OAKLAND (CBS SF) — It was only in the last five games of the NBA playoffs that the true mastery of Steve Kerr’s coaching style has begun to garner the attention it deserves.
With Kevin Durant in the lineup, the Warriors seemed content to lean heavily upon the starters to forge a path to the team’s fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals. Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were all logging heavy minutes — 35 to 40 minutes-plus a contest.
Much was written about the depth of the Golden State bench. Kevon Looney earned some praise and Shaun Livingston got a passing mention or two. But the majority of the talk was that the unit wasn’t strong enough or talented enough to contribute.
Then Durant was injured in Game 5 of the Houston Rockets series. The script was flipped. The bench was needed. Six straight wins later, the conversation has taken a 180-degree turn.
Looney, Livingston, Jordan Bell, Jonas Jerebko, Quinn Cook, Andrew Bogut and Alfonzo McKinnie all became key contributors and pivotal to the NBA Western Conference Finals sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers.
It’s a tribute to Kerr and his coaching staff that the bench players were focused and ready to play when called upon.
“I can relate to those guys much better than I can related to the starters, the Hall of Famers,” said Kerr, who was a key player off the bench during his NBA playing days. “One of the things I learned from Phil Jackson (Kerr’s coach when he played for the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls) when I was in Chicago was how important it was to engage the guys on the end of the bench. Keep them involved which means throw them out there. Don’t be afraid to put everybody in the game at some point.”
Constant engagement is key for Kerr, who relates well to the mindset of a reserve. Making sure even the 12th man on the bench knows that at any time his name could be called.
“The best thing is when I say it (be ready to play), they know I mean it because I was them 20 years ago,” he said. “I had plenty of playoff runs where I didn’t play for 5 or 6 games. Then all of a sudden I got thrown into the mix. It’s a hard job (being a reserve), but you have to be ready for it — that is your job. So the way to stay ready is to stay engaged and get shots up after the games or before practice.”
“Guys have their own routines, but part of being a pro on the NBA is being able to deliver when you haven’t played for a stretch,” Kerr continued. “We got a lot of guys who are doing that right now…They can all play or they wouldn’t be in the NBA and we trust that they are going to deliver.”