Oakland: Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s return to the sideline Sunday after missing 11 games with a health issue inspired his squad to rout defending champion Cleveland 132-113 in the NBA Finals.
The Warriors won their 14th consecutive play-off game, an NBA record, and seized a 2-0 lead over the Cavaliers in the best-of-seven championship series, which continues on Wednesday and Friday in Cleveland.
“For him to be out there when he has a built-in excuse not to because of the incredible pain he’s under, it’s amazing. It motivates us to win for him,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “Steve’s a fighter.”
Kerr only revealed his comeback less than two hours before tip-off, leaving social media to inform Golden State forward Draymond Green.
“Before he even came in the locker room, it came across my phone. Everybody kind of found it out at different times,” he said.
“It’s obviously great to have him back on the sidelines, but it was still business as usual. It didn’t feel any different as far as play calls and things we need to do. But it’s definitely great to see him over there and have him talking in the timeouts and out there leading us.”
Kerr, who plans to handle the remainder of the final, pulled himself after feeling complications from a 2015 back operation following the team’s game two win in the opening series against Portland.
Assistant coach Mike Brown took over and went 11-0, completing sweeps over Portland, Utah and San Antonio and taking Thursday’s NBA Finals opener.
Kerr did not spare his players in assessing their victory, in which they imposed the second-most points surrendered by the Cavaliers all season.
“We had a lot of guys who played exceptionally well individually, and we played with great energy, but heading to Cleveland, we’re going to have to be a lot smarter,” Kerr said.
“We play that same game in Cleveland, there’s no way we win.”
Warriors centre Zaza Pachulia was excited to hear the news, as was a sell-out crowd of home supporters who gave Kerr an thunderous ovation.
“It feels amazing,” Pachulia said. “I saw the reaction of the fans when he walked in. He’s such an amazing person. He’s so positive and always helping his players. It was great to see him out there feeling better, enjoying his job again.”
The Warriors need only two wins to become the first unbeaten play-off champions in NBA history, but after losing to the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history last year when Cleveland won from 3-1 down, Kerr isn’t taking anything for granted.
“He reminded us it’s going to get even tougher going to Cleveland. It’s going to be wild on the road with the fans and the atmosphere,” Pachulia said.
“It’s that much harder once you get closer to the end. We have a lot of games left. We’re not thinking we are very close even though we are. We’ve got to stay locked in. Be more aware of the little things on the road.”
‘Burning fire in their eye’
Warriors guard Stephen Curry had his first career triple double with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, crediting his exceptional effort to the motivation of playing for the crown.
“I’m playing with a lot of energy. That’s the biggest thing,” Curry said. “There’s another level to get to. Just trying to be aggressive and enjoy the moments. We’re in the finals. The journey is unbelievable.
“We just play smart, aggressive and with joy.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green says he can see an extra fire in the eyes of Curry and Kevin Durant, who had a game-high 33 points.
“It’s just like a burning fire in their eye and you know you don’t stand a chance,” Green said.
“It seems like it’s personal for both of them. And you are talking two of the greatest players that we got in this world locked in — that’s why we’re up 2-0.”
Finals second game on Sunday (best-of-seven championship series):
Golden State 132 Cleveland 113
(Golden State Warriors lead series 2-0)