OAKLAND: Steve Kerr said Sunday he will coach the Golden State Warriors for the remainder of the NBA Finals after missing the past 11 playoff games with complications from back surgery.
The 51-year-old American, last year’s NBA Coach of the Year, made the announcement less than two hours before the tip-off of game two of the best-of-seven championship series against visiting Cleveland.
“I’m excited and it’s good to be back,” Kerr said. “The intention is to coach tonight and the rest of the series. I’m feeling better. I’m feeling more like I did at the end of the regular season.”
Kerr stopped guiding this season’s NBA win leaders from the sidelines after two playoff triumphs over Portland and was replaced by assistant coach Mike Brown.
Golden State won 11 consecutive games under Brown and their streak of 13 playoff wins overall matched an NBA record, keeping them in contention to become the first NBA champion to make an unbeaten playoff run.
The Warriors swept out Portland, Utah and San Antonio and defeated the Cavaliers 113-91 in Thursday’s NBA Finals opener.
“Apparently it was not a distraction,” Kerr said. “We have not lost, so that’s a good indication that it was not a distraction.”
Kerr, who had been ill with issues from a 2015 back operation, has spoken with the team regularly and handled other behind-the-scenes duties since Brown took over.
“Last couple weeks have been good in terms of running practice, film sessions, coaches meetings, that kind of stuff,” Kerr said. “I wanted to string together a few good days, I did that, and feeling well enough to coach. So I’ll be out there.
“Whether it’s Mike or me, we’re doing the same stuff. Nothing really changes for our players. We’re doing the same stuff and strategy remains the same. We’ll keep it rolling and hopefully keep playing well.”
Kerr said he decided Sunday morning he felt well enough to coach from the team bench for up two weeks should the finals stretch to the limit.
“I wouldn’t be in this if I was thinking just one game. No, I’m in it for the rest of the way,” Kerr said.
“I feel like it’s back where it was before the Portland series. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why things got worse. But since that time, five or six weeks, I’ve gotten a lot better and I feel like I’m back to the baseline of where I was during the regular season, when I coached every game.”
Kerr said he was trying not to focus on his personal emotions to focus on team needs.
“I’m trying not to get wrapped up in that because this is a finals game,” he said. “But it’s good to be back. This is what I love to do.”
‘Win one for the Gipper’
Kerr revealed his status to reporters before telling the team, but said they had been updated on his condition regularly.
“I didn’t send out a group text or anything. I’m just going to go in there,” he said. “They probably already know because they’re all on their phones all the time.”
Kerr joked he would play the Ronald Reagan movie classic “Knute Rockne, All-American” where a dying American football player asks legendary coach Rockne to tell the team to win one for him in its darkest hour.
“I’m going to pull out the ‘Win one for The Gipper’ speech. Probably show that. Maybe get a little teary eyed. Implore them to win it for me, because it’s not important for them to win it for themselves,” he said with a laugh.
Brown is ‘an amazing guy’
Kerr also deadpanned about Brown: “I just think the numbers are totally deceiving. The team was just falling apart at the seams and so I just had to get back to make sure we righted the ship.”
Then he laughed and paid tribute to Brown.
“No, Mike is perfect, he’s perfect as my right-hand man. He’s such a good coach and a good person,” Kerr said. “The way he’s handled this whole thing is incredible, just the humility and yet the confidence with which he took the reins. He’s an amazing guy.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue also welcomed back Kerr.
“It’s just great to see him back,” Lue said. “I’m just happy to have Steve Kerr back and healthy.” AFP