MILWAUKEE — As he patiently answered questions during a post-shootaround media availability Friday afternoon, Steve Kerr was asked if there was any more pressure on his team heading into Friday night’s showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks given that the Bucks smoked the reigning champs by 23 points last month at Oracle Arena.
The Golden State Warriors’ head coach deflected the question with an ease that can only come from the confidence of having been to four straight NBA Finals and winning three of them.
“No,” Kerr said matter of factly. “You know what happens if we lose tonight? Nothing. We fall another game back in the standings and there’s 55 games left or something, I didn’t do the math. But we’ve been here many times. We’ve been in the Finals four years in a row. A game like this isn’t going to phase us, but it has our attention because of what the Bucks did to us last game, but we’ve played much bigger games.”
After watching the Warriors take it to the Bucks throughout Friday night’s 105-95 win, the reality was that Kerr was slow-playing his team’s hand. They didn’t enjoy getting drilled at home and they wanted to send a subtle message both to the Bucks and the rest of the league: They’re better than everybody else, and this is just the beginning of what they believe will be a long stretch of wins as the core of the group gets healthy again.
“This is a game that meant a lot to us,” Kerr admitted after it was over. “We were embarrassed a few weeks ago. We have an eye on them. This is a team we could play later on and this is the last time we’re going to play them so we wanted to come out and give our best defensive effort, which I thought it was. I thought it was our best defensive game of the year. We got after it right from the opening tip.”
The scariest part for the rest of the league is that the Warriors beat one of the Eastern Conference’s best squads with Kevin Durant shooting just 3-for-14 from the field. Stephen Curry had some nice plays, but he was just 7-for-17 from the field.
The Warriors played their best defensive game of the season without their best defensive player in Draymond Green, holding the Bucks to 39.1 percent shooting from the field and 17.9 percent from 3. The Warriors won in part because veteran Andre Iguodala played his best game of the season with 15 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes. Backup big man Jonas Jerebko had 15 points, five rebounds and took three charges. The Warriors, who struggled to win games over the past couple of weeks even with Durant going off for 40-plus on several nights, have gotten to a point where they aren’t relying on a superstar performance each night because the rest of the roster is picking up the slack.
How did that happen so quickly?
As usual in Warriors land, everything traces back to Curry. His presence on the floor creates so much space for the rest of his teammates, and his ability to provide happiness to the rest of the group in the process is something that has been mentioned repeatedly as one of the former MVP’s biggest assets.
The Warriors weren’t the same without Curry, who got hurt in that Nov. 8 beatdown by the Bucks. When he’s on the floor and running around they feel like nobody can stop them. The fact that Green is expected to play Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves after missing the last two weeks because of a toe injury will only make Golden State’s already strong confidence grow even more.
“I think getting Steph back changes everything,” Kerr said. “And then knowing that Draymond’s coming back continues that change. [Curry and Green] in many ways are kind of the leaders out there for us, the heartbeat. What Draymond’s going to bring defensively and the way he pushes the ball, our pace is going to pick up. Our guys know that. And what Steph does out there night after night just infuses the whole team with confidence. So we did a good job of holding down the fort with both out, but now that — knock on wood — everybody’s close to healthy hopefully we can get on a nice run.”
Kerr said he has been feeling the momentum building over the last few days and isn’t surprised that his team appears to be on the verge of running away from the pack soon. The group knew what it would wanted to do on Friday night and executed that plan the way championship teams do.
“We were embarrassed,” Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson said. “We got smacked at home, it’s never fun. I thought we came out and played great tonight on both sides. Other than the high turnover, we played amazing basketball. That’s how I feel.”
On top of Green’s imminent return, the Warriors are expected to get All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins back at some point in the near future as he continues rehabbing from an Achilles injury. It’s an embarrassment of riches for a group that already has all the jewels. They know how good they are, how good they can be, and Friday night was just the latest reminder of how special this year can be if they stay healthy in the coming months.
Why did Kerr know his team would respond this way at the end of a long five game road trip?
“Because they beat us by about 50 and we were embarrassed,” he said. “Our guys are competitive. As I said, we only play Eastern teams twice, we know which ones have a chance to be in the Finals. So we always want to play well against those particular teams just in case we’re fortunate enough to get there and see one of them.”
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