OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Steve Kerr smiled and cracked jokes. He got mad and marched toward the officials to argue.
At halftime, the coach asked Stephen Curry to stop worrying about his turnovers and play with joy and passion. Curry listened and had a spectacular night to lead Golden State to a 2-0 NBA Finals advantage with Sunday’s 132-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
All was right again for the Warriors with their leader back in his usual spot on the bench.
Kerr received a rousing ovation as he returned to the sideline for the first time in more than six weeks, feeling well enough that he plans to coach the remainder of the series.
“It felt great. Got a really nice reception from our fans and our players,” Kerr said. “It was just great to be on the sidelines again. That’s what makes it so much fun, to feel the energy of the Finals.”
He looked much more comfortable than he has lately, and Kerr declared himself ready. He has been at practice, running film sessions and coaches meetings.
“The whole pregame process was all the same tonight, it was just a matter of him showing up on the bench and giving us that energy,” Curry said. “And it’s always great to see. It was a great moment for him and for the crowd and everybody showing their appreciation for all he’s been through. And to see him back on the bench was huge.”
Kerr said he decided Sunday morning that he was able to return to coaching after being sidelined by constant pain because of complications following a pair of back surgeries nearly two years ago.
“The intention is to coach tonight and the rest of the series,” said Kerr, who last coached in Game 2 of the Warriors’ first-round playoff series against Portland on April 19. “I’m feeling better. I’m feeling more like I did at the end of the regular season. Last couple weeks have been good in terms of running practice, film sessions, coaches meetings, that kind of stuff. I wanted to string together a few good days. I did that, and feeling well enough to coach. … The intention is to go the rest of the series.
“So, I’m excited and it’s good to be back.”
The unbeaten Warriors had been 11-0 under acting coach Mike Brown — “My guy did OK while I was gone,” Kerr said with a grin. Kerr had his initial procedures in 2015 after guiding the organization’s first championship in 40 years as a rookie coach.
“What’s our record now without me, like 800-12?” quipped Kerr, who missed the first 43 games during last season’s record 73-win campaign.
The 51-year-old Kerr underwent a procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak on May 5 at Duke University but was still experiencing debilitating symptoms such as pain and headaches. He attended the pregame news conference Sunday and said he had not yet told his players that he would be back coaching, though said they knew in recent days that he was improving.
“For him the whole priority was his health, and I think he’s in a good place right now,” Curry said.
There was a lot of positive reaction to the news of Kerr’s return.
“Steve’s a fighter and for him to be out there when he has a built-in excuse not to because of the incredible pain he’s under, it’s amazing,” Klay Thompson said after the game. “It motivates us to win for him.”
Former coach and player Al Attles called it “terrific” news.
“There’s an old saying, ‘You don’t miss the water ‘til the well runs dry,’” the 80-year-old Attles said after receiving the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s not a reflection on who was coaching. He’s just a man that we really, really respect and hope that he keeps on doing it.”
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
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