Golden State coach Steve Kerr shook off a long-term back ailment to return to the bench and help his Warriors win a record 14th straight post-season contest with a 132-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Two of the NBA Finals on Sunday.
Kerr has been sidelined by persistent back pain since April. He has attended team meetings but watched all but three playoff games from the locker room as his team swatted aside Portland, Utah and San Antonio.
Despite rumors of his return swirling around Warriors practice on Saturday, Kerr’s status remained a mystery until just hours before Game Two.
The 51-year-old said before the game that he had managed to string together a few “good days” and felt he would be able to return to the sidelines for the remainder of the best-of-seven series.
“I’m feeling better,” Kerr told reporters after the Warriors eased to a 2-0 series lead against the defending champion Cavaliers in a repeat of the last two NBA Finals.
“The last couple weeks have been good in terms of running practice, film sessions, coaches meetings,” he said.
It is a remarkable turnaround for the coach, who has suffered from persistent back pain following two surgeries. The discomfort was so severe that some had wondered whether he would ever coach again.
The Warriors have not exactly suffered without him, posting an unblemished 11-0 record under interim head coach Mike Brown during the playoffs.
As Kerr walked onto the court, he was met with a standing ovation from the fans and hugs from Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue and Cavaliers forward LeBron James.
IN A GOOD PLACE
“It was a great moment for him and for the crowd, everybody showing their appreciation for all he’s been through,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry told reporters after the game.
“And to see him back on the bench was huge. And for him the whole priority was his health, and I think he’s in a good place right now.”
Kerr had his hands full with the game, which featured physical play, eight sloppy turnovers by Curry and early foul calls on passionate forward Draymond Green, whose protestations could have triggered at least one technical.
After the game, Green said Kerr’s return was a positive for the team but added that he coached them so well through 82 regular season games that they could implement his plans without his physical presence.
“It didn’t feel any different as far as play calls and things we need to do,” Green said when asked about how Kerr’s return impacted the game.
“That’s why he prepared the staff the way he did in his absence, and he came back and we just wanted to keep the ball rolling. But it’s definitely great to see him over there and have him talking in the timeouts and out there leading us.”
News that the pain and headaches that kept the coach away from the team for the first 43 games of last season had returned in April shocked fans in the Bay Area, where Kerr is a beloved figure.
Kerr initially hurt his back during the 2015 NBA championship series. He did not immediately miss any time and went on to lead the Warriors to their first NBA title in 40 years.
(Editing by John O’Brien)