Greatness loves company, and Steve Kerr believes the Golden State Warriors are perfecting that very approach to team-building.
The Warriors begin the defense of the their championship in the NBA Finals on Thursday at Oracle Arena, with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers opposing Kerr’s club for the fourth consecutive season.
“I just think that when you have a great player on your team, it’s a lot easier. The game becomes easier,” Kerr said. “With our team, we’re not a one-man show. We’ve got a lot of guys who can take over games, but it has to fit. The pieces have to fit. What I like about our team is our guys are very unselfish. They’re all — they all fit together well and they play off of each other. We found a nice group.”
Andre Iguodala, who hasn’t played since Game 3 of the Western Conference finals because of a bone bruise, is out for Game 1. The Warriors have blended the rotation to make up for the absence of their “point forward” but his absence could show up early and often against James. Klay Thompson drew the assignment of defending James Harden without Iguodala in the last series.
“You think back five years ago when (James) was with Miami, they were playing the Spurs in The Finals, and the Spurs were going underneath on every screen just daring him to shoot. Contrast that to now where he’s shooting fadeaway threes from 30 feet to close games out,” Kerr said. “I think his confidence level in his shot is the biggest thing. But I think it is pretty remarkable when you’ve got a guy who is already considered one of the top few players ever to play the game can make that much improvement late in his career. It’s a testament to his work ethic and to his work on his skillset. The shooting is what has really gotten better in the last few years.”
James, who said Wednesday he won’t miss playing Iguodala because of his quick hands and anticipation, is in the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive season. The 33-year-old is averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game in the playoffs while barely leaving the floor for the depth-challenged Cavaliers. In games in these playoffs, James is averaging 41.3 minutes per game.
Game 1 of The Finals is the 101st game of the season for James, who is wrapping his 15th season as a pro.
“They always kind of talked about the NBA prime is like 27 and like 31, 32. That’s, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to that point,” said James, who said he had at least three rounds of treatment since the time the charter flight departed Cleveland to make sure he’s ready Thursday. “I don’t know. I’ve just never really bought into that. I’ve never bought into a ceiling either. You guys talked about what’s your ceiling, and I’ve always kind of told you guys that I don’t really have a ceiling. I want to just try to maximize as much as I can and be as good as I can.”
The talented Warriors have been paced by Kevin Durant in the postseason. He’s averaging 29 points and 7.1 rebounds in the playoffs. Thompson (20.5 ppg) and Stephen Curry (24.8 ppg) are also capable of carrying the offense and over-taxing James and the Cavs on the defensive end.
“Golden State is one of the best teams I’ve ever played. It’s one of the best teams that’s ever been assembled. Then they added Kevin Durant. So then what does that do to them? It makes them even more dangerous and even more powerful and great,” James said. “For me as a competitor, it’s fun. It’s truly fun to know when I’m done playing the game of basketball to know that I played against some of the greatest teams that ever played, ever been assembled. And this is one of them.”
Curry said the Warriors focused their film study Wednesday morning on the supporting cast of the Cavaliers. Keeping James in front of them is one priority, but containing the rest of the team — and whether concussed forward Kevin Love will suit up — came into greater focus.
“We know how great LeBron is and what he’s been able to do, statistically impacting the game, the stuff that maybe — it’s hard to say this, but stuff that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, even though most of the time it does, the stuff that he — the confidence he gives the other guys, I guess, when he’s out there on the floor,” Curry said.
“Defensively, energy-wise, those other guys or however you want to call it, they’re important to the piece. ... For us, our goal is just to try not to give them any confidence as we go forward in the series, and try to use our experience and our chemistry to our advantage as we go forward, because they are talented guys. When they have the ball in their hands, they can make plays, and you got to be ready for everybody.”
—Field Level Media