The Golden State Warriors won 73 games during the 2015-16 season and unfortunately for them, it’ll be remembered negatively. After making a remarkable comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals when they were down 3-1 in the series, they made the same mistake that OKC did in the most pivotal round of them all. Golden State blew a 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, giving LeBron James his childhood dream of bringing a title to The Land.
There were many factors that led to the collapse of the Warriors. Many fingers have been pointed toward the unanimous MVP, Stephen Curry. Others fault Draymond Green for reaching a point where the NBA had no choice but to suspend him in Game 5, one where the Warriors could have eliminated Cleveland at Oracle Arena. Many outside of Golden State fans fail to put any blame on the man on the sidelines, Steve Kerr. He’s at fault just as much as his players after making constant mistakes throughout the course of the series.
The Warriors started the 2015-16 campaign under newly appointed associate head coach Luke Walton who was taking over Alvin Gentry’s duties. Walton had the Warriors playing out of their minds. A 24-0 start to the season warranted attention all across sports as the Warriors were on pace for record numbers, which they ultimately achieved. Kerr was battling a sickness and had to undergo two different surgeries during the offseason. He admitted that the summer after winning the 2015 NBA title wasn’t how he imagined it. He had a spinal leak, severe headaches, and setbacks that had the team scrambling for someone to replace him at the helm of the season.
Bob Myers and other members of the Warriors front office wanted Kerr to take his time and not rush anything. Knowing they were dealing with a serious battle on their hands, they handed the keys over to Walton while Kerr had no choice but to watch the games and offer minimal input while he recovered.
43 games later, Kerr was back on the sidelines of a dominant Golden State team. Although not 100 percent, Kerr was there for the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs despite rumors that he’d have to take time off again. Kerr wound up winning Coach of the Year after the Warriors won an NBA record 73 games. Luke Walton was the ideal substitute teacher that jumpstarted the season.
Fast-forward to the postseason and Kerr showed flaws. The Warriors are a deep team and Kerr tested his depth. Strength in Numbers slowly became a slogan Warrior fans despised after seeing guys like James Michael McAdoo, Ian Clark, and Anderson Varejao get consistent burn during the thick of the playoffs. After demolishing the Houston Rockets in the first round, they struggled against a well-coached Portland Trail Blazers team. Despite the series being only five games, four of them were extremely close and pushed Golden State to the limit. Portland looked like the team that wanted it more, but the Warriors were simply better.
Oklahoma City was a test the Warriors had not seen before. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the top five players in the NBA and both had a mission to get back to the Finals. New head coach Billy Donavan absolutely destroyed Steve Kerr. He figured out to counter the Death Lineup, he had his team ready to steal Game 1 in Oakland despite being down 14 points at one point of the contest, and had them defend home-court in Games 3 and 4. Kerr finally called out a player, Andrew Bogut, and he responded in Game 5 with his best individual performance of the postseason. Klay Thompson single-handedly kept the Warriors’ season alive after the best performance of his career in Game 6. He dropped 11 three-pointers in Oklahoma City and the Thunder choked in the final quarter of the game forcing a Game 7, which Golden State took advantage of.
The NBA Finals were something else. Kerr was out coached by Tyronn Lue, who was just named head coach in January. After a commanding 3-1 lead to the series, Kerr failed to do anything to get his team to close out the series. He did not have them ready in Game 5 and had no game plan to slow down Kyrie Irving who just dismantled Golden State. They were without Draymond Green due to the suspension, but there was no excuse for him to go off like that. Irving and LeBron James scored 41 points each becoming the first pair of teammates to do so in Finals history.
The Warriors were embarrassed on their home-court and it got worse from there. The team scored 11 points in the first quarter of Game 6 in Cleveland and looked completely lost out there. Kerr let them play through numerous stretches of the game where they couldn’t find the basket and made little to no change to make a difference. There were no creative out of timeout plays or anything done to get anyone on the team going not named Stephen Curry. Everyone on the court looked lost. The Cavaliers had an answer for every Golden State run and Kerr did nothing to counter that.
Game 7 was the worst. Festus Ezeli started the game in place of injured Andrew Bogut and looked like he didn’t even belong on the court. Yet, Kerr continued to play him. Anderson Varejao looked just as bad, and both players received a combined 18 minutes of playing time, totaling 1 point and 1 rebound. Mo Speights had four rebounds in 5 minutes. Harrison Barnes was unplayable yet Kerr insisted he remained out there. Shaun Livingston was having a good series and barely saw the floor in Game 7. Leandro Barbosa was the best player off the bench in Game 7 and played four minutes in the final game. He scored 3 points in that span, gave the team energy, and was able to hit a jumper [unlike Barnes]. Kerr let the series slip and did not have the team in the right mindset for Game 7.
Like everyone else, Steve Kerr thought the series was over after Golden State went up 3-1. They choked under the pressure and now 73 wins means more to LeBron James than it does to Kerr and the Warriors. Fingers get pointed at players, but at some point you have to throw some of the blame at the man in charge. Kerr’s offense struggled without Alvin Gentry by his side and he had the team playing complacent basketball. Many will look back at this series and look at Curry’s stats, Barnes’ performance, and Green’s suspension. But it was Kerr who had one of his worst coaching performances in Game 7 that ultimately led to the biggest collapse in NBA history.