Golden State coach Steve Kerr made a triumphant return to the Warriors’ bench Sunday after missing 11 games, helping his squad remain perfect in the playoffs by ripping defending champion Cleveland 132-113.
Kerr was given a thunderous ovation for Warriors supporters as Golden State stretched its record NBA playoff win streak to 14 games and seized a 2-0 edge over the Cavaliers in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
“It felt great. Got a really nice reception,” Kerr said. “It was just great to be on the sidelines again. That’s what makes it so much fun, to feel the energy of the finals. It’s really nice to be back.”
Announcing his return less than two hours before tip-off, Kerr said he will guide the team for the remainder of the NBA Finals after complications from 2015 back surgery forced him out since the second game of the first playoff round.
“I’m feeling better. I’m feeling more like I did at the end of the regular season,” Kerr said. “I wouldn’t be in this if I was thinking just one game. No, I’m in it for the rest of the way.”
The 51-year-old American, last year’s NBA Coach of the Year, was replaced by assistant coach Mike Brown, who guided the Warriors to 11 wins in a row, completing sweeps of Portland, Utah and San Antonio and taking the finals opener on Thursday.
“Mike is perfect, he’s perfect as my right-hand man. He’s such a good coach and a good person,” Kerr said. “The way he’s handled this whole thing is incredible, just the humility and yet the confidence with which he took the reins. He’s an amazing guy.”
Warriors star guard Stephen Curry was happy to see Kerr back on the sidelines, sharing a conversation in the final minutes Sunday once the outcome was no longer in doubt.
“To have him back on the bench means a lot,” Kerr said. “We’re a more full group when he’s out here.”
The Warriors are only two wins shy of becoming the first team to make an unbeaten run through the NBA playoffs to a title.
“Apparently it was not a distraction,” Kerr said. “We have not lost, so that’s a good indication that it was not a distraction.”
Kerr has spoken with the team regularly and handled other behind-the-scenes duties since Brown took over.
“Last couple weeks have been good in terms of running practice, film sessions, coaches meetings, that kind of stuff,” Kerr said. “I wanted to string together a few good days, I did that, and feeling well enough to coach. So I’ll be out there.
“Whether it’s Mike or me, we’re doing the same stuff. Nothing really changes for our players. We’re doing the same stuff and strategy remains the same. We’ll keep it rolling and hopefully keep playing well.”
Kerr said he decided Sunday morning he felt well enough to coach from the bench.
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why things got worse,” Kerr said. “But since that time, five or six weeks, I’ve gotten a lot better and I feel like I’m back to the baseline of where I was during the regular season, when I coached every game.”
Kerr said he was trying not to focus on his personal emotions to focus on team needs.
“I’m trying not to get wrapped up in that,” he said. “But it’s good to be back. This is what I love to do.”
Cleveland star LeBron James went to the Warriors bench to welcome back Kerr before the tip-off. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue also greeted his counterpart.
“It’s just great to see him back,” Lue said. “I’m just happy to have Steve Kerr back and healthy.”