SAN FRANCISCO – Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown was going through his normal pregame preparation when he received a call from head coach Steve Kerr.
Kerr told Brown he wasn’t feeling well and that he might need Brown to coach Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Thirty minutes later, Kerr registered a positive COVID-19 test and officially gave Brown the reins for the pivotal game.
It was the latest bump in what was already an emotional day for the Warriors. Earlier, the Sacramento Kings announced Brown as the team’s next head coach. Just a few hours before that, news broke that Draymond Green‘s college teammate and best friend, Adreian Payne, had been shot and killed in Florida. Then Kerr’s positive COVID-19 test.
„It was an up and down, emotional day,“ Brown said.
„It was a tough night for us, but at this point in the year, you win ballgames. Doesn’t matter how you get there, but you win ballgames.“
The Warriors did just that, beating the Grizzlies 101-98 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
But it wasn’t pretty. Warriors assistant coach Chris DeMarco compared it to a football game – that the Warriors kept handing the ball off to their fullback to get them down to the red zone before kicking a field goal to win it.
The Warriors got off to a slow and sloppy start, yet again. They coughed the ball up six times in the first quarter. The Grizzlies hopped out to an early 15-8 lead. Golden State missed their first 15 3-point attempts before Otto Porter Jr. finally hit one with 3:23 left in the first half. But the Warriors managed to keep themselves within striking distance.
„We have been pretty frantic to start the ballgames,“ Brown said. „The one thing I worry about was when we forced the issue turnoverwise, driving into their length and athleticism … but once we figured that part out, we got good looks.“
Warriors point guard Stephen Curry offered his assessment.
„When you come into a fourth quarter with no offensive flow and you’re still within three or four possessions, there’s some motivation behind that,“ Curry said.
With just over 9½ minutes to go in the game, the Warriors found themselves trailing by eight points. But over the next three minutes, Golden State outscored Memphis 12-4. Curry scored 18 of his 32 points in the final frame, eight of which came from the free throw line.
Although he led the game in scoring, Curry’s night wouldn’t necessarily be categorized as „good,“ as he finished shooting 10-of-25 from the floor, including 4-of-14 from beyond the 3-point line. He didn’t get much help, with Klay Thompson shooting 6-of-20 from the field and Jordan Poole going 4-of-12. Neither Thompson nor Poole hit a 3-pointer. In truth, the Warriors have struggled to find an offensive rhythm all series, with the exception of their Game 3 shooting onslaught.
„Because [Curry] doesn’t think about the past or dwell on it too hard, he always thinks about the next thing that is going to happen in a positive manner for him, whether it’s a made shot or the right pass,“ Brown said. „He’s always confident because he thinks next play all of the time.“
Though it was Curry who sealed the win for the Warriors, Brown credited Green and Andre Iguodala – who hasn’t played since Game 4 of their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets due to a neck injury – for being the team’s emotional leaders.
„I said, ‘I need you guys tonight. I’m going to lean on you guys,'“ Brown said. „Those guys stayed steady the whole game. Andre on the bench, obviously, and Draymond on the floor, we found a way.“
Brown said that there wasn’t one specific pep talk or piece of advice that Iguodala or Green gave but that it was more so their general calmness that settled the Warriors’ „frantic“ start.
„To have veterans like Andre and Draymond who have been through the highs and lows of many playoff series, when they are reassuring the guys of that, it gave everybody else confidence,“ Brown said. „Their presence, their voice, their calmness, reassurance, all that stuff means a lot for our group, especially with Steve being out.“
Green said that channeling his emotions into the Warriors’ gritty win was the best thing he could do for himself.
„It was great to lose myself in the game for 48 minutes,“ Green told ESPN minutes after sharing a long embrace with family members following the buzzer. „Rest in peace, Adreian Payne. My brother, my little brother, my college roommate, my teammate. Very, very emotional day, but the win helps. It sucks.“
After Green’s performance – which featured tipping the ball away from Jaren Jackson Jr. as he went up for a 3-point attempt to tie the game with less than 10 seconds to go – his raw emotions set in.
He wouldn’t speak at a news conference postgame. He said he didn’t want to cry in front of people, so he would go home to record a podcast, during which he could pause his recording if he felt the need to cry. But Green did announce that he and his fiancée, Hazel Renee, would be donating $100,000 to a fund in Payne’s name to honor his legacy.
As for the Warriors, they will travel to Memphis on Tuesday without Kerr, and Brown will continue to serve as acting head coach as they try to close out their series against the Grizzlies in Game 5 on Wednesday.