OAKLAND — Apprised of the fact that the Houston Rockets are a perfect 17-0 when the trio of Chris Paul, James Harden And Clint Capela takes the court, Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr did what he so often does when surrounded by a pack of microphones and TV cameras.
He flashed his wry sense of humor.
“I think we’re 14-0 when we have Zaza [Pachulia], Steph [Curry], KD [Kevin Durant], no Draymond [Green], no Andre [Iguodala], but we do have Shaun [Livingston]. Just kidding,” Kerr cracked, as the herd of reporters erupted into laughter.
“Those stats are always great,” Kerr continued. “When you have a really good team like … Houston does right now or we do, there’s a lot of nuggets you can come up with that are possibly but not necessarily revealing. They’re just, they’re a good team.”
Here’s another nugget that the quick-witted coach probably doesn’t care about.
During the Steve Kerr Era, the Rockets are just the third team — the San Antonio Spurs did it twice — to win the regular-season series over the Warriors.
The Rockets, who entered Monday night’s game with the Miami Heat trailing the Warriors by 3.5 games for the top spot — and home-court advantage — secured the 2-1 edge by handling Golden State, 116-108, on Saturday night.
When asked if he views the Rockets as his team’s biggest threat, Kerr again displayed his dry sense of humor.
“They are definitely a challenge,” Kerr said. “There’s plenty of challenges out there. So, they’re a good team. So is Boston. So is Cleveland. So is OKC. So is San Antonio. So is Toronto. So, there’s a lot of good teams out there and each one poses different threats, different challenges. They’re all unique to themselves, but it’s not like it’s us or Houston.”
In order for the Rockets to even edge the Warriors on Saturday night, a lot had to go wrong for the reigning champs. The Warriors were playing the finale of a five-game trip, anxious to get back home. The Splash Brothers were uncharacteristically cold, shooting 9-for-31 from the field.
And the flood of turnovers was painful — even for a team that is often too careless with the ball. Curry had six turnovers, Green had five and Durant had four. As a group, the Warriors gave the ball away 19 times, leading to 23 points for the Rockets.
After the Rockets’ win, big man Clint Capela was feeling especially good.
“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Capela told ESPN.
Capela went on to say that when the Rockets are clicking defensively and offensively — they, not the Warriors — are the team to beat.
“We are better than them,” Capela said.
When Durant addressed reporters after Monday’s practice, he had heard Capela’s thoughts and could understand the self-assurance.
“They beat us twice this year. They should feel confident,” Durant explained. “Obviously we’re confident. We feel as though we’re the best team and can beat anybody as well. But we can be beat on any night if we don’t come to play.”
Durant admitted that it was far from ideal to infuse such a talented bunch with so much confidence. He also admitted that he didn’t think the 23-year-old center should be the one delivering the message.
“His job is not as hard,” Durant said. “When your job is that hard you know you can’t just talk shit like that. You know what I’m saying? So, I don’t expect that from CP [Chris Paul] and James [Harden], [Trevor] Ariza, the rest of the guys. Because they know how hard it is to do that every night.”
Just like Kerr, Durant certainly isn’t ready to crown the Rockets as the Warriors’ primary challenger.
“I know you all want to start this whole thing up with the new rivalry,” Durant said. “And a lot of people probably think the NBA is boring now, but we don’t want to start that up. We’re trying to continue to keep getting better as a team. We know this team is a championship contender team. Everybody in the league knows that. Everybody in the country knows that.”
If the Warriors see the Rockets again this year it would almost certainly be in the Western Conference Finals.
There’s a lot that has to happen before that. No one understands the grind of the NBA season as well as Kerr does. He was a member of the dynasty Chicago Bulls and now is trying to guide his Warriors to a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals.
“It’s exhausting, exhausting — mentally and physically,” Kerr said. “So you’ve just got to be right down the stretch and that’s our whole aim as a coaching staff and a team and I really like where we are right now. I really like our position.”