Warriors’ Steve Kerr stresses simple plan for Game 7 crucible
Draymond Green bounced down the tunnel toward the visiting locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena late Saturday night, bellowing a message for all of his teammates to hear.
“Let’s do what they said we can’t do,” Green yelled at least three times.
The Warriors have a chance to do what few thought they could do and something rarely done before, because they’ve managed to send the Western Conference finals to a winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday.
The Warriors are the 31st team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1 and the first team to do so in a conference finals since Portland in 2000 against the Lakers.
Among the first 232 teams that trailed 3-1 since the league went to a seven-game format, only nine have won the series.
Things certainly looked bleak for the Warriors after consecutive 20-point losses had them facing elimination for the first time in Steve Kerr’s two-year tenure, but they’ve won two in a row to get the odds back on their side. Home teams are 100-24 in Game 7s. In conference finals, teams that rallied from a 3-1 deficit to play Game 7 at home are 8-2.
“What stands out the most is our team’s grit and hanging in there after being blown out twice in Oklahoma City,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Sunday afternoon, sitting in the shadow of the Warriors’ 2015 championship banner at the team’s downtown Oakland practice facility. “To show that kind of heart and grit was great.”
End-of-the-bench guys Ian Clark and James Michael McAdoo ran wind sprints in the background while Kerr spoke, but the regulars were given the day to re-energize, sleep and relax.
Kerr didn’t even have the players watch video of Game 6’s thrilling comeback win — a game in which they were down by as many as 13 points, still trailed by seven with fewer than five minutes to play and didn’t take a lead of more than three until Stephen Curry’s high-arching bank shot made it 106-101 with 14.3 seconds left.
Kerr said Curry, who is dealing with ankle and knee pain and also took another shot to his bruised elbow Saturday, looked “bouncier and livelier” in Game 6. The Warriors’ point guard said he likes being banged up, because the pain helps him understand the magnitude of the moment.
During his 13-minute media meeting Sunday, Kerr repeatedly talked about the need to simplify things in Game 7 — a stage that can naturally create jittery nerves under sports’ most intense spotlight.
Kerr said he didn’t anticipate starting Andre Iguodala in Game 7 after the Warriors’ sixth man started the second half of Game 6 and fueled the team’s game-closing 9-0 run. Instead, Kerr leaned toward a simple game plan, the same that was used to win a record 73 regular-season games and the one that was on full display during the fourth quarter Saturday: rebound, limit turnovers, play tough defense.
The Warriors have been outrebounded by nearly six boards per game in the series, but they were nearly even (10-9) in the fourth quarter Saturday. They’ve committed more than 15 turnovers per game in the series, but coughed up only one during the final 12 minutes of Game 6. They’ve allowed Oklahoma City to shoot 44.5 percent in the series, but pressured the Thunder into missing 14 of their final 19 shots.
It all added up to an improbable Game 6 victory and had Green bobbing through the corridors of the Oklahoma City arena in anticipation of the biggest game of his life.
“Any Game 7 brings a whole different energy,” Green said. “… Game 7 is Game 7, whether it’s in the conference final or the first round.
“That’s what people live for.”