A year ago today the Golden State Warriors hired Steve Kerr to be there next head coach. The Warriors were coming off a disappointing first-round exit in the postseason under former leader Mark Jackson, prompting management to hire Kerr to revamp an offense that reeked of potential.
After improving by 17 wins in the regular season and earning the top seed in the Western Conference, the Warriors are on the cusp of the conference finals for the first time in four decades. Holding a 3-2 series lead ahead of Friday night’s Game 6 road matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, much of the credit may belong to Kerr, who finished second in Coach of the Year voting.
"The importance as a coach (is) to not read or listen to anything, and just kind of lock in on the job at hand," Kerr said to USA Today. "You try to convey the same thing to your team, because what happens is there's a heightened sense of scrutiny.
"It's very different, because in the regular season you just move on from one game to the next. Everybody in the league is scrambling and traveling (during the playoffs), and you just don't have the time to lock in … (The opponent will) take things away, and you make dramatic adjustments. But it's fun. This is competition. This is why I came back on the competitive side of it."
No doubt Kerr also came back to the sidelines because of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Down 2-1 in the seven-game series with MVP Curry and shooting guard Thompson struggling from the field, the Warriors regained the series lead with two straight blowout victories in Games 4 and 5.
Curry shot 36.8 and 38.1 percent from the field in the Warriors to losses in the series, as the Grizzlies defensive backcourt tandem of point guard Mike Conley and shooting guard Tony Allen contained the sharpshooter. But in the last two games Curry’s found his rhythm from deep range, knocking down 10-of-22 three-point attempts, and even when his shot wasn’t falling in Game 5 he stepped up on defense for six steals in the 98-78 victory.
Thompson’s shooting hasn’t dipped below 40 percent in the series, but the swarming Allen and Conley forced 12 turnovers out of the smooth shooter in the first three games. He’s now taking better care of the ball, with only five giveaways in the last two contests.
Turnovers have been a major concern for Kerr and the Warriors in this series. They coughed up 21 giveaways for 17 points in Game 4, the second time they committed 20 or more in the series.
Unfortunately for Memphis its poor shooting has negated its work on defense, and why it will need to force a Game 7 for a second shot in the West finals in the last three years.
The Grizzlies shot 39.8 percent in Game 5, and 37.5 percent in Game 4, while going a combined 8-for-33 from three point range. Big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have done their part, with each picking up consecutive double-doubles in the last two games, and for Gasol his third straight in the series.
But Memphis has shown little balance outside of the post. Allen’s a defensive wizard, but his 2-for-9 shooting in Game 4 for four points, and his absence in Game 5 with a hamstring injury hurt the Grizzlies chances of survival.
Allen will reportedly play in Game 6 at FedEx Forum, even though he said he’s only about 60 percent healthy.
Start Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN
Betting Odds: Warriors -5.5; o/v 193 points
Prediction: Golden State over Memphis, 102-91