Here is a link to my Wednesday column about the Warriors home opener. The full text runs below:
The Warriors embarked on defense of their NBA title by murdering the New Orleans Pelicans 111-95. They turned the Pelicans into common sparrows. Or was it pigeons?
Stephen Curry scored 40 points, mostly because he is flat-out great, and also because the Pelican-Sparrows could not guard him in a million years. There was Curry nailing 3s, Curry driving the lane, Curry leaving Pelicans flailing.
The Warriors received their championship rings before the game. From where I sat, the rings were the size of lug nuts. Any person wearing that ring could break through a wall no sweat or demolish concrete with a punch or two.
Pelicans new head coach Alvin Gentry got one of the big rings. That’s because he was the Warriors’ top assistant coach last season. He stood in line for his ring next to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who, as you know, is not head coach at the moment due to circumstances beyond his control. Gentry was solicitous of Kerr, putting his arm on his former boss as they waited for their moment. Making sure Kerr was OK.
When the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the championship — that was two or three weeks ago, right? — Kerr and Gentry immediately hugged at courtside. Hugged as the Warriors players started jumping up and down and embraced each other. That’s how close Kerr and Gentry were and are. Before Tuesday night’s game, Gentry walked over from the visitor’s locker room to Kerr’s office just because.
This, you will admit, is a very nice story.
Not so nice from Gentry’s point of view was this. He designed the Warriors’ championship offense, the Warriors’ you-can’t-stop-us offense, the Warriors’ fast-as-lightning offense. And now he had to stop that offense. Or at least slow it down. Meaning, he had to defeat himself. He was a coach coaching against himself. What an idea.
Clearly, the league set up this confrontation of Gentry vs. his old team, of Gentry vs. the coaches he taught. The league set it up for maximum drama. And the league raised the question: Who are the Warriors without Gentry?
Turns out they’re still the Warriors. Turns out Gentry taught the Warriors players and the Warriors coaches too well. He didn’t have the answers. Also turns out the Warriors with Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, etc. could beat just about anybody probably with Mickey Mouse coaching them.
Not to say Luke Walton is Mickey Mouse.
Walton is subbing for Kerr until Kerr recovers from his two back surgeries. A significant issue before the game, of course, was simple. Can Walton coach? Can he match skills with Gentry? Does he have the goods or is he merely the son of a famous dad?
Clearly, Kerr couldn’t much help him. He went to the locker room at tip off, although he joked he’d given Walton a walkie-talkie. Kerr could not coach the interim coach on the bench during the game and he could not give Walton pointers during practices.
He has to be invisible. If he big-times Walton in front of the players, Walton will lose all authority. A fact. Kerr only can talk to him privately, almost secretly. It is necessary behavior for Kerr, but not every coach could recede from view for the good of the team. It takes an extraordinary man to accept being in the background and to understand how important that is. In a sense, Kerr had to de-Kerr himself. And he did.
Before the game, someone asked Walton if he planned to coach like Kerr or like himself. “You have to do both,” Walton said. “This is Steve’s team. This is what he put together and we won a championship, by the way, doing it Steve’s way. So, I’m not going to come in and think I know better than Steve.
“If I’m out there every day just trying to think exactly what Steve would do or say, then I’m not being myself. That was one of the pieces of advice he gave me early on. ‘Just be yourself. Players will see through you if you’re trying to be someone else.’ I’m trying to, big picture, continue to do what Steve would want done, but doing it by being who I am.”
And he did well as the non-Kerr Kerr.
After Walton left the pregame interview room, Kerr made a surprise appearance. The game would be about many things: putting up the championship banner just below the rafters, the yellow flag looking noble. And it was about defeating New Orleans. And it was about Walton.
But mostly it was about Kerr who put this whole thing together, who is the most important person in the Warriors operation, who is a presence in his absence. Especially in his absence. You feel him there. Know he’s there. Want him to be there.
“I am feeling better,” Kerr said almost shyly. “So that’s the good news. The bad news is I’m not feeling well enough to coach yet. It’s hard because I don’t know when that will be. There’s no timetable. It’s just when I feel better, I’ll feel better. I am improving.”
Kerr looked pale. But he always looks pale. He said he still gets headaches and feels tired. He seemed tired, would rub his face from time to time like someone waking up from a deep sleep. But he had his golden smile and he’s beginning to work out, surely a good sign. “My prospects long term are great,” he said. “I’m very confident that I will be back this season. And I can’t wait. It’s killing me.”
It’s killing him. But for one night it did not kill the team. The world champion Warriors were the Warriors were the Warriors.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.