NBA Finals: Steve Kerr set to face Celtics he grew up loathing

Where Steve Kerr is from, seeing Celtic green meant you would actually see red.

Before coaching the Warriors or winning sniper titles with the Spurs and Bulls, Kerr was a Pacific Palisades kid who was infatuated with the Showtime Lakers and their rivalry with Boston.

He was present at the Forum in 1984 when Kevin McHale wrapped his arm around Kurt Rambis’ neck and threw him onto the court in Game 4 of the Finals. He heard the “Boston sucks” chants fill the air.

Kerr lived all of this like anyone who loved basketball in Los Angeles in the early ’80s.

“I grew up watching Magic and Bird,” Kerr said.

On Thursday, Kerr gets his first career chance to face the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. And while fandom (and, in this case, probably hate) will be shed once people turn pro, those Showtime fights with the Celtics left their mark on Kerr.

“Some of my fondest memories as a player were playing at Boston Garden. I remember starting a game early in my career… and going to half court and bumping fists. Larry Bird actually said, “Good luck, Steve.” I said, ‘You too, Larry.’

“I thought, ‘What’s happening?’ It was surreal.”

These Finals give you a bit of that feel for a young Boston team that was undoubtedly influenced by the Warriors’ basketball revolution that began with the 2015 Golden State Championship.

“It was pretty cool seeing these guys first,” said Jaylen Brown, who spent a year with Cal. “Between Steph, Klay and Draymond, probably the most successful basketball players in the last 10 years.”

Of course, that era seemed very much over after 2019 when Golden State lost to Toronto in the finals. The Warriors had made it to the Finals five straight years before missing the last two.

Klay Thompson suffered a serious knee injury followed by an even more serious Achilles tendon injury. Stephen Curry broke his hand and missed nearly a full year. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn, which stopped the Warriors’ influence in the Western Conference and the NBA.

But the standstill turned out to be just a break. This is the Warriors’ sixth trip to the NBA Finals in the past eight years.

The team has reasserted itself as a force this season, its core finally intact and healthy again. Next to it lay some of the booty from the rapid reconstruction. The team turned Durant’s exit into D’Angelo Russell, and it quickly turned him to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins and a first-round pick (they later chose Jonathan Kuminga).

The loss paved the way for a player like Jordan Poole into a role on the team as the new generation “Splash Brother” – a fiercely confident guard who is willing and able to score from anywhere.

“All of these things are just built into the context of what has happened since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals,” Curry said, “and here we are again.”

“So it’s pretty special.”

Boston Celtics' Al Horford shoots as Jayson Tatum watches practice.

Boston Celtics’ Al Horford shoots while Jayson Tatum looks on during practice in San Francisco on Wednesday. The Golden State Warriors are scheduled to host the Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

(Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press)

For Boston, they’re much closer to the 2015 version of the Warriors than the 2022.

They are young and tough and skilled – not unlike how Curry, Green and Thompson ushered in the beginning of their reigns.

Since joining the league in 2018, Jayson Tatum and Boston had made two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. Both were losses. He and Brown finally broke through in Game 7 last week in Miami after missing a chance to wrap up the series at home.

“I will always have unwavering faith, even in the midst of situations that seem like things are going in a direction no one wants to go. I’ll always have faith in this group and in this organization and in myself that we’re going to be okay,” Brown said. “In those moments where we lost, I knew we had so much to learn and that I had so much to learn.”

And those lessons can come in a variety of ways—whether it’s on the pitch or in the stands. Klay Thompson was in the crowd the last time the Celtics played in the Finals – in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

“Life closes now that I can play her in the finals,” Thompson said. “I saw her with my dad in college, Game 7, at Staples in 2010. And now, 12 years later, I get to play against the team I cheered for.

“It is wonderful.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-06-01/warriors-celtics-back-in-nba-finals-hoping-to-begin-championship-runs NBA Finals: Steve Kerr set to face Celtics he grew up loathing

Emma Bowman

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