SAN FRANCISCO — Taking questions from reporters after the Warriors barely won Game 4 last week, acting head coach Mike Brown looked directly into cameras and offered Steve Kerr a plea.
“Steve, if you’re watching, get healthy quick,” he said with a smile.
For six years Brown has been by Kerr’s side as an assistant coach, so jumping into his shoes when the Warriors head coach tested positive for COVID-19 hours before tipoff last Monday wasn’t a huge leap.
But Kerr’s absence is felt from the sideline as the Warriors have played sloppy and outright embarrassed themselves in a Game 5 opportunity clinch this Western Conference semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“It’s definitely different,” Kevon Looney said after shootaround on Friday. “But, you know, he’s done a great job of establishing the culture and the game plan. Mike Brown and the rest of the coaching staff is an extension of him. We miss him, but it still feels like he’s here.”
Though Kerr’s absence doesn’t leave anyone on the Warriors’ coaching staff unprepared — they’re all on the same page — his leadership and decision-making has been a major missing piece as the Warriors navigate new challenges in this series.
Brown also has plenty of experience jumping into the playoff coaching seat. He went 11-0 filling in as head coach during the 2017 playoffs as Kerr dealt with complications following back surgery. But things are different this time, Brown says. During shootaround and practices as a defensive coordinator, Brown is usually split apart from the offense portion of practice.
“Prior to this year, I did both. I helped with the defense and offense, so I floated,” Brown said. “So I had a better feel for what we were doing offensively. These last two games I’ve learned a lot of what we’re really trying to focus on offensively. That’s the biggest thing, having a crash course on that side of the floor.”
Kerr, quarantined at home, is still digitally very involved in the coaching decisions and support. He participates in coaches meetings on videoconference and texts players individually. Brown says he and Kerr talk three times a day.
Looney added that playoff veterans Steph Curry and Draymond Green have been imperative in keeping some of the younger players new to the postseason pressures mentally and technically prepared. Brown said after Game 4 that Andre Iguodala, a Finals MVP who has missed the entire series with a neck injury, has provided invaluable coaching voice from the sideline.
“We have a lot of coaches and a great staff,” Looney said. “We know what it takes to win so we just have to go out there and execute.”
Brown will coach Game 6 until Kerr returns and Kerr may be able to return to coach Monday for a potential Game 7 (or Game 1 of the conference finals) if testing data shows he is not contagious at that point.
“He’s not in danger or anything, he doesn’t feel 100 percent great,” general manager Bob Myers said on 95.7 The Game on Tuesday. “He’s fine like a lot of people. I think it’s a lot safer to get it now with all the vaccinations, but hopefully we get him back soon.”
Kerr’s leadership could help with the Warriors latest challenge game planning for a Memphis team without Ja Morant. On his podcast after Game 5, Green said they have to start from scratch on a game plan because Memphis plays a completely different style without their superstar guard as the primary focus.
With Steven Adams seeing more minutes, Memphis is clogging the paint and giving Golden State’s offense fits by sharing the ball to consistent scorers like Desmond Bane. Mitigating turnovers and collecting offensive rebounds like they have in previous games this series should also limit the Grizzlies’ strong transition offense.
Late in this series, the Warriors have to make a few adjustments without Kerr to lean on.