If there's anyone who knows what an NBA Finals game feels like, it's Steve Kerr.
As a player, Kerr appeared in 27 games during five NBA Finals runs with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. He came away with a championship ring in all five trips to the Finals.
As coach of the Warriors, Kerr was on the sideline for 28 games during the team's five-year run of NBA Finals appearances, and he added three more rings along the way.
So when Kerr says the atmosphere of the Western Conference play-in game between the Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers was equal to playing on the biggest stage in the league, those words carry weight.
“Last night’s game honestly felt like a Finals game," Kerr said on 95.7 The Game's "Damon, Ratto and Kolsky" on Thursday. "It was so much fun. Obviously losing, it made it so difficult, and we’re all just so angry that we didn’t get it done. But what the hell, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about competition at the highest level, and we can’t wait for another crack at it tomorrow against a really good, young team that we know is hungry for a win and a playoff berth too.”
After losing to the Lakers, the Warriors will host the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday in a winner-take-all game for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs and first-round date with the top-seeded Utah Jazz.
While the play-in tournament has drawn criticism from players like Draymond Green and LeBron James, Kerr all along has said he likes the idea. After taking part in his first play-in game, Kerr is even more entrenched in his opinion.
“I love it, I think the format is great," Kerr said. "Even if we were to lose tomorrow, I would not walk away from this saying ‘This is ridiculous, we were the eight seed. We should be in the playoffs.’ I love it. I think it’s been great for the league, it created sort of mini-pennant races in the middle of the conference playoffs where teams are trying to avoid the [seven and eight seeds] so you have a race between four, five, and six. I think it’s great, it’s a little bit like European soccer, teams trying to avoid relegation, but less penalizing. The competition that it’s created over the last month has been great for the league and great for the fans."
By qualifying for the game between the seventh and eighth seeds, the Warriors gave themselves two chances to win one game.
If the win-or-go-home Warriors-Grizzlies game Friday does end up having an NBA Finals atmosphere, Kerr will be the first to know.