The Golden State Warriors opened the 2017 NBA Finals by steamrolling the Cleveland Cavaliers in a performance that highlighted the value of Kevin Durant, emphasized the the major challenges the Cavs will face on defense, and served as a reminder that Stephen Curry’s healthy and in roaring rhythm in this year’s championship round. And the news might’ve gotten even better for the Warriors after the game.
If Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr feels well over the next few days without any setbacks, there remains some optimism he could coach Sunday in Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, sources told ESPN.
“He may coach Sunday. He’s feeling better,” a source close to Kerr told ESPN’s Marc Spears.
Kerr had been feeling well enough earlier this week to be hopeful that he would be able to coach in Game 1 on Thursday, but according to team sources, after he had a bad day Wednesday, he decided it was best for acting head coach Mike Brown to continue leading the team.
Kerr, who led the Warriors to the 2015 NBA championship and to a 67-win campaign this season, hasn’t taken the sideline since Game 2 of Golden State’s opening-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, as he has battled pain related to the 2015 back surgery that caused him to miss the first 43 games of the 2015-16 season. His absence hasn’t derailed the Dubs, who entered the NBA Finals having rolled 10 straight wins under acting head coach Brown and promptly torched the defending-champion Cavs to improve to a perfect 13-0 in the 2017 playoffs.
Kerr has made incremental progress over the last several weeks, first returning to practice, then traveling with the team and getting back to breaking down film and taking part in coaches’ meetings. He firmly believes he’ll coach again, but he still didn’t feel ready to return for Game 1.
“It’s a pain thing and the repercussions of pain,” Kerr told Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group earlier this week. “I’ve been dealing with it for almost two years. I’ve been able to deal with it for the most part. It’s not a cognitive thing. It’s not even really an energy thing. It’s a pain thing. And the threshold is really important – what’s the threshold?”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke with Kerr before Game 1, and discussed the Warriors coach’s status in his pre-Finals media session.
“My heart goes out to him,” Silver said. “As he and I talked about, it puts this all into perspective. I think for those who have dealt with long-term physical ailments or had family members or others, all those clichés are true, that nothing is as important as your health. And I think that, as Steve said, this should be one of the great moments of his storied basketball career, and instead he’s going to be sitting in the locker room rather than being out on the floor, coaching his team.”
That kept Brown in place on the bench to start the Finals.
“I feel like I’m pretty easy, I can adapt and adjust,” Brown told reporters before Game 1. “I’ve been in this thing a long time, and so I’m just — I imagine I’m going to coach until Steve tells me he’s ready, and that’s kind of how I look at it.”
Warriors general manager Bob Myers said before Game 1 that the team continues to remain open to the possibility that Kerr could return to the bench in this series.
“If we were going to rule him out … I’d tell him we’d rule him out, and nobody’s said that,” Myers said during a Thursday interview on Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game. “I wish for him that I could sit here and say we’re debating that he’s feeling really good. But I can’t say that right now. I wish that for reasons beyond the 2017 NBA Finals — I wish that for him and his family.”
Kerr said during his interview with Kawakami that he didn’t want his status to disrupt the Warriors’ attempt to win their second NBA title in three years — “I think just, it’s the Finals, there’s going to be a spotlight, is it a distraction? Is it another storyline? Do we need to deal with all that?” — but that he planned to keep the decision-making calculus simple: “If I’m feeling good, I should coach, and if I’m not feeling up to it, then I shouldn’t.”
Should he string together several “good days” in a row before Sunday, it’s possible we could see him back on the bench. If things don’t improve, though, Golden State will look to proceed apace and take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with Brown at the controls.
“I give our guys credit,” Brown said after the game. “Steve just said it to our guys at the end of the game: we had a formula, and our guys did a nice job trying to follow it.”
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