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Warriors bench holding Blazers' reserves in check during West finals

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Warriors bench holding Blazers' reserves in check during West finals

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Warriors and Trail Blazers' benches continued their series-long tug-of-war in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night.

Golden State's second unit scored 33 points in a 110-99 win at Moda Center, and Portland's did the same. The respective benches ended the contest in the same position they entered it: dead-even in combined points.

Some of the Blazers have had the best individual scoring performances, but as a whole, no bench has an edge in offensive output through three games. That didn't look likely during Saturday's first half.

After point guard Damian Lillard played the entirety of the first quarter, Blazers coach Terry Stotts trotted out a lineup comprised entirely of reserves Seth Curry, Evan Turner, Rodney Hood, Zach Collins and Enes Kanter -- who gave way to big man Meyers Leonard in the starting lineup -- to start the second. A two-point lead to start the quarter grew to seven by the time CJ McCollum checked in for Hood 3:15 into the quarter.

By the time Lillard checked back in nearly halfway through the quarter, Portland led by 13.

"You know, the first half, everybody contributed," Stotts said Saturday after the Blazers' loss. "The starters, the bench, different combinations really worked well. You know, if you score 66 points in a half, a lot of people contributed that."

Curry stayed on with four of the Blazers' starters, and Portland led by as many as 18 points. He, along with Turner, Collins and Kanter, finished the second quarter plus-11. Warriors reserves Kevon Looney and Alfonzo McKinnie, meanwhile, were the only Golden State bench players who had an even plus-minus.

The second half was a reversal of fortune.

For one, the Warriors -- led by Draymond Green's dominance on both ends of the floor -- stormed back to take the lead in the third quarter. Stotts didn't roll out any all-reserve lineups, instead keeping Lillard or McCollum on the court with the second unit. Lillard played the entirety of the third quarter, and he re-entered Game 4 after exactly two-and-a-half minutes on the bench, with the score tied at 84.

Just 2:21 later, Warriors reserves Quinn Cook, Kevon Looney, Jonas Jerebko and Shaun Livingston checked out of the game with a 90-84 lead.

Still, the Blazers were within striking distance, and McCollum had chances to cut the deficit even further. Each of Portland's bench players finished the second half with a negative plus-minus, but McCollum said the starters' finish was what cost the Blazers.

"You know, we just didn't make shots," McCollum said. "They got out and ran, and they had a little bit of momentum based on the run they went on, but I thought the second unit did a great job. We have to do a better job as a starting unit of closing games."

The Warriors' defense on McCollum and Lillard paid off in Game 3, as it has throughout the Western Conference finals. With Steph Curry shooting the lights out and Green's two-way superiority, Golden State hasn't needed its bench to do much more than match Portland's.

[RELATED: Steph believes Dubs won't be slowed by Iguodala injury]

Thus, it's unsurprising Stotts didn't fault his reserves for the second-half swing. The reasons his Blazers find themselves in a three-games-to-none hole in the best-of-seven series go far beyond bench contributions.

"I don't know how much it was their bench," Stotts said of the Warriors after Game 4. "You know, they just -- they are a championship team. They have been a championship team and they have a style of play, and they continue to play at a certain level, and the second half, we just didn't match that.

"Whether it was their bench players or their starters, they didn't miss a beat."

Was Don Nelson convinced not to sign Steve Kerr to Warriors in 1993?

Was Don Nelson convinced not to sign Steve Kerr to Warriors in 1993?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr nearly played for Golden State in the 1993-94 season?

Avery Johnson was a guest on KNBR 680 last Thursday and told the following story:

"Pop (Gregg Popovich) was on the plane with Nellie (Don Nelson) during the preseason and Tim Hardaway got injured and blew out his knee. Pop called me and said, 'Look, if I can convince Don Nelson on this flight to sign you instead of Steve Kerr, you're gonna have a job.' I was out of a job.

"And fortunately, I got a call at six o'clock in the morning and Pop -- who was an assistant on that staff -- said, 'Pack your bags, you're coming to Golden State.'"

Hardaway -- who averaged 21.5 points and 10.6 assists in 1992-93 -- sustained a season-ending knee injury during practice on Oct. 18, 1993, and Johnson (who ended up starting 70 games that year) signed with the Warriors a week later.

