Kurtenbach: Steve Kerr performed a coaching masterpiece to win a fourth title for the Warriors
BOSTON — When Steve Kerr came to the Warriors, it was because the team needed a head coach who would reset the culture in Oakland.
Five straight NBA Finals and a move across the bay later, it’s obvious Kerr could do it.
The Warriors’ systems are the envy of the league and the team’s environment of positivity and accountability is legendary.
But the Warriors needed something more than a general coach this season, especially in the NBA Finals.
They needed a tactical master. Someone who could adapt to any situation and deploy his players perfectly. They needed someone to handle the mic.
It’s rare to be a quality team visionary. It’s hard to be a master of X’s and O’s.
To be both? That would arguably make someone the best coach in the NBA.
And that’s what Kerr has proven he is this season.
“Man, you talk about one of the greatest managers of all time,” said Andrew Wiggins, arguably Warriors Way’s poster child, after Game 6. “The way he challenges his players but supporting them is amazing, he gives his players confidence and he puts his players in position to succeed, so I’m really grateful to Steve Kerr.
Kerr’s adjustments throughout those NBA Finals were key to winning the series and a fourth title under his reign for the Dubs.
The first part of the series saw little between Golden State and Boston. The Celtics might have been the most talented team; certainly the most experienced Warriors. The basic tactics were in place for both teams from the start of Game 1 in San Francisco.
No, this streak was going to be won or lost to injury – and thank goodness it wasn’t a real factor – or a series of small adjustments that could turn out to make a big difference.
Beginning in Game 4, as the Warriors lost 2-1 in the series, Kerr completely outclassed Boston’s freshman head coach Ime Udoka. He worked on the rookie, and it resulted in three straight wins and a fourth NBA title in eight years.
For a coach who has so often failed the Warriors ideals, this was a performance of realpolitik from the Warriors head coach.
And that showed in his Draymond Green bench in the fourth quarter of that game.
It was a risky but necessary move. It paid off with Green’s finish in that game and at the end of the series.
During this time, the Boston coach had only one gesture: to implore his team to stop playing softly.
It stopped working around halftime in Game 4.
The Warriors, meanwhile, tinkered, mixed and matched until the final whistle.
And when Kerr found something that worked, he had no problem pressing the button again and again and again late in the series.
Kerr still had some remaining moves. He challenged Boston to counter. In the last two games, those counters haven’t come.
The biggest adjustment the Warriors made came in Game 5, when Andrew Wiggins was paired with Jayson Tatum for every minute the latter was on the court.
In the NHL playoffs, teams try to match the lines – that was Kerr’s game of hockey.
Tatum shooting 16 of 38 over the last two games was more of a detriment than an advantage for the Celtics in the last two games. Wiggins made him question everything.
Earlier in the series, the Warriors had found some success with Gary Payton II in the rotation. He sat in Game 1, but he was an impact player in Game 2. Then Kerr couldn’t find him big minutes in Games 3 and 4.
This wasn’t an issue in Game 5 or Game 6, though. Kerr played Payton played 46 minutes — a top-five number on the Dubs in the final two games of the Finals — and had 21 points, eight rebounds, one block and six steals. No one has had a better net score than the Young Glove in the last two contests.
Kerr also staggered Kevon Looney and Green further in Games 5, 6 – their minutes on the court together were limited. Both players were wonderful, but having two non-shooters on the ground proved difficult for the Dubs, although there were defensive positives.
The last big adjustment Kerr made was to go against what had worked in the series up until Game 4.
But, believe me, it was a pragmatic decision.
The Celtics relied on the Warriors’ high pick-and-roll — a system that Golden State eschews on principle but began to use heavily in Game 1 due to Boston’s change-all defense.
But with Curry scoring 43 points in Game 4, Boston made it clear from the jump in Game 5 that they were going to have anyone but No. 30 beat them.
Kerr had planned the move, and the Warriors performed their traditional move sets almost exclusively for the final two games. Boston was stuck in no man’s land – the Warriors won the title.
There will be countless questions in the months to come about whether the Warriors can do it again – can they make another set of NBA Finals appearances?
There’s one question that won’t have to be asked, in any capacity: is the right person at the helm for what happens next?
Kerr has proven himself four times now, and it might have been the most impressive coaching performance of the lot.