Warriors

Sources: On eve of NBA Finals, Kerr still undecided on Game 1 status

Sources: On eve of NBA Finals, Kerr still undecided on Game 1 status

OAKLAND -- Less than 24 hours before tipoff of the NBA Finals, Steve Kerr was still pondering whether he’s up to returning to the bench to coach the Warriors in Game 1 and beyond, multiple sources told NBCSportsBayArea.com Wednesday night.

Though Kerr has felt good enough to address the team before, during and after games, while also increasing his participation during practices, he is not expected to decide on his role before Thursday, in the hours before Game 1.

Acting coach Mike Brown said Wednesday afternoon that until he heard otherwise from Kerr that he expected to arrive at Oracle Arena Thursday night in the same role he has served since Kerr stepped down April 23.

“Well, he does seem like he's getting better,” Brown said during Media Day. “But I'm going to keep coaching until he says he can or can't do it. But he hasn't told me either way right now.”

Two sources close to Brown indicated nothing had changed Wednesday night.

The Warriors are 12-0 so far this postseason, during which Kerr coached the first two games and Brown the last 10. Kerr did not attend Game 3 of the first-round series against Portland but joined the team at Moda Center for Game 4 before missing the entire second-round series against Utah.

Though Kerr was with the team throughout its four-game sweep of San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals, he remained in the locker room for all four games.

That’s the likely scenario for Game 1 of The Finals -- unless Kerr decides on game day that he’s ready to resume full-time responsibilities.

Steph Curry goes cold, gets locked up by Raptors' aggressive game plan

Steph Curry goes cold, gets locked up by Raptors' aggressive game plan

OAKLAND – Knocked down by the Raptors last month in Toronto and again Wednesday night in Oakland, the Warriors would like nothing more than to come back for a third chance soon as possible.

That can’t happen before May 30, when Game 1 of the NBA Finals is scheduled.

“I know if that were to happen,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after his team was blown out of Oracle Arena, 113-93, “we would be ready to play.”

Meanwhile, they have to recover and study and analyze the events of Wednesday night. There were several troubling signals, including low defensive intensity and mental errors at both ends, though none was more evident and enlightening than the defense the Raptors threw at Stephen Curry.

After watching Curry dribble, shoot and splash his way through defenses this season, it was striking to see him running into roadblocks and thickets of arms and hands, led by a rugged and redoubtable defender named Fred VanVleet.

Curry entered the game averaging 30.1 points per game, shooting 51.3 percent overall, and 50 percent from beyond the arc. He totaled 10 points, a season-low in games for which he was healthy throughout, on 3-of-12 shooting, 2-of-8 from deep.

“We just tried to make them uncomfortable, make them make plays they’re not used to making,” Van Vleet said. "Every team has their main guys, multiple playmakers, and we try to take it out of the playmakers’ hands and make others make all the plays. That was our game plan going in. We did a great job executing it."

VanVleet, who usually comes off the bench in the role of sixth man, started at point guard due to lineup change necessitated when Kawhi Leonard was ruled out before tipoff. Curry normally gets to cook Kyle Lowry, an All-Star offensive force but a mediocre defender vastly inferior to VanVleet in both pluck and technique.

With VanVleet in junkyard-dog mentality, Curry seemed to spend the evening searching for enough room to move, much less fire an uncontested shot.

“I didn’t really have rhythm,” Curry conceded, “for whatever reason.”

[RELATED: Steph Curry says Warriors would beat Shaq's Lakers that had three-peat]

Though VanVleet was the primary defender, he had help. Even when Curry was coming off screens, there wasn’t much room. He had a couple open looks, but any good defender knows any shooter harassed all night tends to miss even when we he gets some space.

“There are only two ways to guard Stephen,” said Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, who conducted the postgame news conference because head coach Nick Nurse left immediately for a family matter. “The No. 1 way is to pray that he misses. No. 2 is to get a body on him and do not give him any open looks.”

Curry’s previous success against the Raptors – he was averaging 29.8 points against them for his career, his highest average against any opponent – has been largely a matter of taking advantage of Lowry, with VanVleet getting some spot duty.

The Raptors, however, may have found something with VanVleet in the starting lineup. One game does not a Steph Stopper make, but he clearly is an upgrade over the usual Raptors defenders.

This variation of man-to-man defense is especially effective given the frequent and assertive help from Toronto’s assembly line of lengthy wings.

