OAKLAND – That the Warriors played their best game in two weeks against the Los Angeles Lakers is not by coincidence. The Lakers are reeling, and will be for the foreseeable future.
But the defending champs on Tuesday morning also got boost from their coach, Steve Kerr, who is recuperating from two back surgeries. Kerr addressed the Warriors well before their 111-77 rout of the Lakers at Oracle Arena.
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It was, by all accounts, a well-received message.
“It was the right time,” forward Draymond Green said.
With the Warriors on the precipice of making history – becoming the first team to win its first 16 games – Kerr sensed they might be a bit on edge. So he restated the four tenets he instilled upon taking over 18 months ago.
“The first one, and the most important one, is joy,” interim coach Luke Walton said, recalling the morning session. “He wants us having fun. It’s a long season. This game is meant to be fun. So there’s joy. There’s mindfulness. There’s compassion for each other and for the game of basketball, and then there’s competition.
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“When we hit those four things, we’re not only very tough to beat but we’re very fun to watch, we’re very fun to coach and we’re very fun to be around. He just told the guys how happy he was that they were continuing to do those things.”
The Warriors touched all four cornerstones in taking apart the woefully pathetic Lakers. They smiled and displayed high spirits. They played selfless basketball, best illustrated by their 32 assists and countless defensive rotations. They showed unmistakable esprit de corps and they also competed well enough to win by 34.
This win was one for Walton, who stepped in for Kerr eight weeks ago. This win was for the staff, the assistant coaches and the player development personnel. It was for ownership and the fans.
But it also was for Kerr, the man behind the team’s leap from contender to champion.
“Coach has been great even behind the scenes,” Klay Thompson said. “You can tell Luke is an extension of him, but it’s just great to hear from him to just reiterate what we’re all about and that’s what has carried us over the top.”
Walton has gotten due credit for keeping things together as well as possible. There is no improving on 16-0. But to listen to the staff is to understand that Kerr’s absence only makes everyone else better.
“We all have to do more,” said Bruce Fraser, one of the player development coaches. “So by the team Steve comes back, we’ll be even stronger.”
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As if they haven’t been strong enough. The Warriors average win margin, 15.6 points, is more than three points higher than the all-time record. They’re scoring more points, an average of 114.3 per game, than most team can dream of manufacturing, Only one other team, Oklahoma City, averages more than 105.
Asked how much of their success has Kerr’s “fingerprints” on it, Green didn’t flinch.
“Everything,” he said.
Kerr’s fingerprints literally were on what unfolded Tuesday. He put the four “core values” on the white board prior to the team’s 10am shootaround and “reminded the guys what those values were,” Walton said.
“He emphasized to them how proud he was of watching them because we’re hitting all four of those values pretty much every night,” Walton added.
Now that the Warriors are past the milestone, every victory, for as long as they come without a loss, merely raises the record. They are the pride of the NBA, the princes of American sport.
Kerr sought to put them at ease, to bring them back to emotional basics, all of which aids the “clutter-free” basketball that has set them apart. Message received and understood.
“It was a good time to go over and not forget what’s made us successful and what’s made us who we are,” Green said. “It was great. Like I’ve said before, (Kerr) always knows what to say.”
He also knows, in this instance, when to say it.