically does with him.

“I thought he was pressing a little bit early...” head coach Steve Kerr said of Curry, “but he bounces back as well from bad games as anyone I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen this a lot of times, so no, I wasn’t worried.”

“His three is like someone else’s dunk,” Draymond Green said. “I don’t mean to disappoint, but I’ve seen crazier from him.”

“It was frustrating that I had the right intentions, got five wide open threes and only one went in,” Curry said. “You keep searching for the right openings...saw the opening and just hit singles, like Coach likes to say.

“I’ve just been talking to myself. You have to be your biggest fan sometimes. You gotta find whatever it is to get you going, use that energy to let your teammates know you’re with ‘em. I did my job tonight, and now I have to do it again.”

Yeah. Easy as that.

Then again, it was delivered in the perfect context in a postseason that has struggled to find close games and great moments. Indeed, this was the standout game in a set of conference final games that have been remarkable for their lack of competitiveness. Only three other conference finals in league history have been decided by such a huge margin, and the average score in the six games to date has been 117-93.

And now that Stephen Curry has healed himself, the only reason to think this series could change again is if Houston has a new way to break his spirit. Historically, though, Curry is not recaptured once he breaks free of an opponents’ clutches, so it may very well be that this series was crushed for good Sunday night, and the only thing left for anyone to see is Curry’s smile.

The one that belies his essential ruthlessness.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Game 2 Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Game 3 Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Game 4 Oakland -- Tuesday, May 22nd at 6pm
Game 5 Houston -- Thursday, May 24th at 6pm
Game 6 Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Game 7 Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm

Warriors held up their end and stood on the Rockets' chest in Game 1

Warriors held up their end and stood on the Rockets' chest in Game 1

The worst thing about Game 1 of any series is that people think it foretells the future, but that’s the fault of people, not the series.

But recency bias stops becoming bias after Game 2 when Game 2 resembles Game 1, and that is the task of the Golden State Warriors Wednesday in Houston.

The Warriors spotted the Rockets eight minutes Monday night – the first eight minutes. Draymond Green got a technical for overmodulation 67 seconds and change into the game, and his teammates missed five of their first seven shots.

After that, well, you know what happened. Even the tinfoil hat brigade who thought official Scott Foster would beat the Warriors by himself because they remember an unpleasant game in Portland long ago had to surrender their conspiracy theories to reality by the early third quarter. Klay Thompson got the looks he needed, Kevin Durant didn’t even need looks, and Golden State simply efficient-ed Houston to death.

They are now 14-1 in Game 1s, 11-3 in Game 2s, 7-7 in game 3s and 8-6 in Game 4s. They are also 9-1 in Game 5, 3-1 in Game 6 and 1-1 in Game 7. What this tells us is that they win 85 percent of the time at home, typically by large margins, and can lose a bit of interest and want-to when they hit the road.

But this series is unlike all the others. They bring their ability to make an early statement to Houston, and if form holds, they will go home for Games 3 and 4 with every reason to finish this with the same ruthless efficiency.

And the only reason not to think this is how things will play out is the notion that Houston is too good to be run out of their building twice.

This idea flies in the face of the dismissive tone America took after Game 1, in which Durant, Thompson and the more quiescent Green took command when the game turned in the third quarter. The entire postseason had been framed with this as the centerpiece series, but Game 1 just sort of...well, sat there.

It reinforced the notion that the Warriors are oppressive when inspired, and that teams do not catch the Warriors as much as the Warriors allow themselves to be caught. James Harden got 41 and Chris Paul 23 and 11 rebounds, but the rest of the Rockets were hardly noticeable. That will not do if the centerpiece is to avoid being shoved aside for the green beans and yams.

In short, this series has gotten off to a poor start if drama and elite basketball is your end game. The Warriors held up their end, but in doing so stood on the Rockets’ chest. If that is the way this series is to play out, we’ll have built up a very tall building only to have it Jenga’d out in five moves, tops.