Steve Kerr had to sit out Game 3 Saturday night on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers. All signs point to him being out the rest of the series, and perhaps much longer. Despite his physical presence on the sidelines, the headaches and pain from the back surgery last year never fully went away. And now, as the Golden State Warriors look to welcome back Kevin Durant to close out the series, they lose their head coach and leader on the sidelines.
On the court, the Warriors peaked as they have done in the past two years. They went down by as much as 17 points in the second half. After giving up 67 points in the first half, the embarrassment was pronounced on the faces of proud defensive stalwarts like Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. And you just knew that this second half was coming. The one that saw the entire team, not just a single player, take over. The Blazers stumbled to 46 total second half points and watched Iguodala dunk away, Thompson get hot, and Draymond’s hands take over.
And to close out this series and just like many games before, Stephen Curry nailed a rainbow trey right over Allen Crabbe while nonchalantly backing up from the free-throw line. A crowd thirsty for a win against the best team in the NBA, on its feet like the teams from New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland. And Curry provided the type of drama-free ending that has defined the Warriors. 38 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds in a 2017 postseason-high 39 minutes, Curry struggled throughout the first half until it was time to become the assassin.
The two all-round games of Draymond (9 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 6 blocks) and McCaw (11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals) to go with Iguodala (16 points) and Thompson’s hot shooting (24 points) gave the Warriors what they needed to stay afloat while their one role player quickly ascends into an actual postseason difference-make: JaVale McGee.
A team-high +24, McGee completely dominated on both offense and defense. With Draymond playing the half-roll man on PNRs with Steph, JaVale has a clean path to the rim when two defenders are stuck with Curry and the vaunted two-on-one finish presents itself. On defense, the normally reckless and mistake-prone McGee went out to trap the Blazers best guards and hurried them into wayward shots at the rim (flashbacks to Festus Ezeli) or even turnovers leading to Iguodala dunks. This ignited a 19-1 Warriors run that provided them the lead and the game they would never hand back over.
The Warriors still destroy the rest of the NBA with their smallball lineup consisting of Draymond at the 5 and Durant at the power forward. Even on Saturday night, the McCaw insertion allowed them to go small with McCaw coming up with a crucial offensive rebound late in the game.
But as the elite teams with great coaching staffs start to adjust to the Warriors (switching defense and offensive rebounding), they look to turn the tide once again. Of all the things that would provide the Warriors the twist, who would have considered it would come in the form of league laughingstock JaVale McGee? It was just 16 minutes and a very straightforward 14 points on 6-8 shooting. But the energy infused into the game, the deflation seen in the Blazers players knowing that they couldn’t just let the Warriors bigs walk around untouched, and the game-changing ability from a non-superstar. When Strength in Numbers was formed, this was the vision. They can beat you with their best, and they can survive and demoralize you with their bench players.
As Steve Kerr remains sidelined off the court, his fingerprints have never been more impactful and successful on the floor.