OAKLAND — Golden State coach Steve Kerr returned to the sidelines and coached the Warriors for their 132-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of NBA Finals on Sunday. He hadn’t been on the sidelines since April 19.
As Kerr walked out to the court before the game, he received a rousing standing ovation from the Golden State faithful and hugged Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue.
Asked after the game if he felt any different being out there after such a long absence, Kerr said that it “felt great — got a really nice reception from our fans and our players. 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. So it’s really nice to be back.”
Kerr addressed the media during a pregame news conference and said he knew Sunday morning he would give it a go. His intentions are to coach the rest of the series.
“The last couple weeks have been good in terms of running practice, film sessions, coaches’ meetings,” he said. “I wanted to string together a few good days. I did that, and I’m feeling well enough to coach, so I’ll be out there tonight.”
Kerr took a leave of absence after Game 2 of Golden State’s first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. He was experiencing painful migraines and nausea that were complications of back surgery he underwent nearly two years ago.
Assistant coach Mike Brown served as the acting head coach and had an 11-0 record in Kerr’s absence. The Warriors are 14-0 in the playoffs this year after rolling in Game 2 of the Finals .
“That Mike guy did OK while I was gone, so that was good,” Kerr joked.
The Warriors wanted to give Kerr every opportunity possible to make a return. General manager Bob Myers was willing to allow his coach to come back on his own terms, even if it meant returning deep into the Finals.
Fortunately for the Warriors, he was back after one Finals game.
“I’m excited and it’s good to be back,” Kerr said. “And my guys did OK while I was gone.”
At the time of his news conference, Kerr said he hadn’t informed his players of his decision.
“They probably already know because they’re all on their phones all the time,” he said.
There was quickly a lot of positive reaction to the news of Kerr’s return.
“It’s awesome,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “I’m so excited. Mike did a phenomenal job, though.”
Stephen Curry agreed with his teammate’s assessment.
“The interesting thing is he’s been around the past two weeks,” he said. “So the whole pregame process was all the same tonight, just a matter of him showing up on the bench and giving us that energy tonight.”
Draymond Green said he learned of Kerr’s return before the coach came to tell the team.
“Before he even came into the locker room, I had just finished my pregame shoot and it came across my phone,” Green said.
“It’s obviously great to have him back on the sidelines. But it’s still business as usual. It didn’t feel any different as far as play calls and things we needed to do. That’s why he prepared the staff the way he did in his absence.
“We just wanted to keep the ball rolling. But it was definitely great to see him over there and hear him talking during timeouts and being out there leading us.”
Former Warriors coach and player Al Attles said it was “terrific” news.
“There’s an old saying, ‘You don’t miss the water ’til the well runs dry,”’ the 80-year-old Attles said after receiving the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s not a reflection on who was coaching. He’s just a man that we really, really respect and hope that he keeps on doing it.”
Lue also was thrilled to hear of Kerr’s return.
“Steve Kerr’s a guy I respected even before he started coaching,” Lue said. “I just like who he is as a person. And throughout the course of the playoffs, I’ve checked on him, and we text and talk. So it’s good to have him back over there.”
Kerr resumed traveling with the team during the Eastern Conference finals, a sign that his health was slowly improving. He underwent a procedure at Duke University in early May to help alleviate some pain. He said his health is back to what he has been accustomed to this past year: good and bad days, with mostly good days.
Now Kerr is back, facing the very team that stormed back from a 3-1 deficit in last year’s Finals to steal a championship. It might not have been the easiest welcome-back game, but the Warriors finally have their leader back at the helm.
“I’m trying not to get wrapped up in that because this is a Finals game, and it’s just about going out and trying to win,” Kerr said. “But it’s good to be back. This is what I love to do. I love being with the players and staff, so it’s fun to be back up here.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.