SAN FRANCISCO — As his Golden State Warriors prepare for Sunday’s all-important, regular-season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies, Warriors coach Steve Kerr wants his team to have a clear mindset about exactly how much is at stake. With a win, the Warriors will finish the regular season with a 39-33 record, a game ahead of the Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the Western Conference — allowing for an easier path into postseason play.
“We’re really looking at this [as] we’ve got to win two out of our next three games,” Kerr said after Saturday’s practice. “So basically that starts tomorrow; so, in effect tomorrow is a playoff game. And we’ve got to win two before we lose two. That’s what it comes down to out of the next three. Like a little miniseries from the old days in the early ’80s.”
The reason Kerr is approaching this game with so much intensity is because a win on Sunday would give the Warriors some extra wiggle room. It would put the Warriors into the 7-8 game on Wednesday. With a win in that potential game, the Warriors would become the seventh seed. A loss in that game would put the Warriors into another game on Friday — at home — against the winner of the 9-10 game Wednesday.
A loss on Sunday would mean the Warriors, then the ninth seed, would have to win two straight games in order to earn the eighth spot and qualify for the postseason — with the first game at home against the 10th-seeded San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and the second game against the loser of the 7-8 game — on the road — on Friday.
The second option is the kind of tricky situation Kerr is hoping to avoid, thanks in large part to the veteran presence of NBA champions Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. After finishing with a league-worst 15-50 record last season during an injury-riddled campaign, Kerr knows that his proud veterans are relishing the opportunity to play on the game’s big stage again.
“They can’t wait,” Kerr said of Curry and Green. “They’re really excited. It’s going to be really fun to see them competing and leading our young guys. It will be fun to see our young guys responding. It’s a case where you feel a little extra jitters and then it’s important that you quickly remember it’s a 48-minute game, a long, long game and you just got to settle in and execute. The game doesn’t change but your attention to detail’s got to be a little sharper, a little more focused and that was the message today.”
For his part, Curry said that while he didn’t deliver a formal message to his younger teammates in advance of Sunday’s game, he was hopeful that they would keep the game simple as the pressure around them ramps up.
“I guess technically it is playoff type situations but you’re playing a different team every game so that will be interesting but it is just basketball,” Curry said. “Until you get out there and kind of can articulate it for yourself, that is the approach you have to have. I know how to put the ball in the basket, I know how to defend, I know how to run our sets, I know how to execute the game plan. It requires another level of focus and attention to detail on every single possession, that’s the thing you can’t gloss over but you can’t put too much pressure or change anything about how you prepare for a game just because it’s the playoffs and it’s new.”
Kerr is hopeful that the young players on the roster will be able to raise the level of their games to support Curry and Green — much the same way they have over the last couple weeks of the regular season as the Warriors carved out their best stretch of the year by winning 14 of their past 19 games.
“I’ve seen their growth over the course of the season,” Kerr said. “These guys are so much better and I’m talking about Jordan and Juan, Mike Mulder, these guys are much, much better players now than they were four or five months ago. And we’ve played in some really important games now in the last couple weeks. Every game has felt really crucial as we’ve tried to secure a spot in the playoffs so this is the next step and I’m excited for all of them to feel what this feels like and I have all the confidence in the world that they’ll respond and play well.”
As far as the play-in tournament itself goes, Curry said he understands arguments on both sides regarding whether it’s good for the game or not, but he believes that no matter what side fans or people in the league might be on, they won’t be able to deny the entertainment the games produce next week.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to be must-watch TV on Tuesday-Friday,” Curry said. “So when it comes to attention on games, that’s good. It will be interesting to see if it lasts beyond this year when we get back to an 82-game schedule. I don’t think it will but this year it is what it is, but it’s looking like it’s going to be some entertaining, fun, dynamic basketball and if you can get to that point in any situation that’s good for the league.”