Kerr, meanwhile, signed a contract with the Chicago Bulls on Sept. 29, according to BasketballReference.com. So unless the Warriors were going to trade for Kerr, something isn't adding up here. Or perhaps Nelson and Popovich didn't know Kerr already was on a team?

When KNBR host Tom Tolbert relayed Johnson's story to Kerr last Friday, the eight-time NBA champion was as surprised as anybody to learn Nelson wanted to sign him.

"I didn't know that," Kerr said. "I've never heard the Avery story."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

And then the following exchange took place:

Tolbert: "Think about that. You go there and Avery doesn't go there ... it's so funny how things work out. You make a choice, or maybe there's a choice that's made for you that you don't even know about that affects what happens to you and who you become and how things work out.

"And I was thinking, 'Who knows how it would have worked out. Maybe the Warriors win championships, maybe Steve never plays for the Bulls. Who knows how things work out. But ...'

Kerr: "Wait, wait, wait. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Did you just say if I had gone to the Warriors as a player -- maybe they would have won championships?"

Tolbert: "I did. Maybe things work out differently. They had a pretty good team there. Look, I'm not saying you would have been the guy to win the championship. Let's not get crazy here."

Kerr: "OK (laughter). Let's not get stupid (laughter)."

Tolbert: "But remember -- they had a really, really good team back then. Who knows. Maybe you go there, maybe you take (Chris) Webber out one night -- Nellie doesn't yell at him -- maybe Webber stays there."

The Warriors were really good, as they won 50 games and reached the 1994 playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

Latrell Sprewell -- in just his second season in the league -- was named All-NBA First-Team and All-Defensive Second-Team.

[RELATED: How Stockton ruined Kerr's chances of going to Gonzaga]

Chris Webber averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.2 steals and was named NBA Rookie of the Year. But he and Nelson couldn't co-exist, and Webber was traded to the Washington Bullets in November 1994.

The Warriors didn't reach the postseason again until 2007.

Kerr, on the other hand, won three titles with the Bulls (1996, 1997, 1998) and two more with the San Antonio Spurs (1999, 2003).

Crazy stuff.

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How John Stockton ruined Steve Kerr's chances of going to Gonzaga

How John Stockton ruined Steve Kerr's chances of going to Gonzaga

Warriors coach Steve Kerr played his college ball at the University of Arizona.

Why didn't the eight-time NBA champion go to Gonzaga instead?

Well, there's a hilarious story that provides the answer. Kerr recently was a guest on the "Scorebook Live Today" podcast with former Gonzaga guard Dan Dickau, and shared the details.

"So they were recruiting me my senior year. And I didn’t have any offers in the middle of my senior year, but I was getting some interest," Kerr explained. "Gonzaga sent me a letter, made a couple calls and they said, ‘Hey, we want you to come on a visit when the season’s over.’ And I said, 'Great.' I was excited. It was my first visit anywhere.

"They said, ‘Just bring your stuff -- you can play when you’re up here.’ I said, 'Perfect.' And I go up and see the campus, see the locker room, meet the coaches -- all that stuff. And they said, ‘Hey, our guys are going to play pickup. You should go join them.’ I said, 'Perfect.'

"Put my shoes on. I joined the pickup game. And I’m being guarded by a guy named John Stockton (laughter). He had just finished his senior season. He was getting ready for the draft. I’m a senior in high school. And I knew who he was because I was a basketball fan, and growing up on the West Coast I had heard of him. But it was a different time back then. You didn’t have all the games on TV and everything. So, I didn’t know that much about him.

"John proceeded to wipe the floor with me. He stole the ball from me, he scored on me at will. It was a total embarrassment. They basically took me into the office and they said, 'You know, we’re, we’re going to go in a different direction (laughter).’ So I always blamed John Stockton for ruining my future at Gonzaga."

Now that's some funny stuff.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Fortunately for Kerr, it all worked out in the end. He had a fantastic career at Arizona as he helped lead the Wildcats to the 1988 Final Four.

And needless to say -- it must have been pretty sweet for Kerr to make the game-winning/series-clinching shot against Stockton and the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals.

[RELATED: Kerr credits Westbrook for one of his favorite quotes ever]

Before we go, we have to address one detail. Kerr's visit to Spokane must have been in the spring of 1983 because he graduated high school soon thereafter. This means that Stockton wasn't yet preparing for the NBA draft because he was the No. 16 overall pick in 1984.

Oh well. No big deal. The story still stands.

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