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Coach Kerr’s health scare has inspired the Warriors



The Warriors’ 2016-17 postseason run has taken on an air of inevitability, fueled by inspiration.

On March 11, coach Steve Kerr made the momentous decision to sit Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala in a nationally televised Saturday night game in San Antonio. The Warriors got blown out, 107-85, fell to 52-14, just a half-game ahead of Gregg Popovich’s ever-steady San Antonio Spurs.

To some, the Warriors appeared a team going sideways, losers of five of seven since Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury on Feb. 28. The future appeared uncertain, the 1 seed almost gone and the dreams of avenging the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA Finals triumph from last June more pipe than attainable.

Since then? Behold the mighty Golden State Warriors, a team reborn in the image of Draymond Green’s defensive fury (notably displayed in the next game’s comeback win over the 76ers), in the image of Stephen Curry’s shaken midseason shooting slump (an astonishing 75/156 from 3-point land in the final 16 games) and in the image of JaVale McGee’s antelope-like sprints up and down the court (26 blocks in the final 16 games).

The Warriors finished the regular season 15-1, and with their savage four-game sweep of Portland, are 19-1 since The Night Steve Kerr Sat His Stars.

Plus, Kevin Durant is back.

That covers the inevitable part.

Add in the inspiration: Steve Kerr’s health problems and subsequent absence from the sidelines for the immediate future has added a layer of emotion to this playoff run.

While it is, to borrow the word of ace Bay Area News Group columnist Marcus Thompson, heartbreaking to see a coach of Kerr’s talent and strategies, and a person of Kerr’s humor, intelligence and compassion sidelined, the situation has also crystallized the Warriors’ mission.

Kerr joked to the team, “Don’t make it a ‘Win One for the Gipper’” thing, but that’s almost exactly what they are doing, intentionally or not.

On our radio show in the morning, Zaza Pachulia told us he got emotional when Kerr told the team in a private meeting he’d be stepping aside for some healing time. Pachulia said the specific details of Kerr’s back pain hell, presumably with nausea and relentless headaches, affected him on a level more than player-coach. “When you care about someone, it’s hard to hear this,” Zaza told us.

The Kerr situation has imbued the Warriors with an even greater strength.

The team was already the most talented in the league, and since the signing of Durant last summer, has been furiously drumming its fingers on the table top, waiting for June. Sixty-seven wins later and, as has been the plan all along, peaking instead of fading in the spring, they now smell 12 wins from their destiny.

That their coach, who they love, is hurting, only adds to their sense of hunger.

Win one for the Gipper? Yes, indeed. And for Steph, and Klay, and Dray, and Andre, and K.D. and JaVale, and Zaza and young Patrick and Sir Ian and D. West and . . . well, the mission has been defined, the mountain has been mapped. The Warriors, at this very moment, are well-fortified to scale it.