Asked whether Curry’s poor performance was a result of Raptors defense or simply an off night, Kerr pointed to both.

“It’s always a combination,” Kerr said. “I’m sure we’ll look at the tape and we’ll see some shots that Steph would normally hit and we’ll also see excellent defense. Fred VanVleet picked him up full court and did a good job of getting into him.

“But it’s always a combination.”

[RELATED: Warriors' blowout loss to Raptors deserves long look in the mirror]

The combination worked exceptionally well for the Raptors. They gave Curry something to think about. They gave the Warriors something to think about.

They may have given a few other NBA teams something to consider.

A lot went wrong for the Warriors in this game, particularly their defensive lethargy. But if they see the Raptors again in May, VanVleet will have a nice audition video for the role of defending Curry.

Which doesn’t mean the Raptors would get the same results.

Warriors' blowout loss to Raptors deserves long look in the mirror

Warriors' blowout loss to Raptors deserves long look in the mirror

OAKLAND -- If you believe the Golden State Warriors are truly invulnerable, then Wednesday’s 113-93 muzzling at the hands of the Toronto Raptors was a fairly revolting performance all around, but hardly worth the worry.
 
Of course, there is the other possibility – that Toronto is really difficult for Golden State to play with or without Kawhi Leonard, which creates its own set of worries come money-in-the-pot time.
 
Either way, one of the most anticipated pre-Christmas games of the season ended up a flatline special. Leonard did not play and the Raptors were better than they were two weeks ago in Toronto, which is surely an anomaly. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green did play and the Warriors looked far worse, which is equally improbable.
 
Now it could be that the waxing crescent of the moon was just getting some of its own back after Curry decided to mock its role in the history of space exploration. But more likely, the Raptors just showed their undisputed quality; they hammered two of the best teams in the Western Conference (combined record, 36-18, 21-4 at home) by 44 points on back-to-back nights on the road without their best player.
 
Head coach Steve Kerr saw all of that and went to the place that ought to scare everyone involved with the defending champions – that there may be a new version of themselves in the argument.
 
“We’re now in a place where we’re defending a title,” Kerr said, “in a place where we’re defending a mantle that we’ve had for several years. It’s a different vibe than when you’re on the climb like Toronto is, like Milwaukee is, like we were a few years ago. It’s harder to get up for each game, and there are certain nights when you can just feel it. If you’ve played in this league or coached or followed it, sometimes you can just feel it.”

[RELATED: Steph Curry says Warriors would beat Shaq's Lakers that had three-peat]
 
He stayed for a few more questions, but in practical terms he had dropped the mic already. The Warriors have been served notice by the Raptors that their expertise in championship runs is being challenged by Toronto’s youth and hunger . . . and, if you want to be less granular, you can include Milwaukee and Philadelphia as well.
 
But motivation alone does not bell the cat, as people who puts bells on cats will tell you. The Warriors spent the first half Wednesday deciding whether it was worth it to them to play defense, and by the time they decided to give it a try, they were, in Kerr’s words, “swimming upstream.”
 
And offensively, they struggled to get their usual raft full of open looks. Fred Van Vleet defended Curry into near-invisibility and Klay Thompson never found a comfort level against an ever-changing set of defenders, predominantly Kyle Lowry. The Warriors committed 19 turnovers, were outrebounded at both ends (credit Raptors Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas before he got hurt for that level of control), and in general found that most of their possessions were a thorough grind.
 
That explains Toronto, but the Warriors . . . well, their lack of energy speaks to the reality that not every game we think is a measure of their mettle is viewed with the same gravity by the players themselves. And it isn’t just being the hunted – they’ve been that for three consecutive seasons. It’s that they find urgency to be optional more often than they used to.
 
If there is a silver lining for Golden State, it is Kerr’s rhetorical attempt to steel his players’ spines.

“I would think we would have the edge (if the two teams reached the NBA Finals) in that they’ve kicked our butts twice,” he said, laying the task of motivation directly at the players’ locker stalls. He has made his view clear that the Warriors let this happen Wednesday night, and now they have given a team the kind of life they took for granted in 2015, when everything was energy and carbonation and fun and free chips from the dealer.
 
That should work, if only because the Warriors aren’t done yet. But they now see themselves as they once were, and teams emulating their path to glory. Toronto is but  the best of the teams who can inspire that kind of nostalgia – the kind that could end up burning them in the end if they don’t recognize it for what it is.
 
A direct challenge from their own history.