OAKLAND — One of them hadn’t been seen. The other hadn’t been appreciated — except by those who understand what makes a basketball team a winner, a category that includes the guy who hadn’t been seen, Steve Kerr.
Yes, Kerr, with his one-liners and perception, was on the bench Sunday night coaching the Golden State Warriors in person. So, welcome back, coach. And in a way, the other Special K, Klay Thompson also was back, with his 2- and 3-pointers. Of course, hoops cognoscenti who look beyond points totals — Mr. Kerr, for one — know Klay never left.
The Warriors, as we’ve learned, are greater than the sum of their parts, two of those parts being Kerr, who had missed the last month and a half, and 11 playoff games because of headaches resulting from back surgery two years ago, and Thompson who had missed a lot of shots in those games.
“Strength in Numbers” is the Dubs’ all-for-one-and-one-for-all mantra, which looks as good as the team did Sunday night, again whomping the Cleveland Cavaliers, this time, 132-113, at the Oracle. That puts them up 2-0 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals, which even pessimists will concede is better than being down, 0-2.
Mr. Kerr got a deserved ovation for his first visible public appearance since April 19. (He had been seen regularly at practice, working with acting coach Mike Brown). Mr. Klay got a deserved 8-of-12 from the floor including 4-of-7 three-pointers and 22 points. The Finals opener last Thursday, Thompson was, yikes, 3-of-16 and 0-for-5 on threes, eight points, total and because she shots didn’t fall it was as if the sky had fallen.
But that’s why you have teammates, right. Those teammates were living and scoring large Sunday night again. Kevin Durant had 33 points. Stephen Curry had a triple double, 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. As did the big guy, Cleveland’s LeBron James (29, 14 assists 11 rebounds), but in one memorable sequence, Curry, in a Globetrotter routine, dribbled this way and that around LeBron before flipping up a remarkable lay in.
“It’s nice to be back,” said Kerr about what he heard, those cheers, and what he saw, his team winning a record single season 14th straight playoff game.
And also to clue in the semi-clueless about Thompson’s play. They were missing the point when all he was doing was missing a few shots.
“Klay played so great in Game 1, without shooting well,” said Kerr, who watched that one on TV in the locker room. “And to me that indicates the ball’s going to go in. His defense was tremendous in Game 1, his ball handling. His passing. I thought he played a great game.”
After being proven right, Kerr doubled down.
“I felt like he was poised to come out and make some shots tonight, and he did,” the coach said about Thompson. “And again his defense was tremendous. I thought Klay, he guards so many people out there, and he has such a responsibility with Kyrie [Irving], and switching on to LeBron, I thought he was tremendous.”
Klay’s dad Mychal, was the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft by Portland, then went to the Timberwolves and Lakers and now does commentary for the Lakers and works on radio talk shows. But Klay can be as reticent as his father is expressive.
Asked if he thought that finally the shots were going to fall, he answered, “I feel like that every night. As a shooter you have to. You have no choice but to (feel that way). For me it did feel good to see the ball go in.”
As it did to see Steve Kerr on the bench.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.