OAKLAND (CBS SF) — When asked if his Golden State Warriors were ready for their much anticipated playoff showdown with the Houston Rockets, head coach Steve Kerr wasted few words in answering.
“We’re in excellent shape mentally,” he told reporters on the eve of Monday’s Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals. “This is the most dialed we’ve been all year. You can just feel it in practice. You can see it in the guys faces.”
The Rockets won the regular series with the defending NBA champions 2-games-to-1 and raced off to the league’s best record. But none of the three games were played with both teams at full strength. That’s not the case heading into Monday’s contest.
“Physically, other than (backup guard) Patrick McCaw’s injury, we’re in good shape,” Kerr said. “The guys who are playing heavy minutes for us all feel pretty good and they are all ready to go.”
That includes Steph Curry who missed the first six games of the playoffs with an injured knee before returning in Round 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Curry has worked himself back into regular season form and in the Game 5 clincher over New Orleans scored a team-high 28 points (10-16 FG, 3-6 3pt, 5-5 FT), grabbed 7 rebounds, dished off 8 assists and had one steal.
But Kerr said there was a point in the season where he thought the Warriors may not be able to get to the Western Conference finals.
“My only concern was in the last couple weeks of the regular season when our defense was really bad,” he said. “Defense is hard to turn on. Offense is a little easier to turn on. Fortunately, our guys picked it up right from Game 1 against San Antonio, defensively, and we’ve looked like ourselves as a result because that’s what everything is based on.”
Against the Pelicans, who came into the second round as one of the hottest teams in the league, Golden State held them to 44.6 percent shooting, had 40 steals and 20 blocks.
While Monday night’s showdown has been the fuel for sports bar banter for months, Kerr said he has not really focused on it until now.
“I haven’t really given that much thought,” said Kerr when asked to rank Houston as a playoff opponent compared to others in past years. “I know we’ve played some great teams so they are right there at the top. They won 65 (regular season) games for a reason. They are loaded. They are well coached…They make it difficult to guard them.”
Monday’s game will be a new experience for the Warriors. They will be opening the series on the road. It will be the first time in 15-consecutive playoff series they begin a series on the road, the last time coming in the 2014 Western Conference First Round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Since 2015, Golden State is also 13-1 in Game One of a playoff series.
“Because we’ve never been on the road to start a series in the last four years, this feels different,” Kerr said. “I’ve been on both sides of the equation in series like this as a player, as a coach.”
“If you can go in and get a road win in Game One, it changes the whole dynamic of the series. We felt it against Oklahoma City a few years ago. They came in and got one against us and it definitely changes the tone.”