Here is a link to my Thursday column previewing Game 4 between the Warriors and Cavs. The full text runs below:
CLEVELAND — Steve Kerr came to the off-day interview room. Wednesday session previewing Game 4. He looked calm, was occasionally ironic, but his face was pale and his manner tired as if Dracula had spent the night attached to Kerr’s jugular.
Steve Kerr has lots to prove. He must prove he can out-coach Cleveland’s David Blatt, something he is failing at right now. Blatt is out-coaching Kerr.
Kerr is completing his first-ever season as an NBA coach, a fabulous 67-win season, a magnificent effort that brought him to these Finals. It is a dream come true, although a nightmare lurks. May lurk. It’s up to Kerr to dismiss the nightmare — which would involve losing this series to the undermanned Cavaliers.
Kerr faced one previous nightmare in his short happy coaching life. His Warriors went down 1-2 to Memphis in the playoffs. The Warriors were on the road just like now. The Warriors came up with a brilliant defensive plan on the off day before Game 4 and buried the Grizzlies. What they did was impressive. This time it will be harder. The Cavs are better than the Grizzlies. And there’s something else.
The Warriors defeated Memphis by dreaming up a new defensive plan. It was brilliant. One assumes it was the brain child of defensive coordinator Ron Adams. But the Warriors defense is doing fine against Cleveland. No problem there. The Cavs struggle to make baskets and, even though LeBron James has scored big numbers, his shooting efficiency is poor. Credit Adams and the Warriors’ defense.
The problem for the Warriors is offense all the way. Their needed fix — if the Warriors can fix it — is finding ways to score fast and plentifully. Getting off, as they say. This is not a Ron Adams issue. It is a Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry issue — Gentry the offensive coordinator soon to take over the Pelicans, and Kerr the No. 1 guy.
As directed by Gentry and Kerr, the Warriors offense is getting mauled. It’s worse than that. A bunch of unknowns, a bunch of role players, for heaven’s sake, is taking the Warriors out of their snappy, deluxe, offense. The Warriors offense is like a fancy Jaguar with a bad transmission.
This is on Kerr.
Blatt, on the other hand, is passing every test Kerr is failing through three games — a small sample size for sure. Blatt also is a first-year coach, but he has a deeper, longer pedigree than Kerr. He has coached all around the world and maybe coaches on Mars in the offseason. Blatt may know his business better than Kerr knows his. This is a possibility. Not a certainty.
Blatt doesn’t care how many of his players are out — this includes two All Stars, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Blatt says he can win with the Cavs as currently constituted. And Blatt has overcome so much — losing players, three new players arriving during the season. Cleveland’s entire season has been high stress and that stress prepared them to fight the more talented and healthier Warriors in the Finals.
Kerr, lucky until now, blessed actually, has faced no stress, no hardship, made zero adjustments, adapted to almost nothing. This has been wonderful to watch but it left — may have left — Kerr unprepared for the serious business of the NBA Finals. He needs to adapt now, needs to let his offense out of jail or this series is over. It’s unclear if he can adapt, unclear he can do what Blatt is doing.
So many more things determine a champion that coaching. But coaching is a big part and, if Kerr could get the praise all season long, he now deserves the responsibility — and the blame — if the Warriors lose the series. No nice way to put it.
He needs to free up Stephen Curry. His team needs to make those beautiful passes that dazzled every team until now. And the Warriors must play transition ball — which means run like mad on offense and score. Kerr needs to make offense easy again. And joyful. Against the Cavs, the Warriors looked like mopes.
Here was Kerr on Wednesday talking about his slow, methodical, unproductive offense. “We expected that coming in because this is the way Cleveland has played throughout the playoffs. Their pace has been pretty slow. Their pace has actually been faster when LeBron (James) has been out of the game. So, he’s controlling the tempo. He’s doing a good job of it. That’s what we’re looking at. How can we speed the game up? Is it by changing our defense? Is it by doing what we’re doing offensively? We’ve got to look at all of that. We’ll watch it again and we’ll figure some things out. We’ve got to be able to get a little more pace to the game.”
So, what’s your plan, Steve? Is it playing more David Lee, whom you discarded months ago? It amounts to that?
I’ll tell you something else. Well, I’ll let Draymond Green tell you. “They’re playing like a team that’s desperate and needs something,” Green said Wednesday about the Cavaliers.”We’re playing like a team that’s not desperate and got something.”
He’s saying the Cavs play harder than the Warriors. Want it more. If that’s the case, and if the Warriors lacked fire and had poor body language in Game 3, whose fault is it?
Steve Kerr’s. I’m not sure how much Kerr teaches. But he’s the voice of the team and the one and only communicator. Communicating is supposed to be his strong point. The Warriors fired Mark Jackson because he communicated with no one. Kerr was a corrective to that. But at the crisis moment of this season, Kerr somehow has not communicated to his players the need for fire under pressure. Blatt has communicated that to his ad hoc group.
The Warriors are getting outplayed and outworked — yes, outworked — by Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson and James Jones. Who are those guys?
This lack of work — this work gap — is on the Warriors head coach. He needs to change something for Game 4, change something about his team or himself.
Because I’ll tell you this, the Warriors don’t want to lose Game 4. Believe me, they don’t.
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