His team, the defending NBA champions, is on the verge of elimination for the first time since Kevin Durant joined forces with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. One of the most underrated players, Andre Iguodala has missed two straight games. The Houston Rockets have held his Golden State Warriors under 100 points in back-to-back outings.
Just one more slipup, a night where the ball squirts out of the basket, where his players are a little too careless or where their opponents are just too hot, and all of it ends.
So, why is Steve Kerr so confident?
Following his team’s 98-94 loss to the Rockets in Game 5 Thursday, Kerr, he and his team down 3-2 in the series, sat behind the playoff podium and did his best to send a message to not only the reporters and cameras in the room — but to the people he coaches in the adjacent locker room.
“I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy, but I feel it,” Kerr said. “I know exactly what I’m seeing out there, and we defended them beautifully tonight. We got everything we needed.”
All is not well for both teams.
As confetti rained down on the Toyota Center court capping an emotional game that began with the national anthem being sung by members of the Santa Fe High choir, Chris Paul hobbled his way to the locker room.
In a game where he was one of the biggest heroes, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half, several in dramatic fashion, Paul spent the final moments on the bench, his arms spread across the backs of empty chairs.
With less than a minute left in the game, Paul spun into the paint, trying to get a late bucket. He hit the ground as the ball rimmed out, and he stayed there. With the action on the other end of the floor, Paul got to his feet and limped around the court grabbing at the back of his right leg.
So while the Rockets celebrated their win, one of their best players walked off the court, his status for Saturday’s Game 6 and beyond definitely in question.
“His spirits aren’t great,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He wanted to be out there, and for sure he’s worried and all that.”
Paul will be reevaluated Friday.
Before he left the game, he lifted the Rockets with some incredible three-point shots to beat the shot clock, including one right in front of Curry that he punctuated by mocking the Warriors star’s shoulder-shake celebration.
“It was well deserved. It was a tough shot,” Curry said. “If you can shimmy on somebody else, you’ve got to be all right getting shimmied on.”
Still the Warriors, like in Game 4, had great chances.
With 22.4 seconds left, the Warriors trailed by one and Curry burst toward the basket, shooting a bank shot just a little strong. The Rockets got the rebound, and Trevor Ariza went to the line. He made the first and missed the second, the Warriors getting the rebound and calling timeout.
But since the ball wasn’t cleanly controlled and the timeout not immediately called, by rule, the ball can’t move to half court for the inbounds. Golden State had 6.7 seconds left to tie or win the game, starting the play with most of the court in front of them.
They got the ball to Curry, who pushed it ahead to Green. And for the 18th time in the game, the Warriors turned the ball over, with Eric Gordon, who scored 24 points off the bench, coming up with the ball.
“We were supposed to score,” Green said, laughing about the team’s plan. “I lost the ball. There’s kind of not much more to it than that. We wanted to get the ball to Steph. We got the ball to Steph, and he hit it ahead to me and I fumbled the ball. Nothing more, nothing less.”
It was Green’s sixth turnover of the game and 11th in the last two — both Warriors losses.
Kerr called the turnovers “killers.”
The Rockets had their own problems Thursday putting the ball inside the basket.
They shot 37.2% from the field with James Harden missing all 11 of his three-point attempts. They hoisted 43 from deep and made only 13. But D’Antoni isn’t considering slowing down from behind the arc.
“I told the guys before the game, I go, ‘Look, we need to get up 40 to 45 threes somehow.’ We got up 43, and we outscored them 13-10 from threes. To me, that’s the whole game,” he said.
“I want them to go in, and I thought we had great looks for them to go in. But if they don’t, we’re playing them the right way, and we’re getting enough of them up, and if we make enough and our defense holding up, that’s going to be the difference.”
But D’Antoni saying he wants his team to take 50 threes in Game 6 (something his teams have done twice in the postseason in the last two years) wasn’t even the craziest thing said after the game.
That was still Kerr, thrilled with where his team is at and brimming with confidence after seeing his team lose.
“You don’t believe him?” Curry asked.
“I just think that’s who we are,” Green said. “We know what we’re capable of. We know we can win two games.”
And with no margin for error, the defending champs now have to.