Warriors’ Steve Kerr: “We can beat anybody without Steph”

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Steve Kerr says the Warriors will be without Stephen Curry for the first round of the playoffs as he recovers from a left knee MCL sprain. Curry says he wants to be back earlier than that, but Kerr says the Warriors need to “protect Curry from himself.”

Kerr can take the big-picture view because he believes the Warriors can win a title without the former MVP. Here is what he said Monday, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Here’s the money part of his comments:

“I watched this team two years ago without Kevin (Durant) win playoff games without Steph. We beat Houston in the first round and Steph missed four games. Played part of Game 1 and part of Game 4. Missed most of the series and we won in five…. So we know — and that team was different than now, but we didn’t have Kevin Durant. So we’re perfectly capable of beating anybody — regular season or playoffs, we can beat anybody without Steph. It’s going to be hard to beat anybody without Steph, K.D., Klay, and Draymond. I’m going to have to coach a lot of better for that to happen. But we’re very confident that we’ll get these guys back soon and we’ll hold down the fort. And then some.”

He’s right. Mostly. If we’re talking about the first and probably second round.

Without Curry the Warriors are still outscoring teams 4.3 points per 100 possessions — that would be third best in the NBA for the full season (behind only Houston and Toronto). While there is a lot of noise in that stat, unquestionably the Warriors are still dangerous without Curry because they have elite scorers in Durant and Thompson. What changes without Curry is the style of play in halfcourt sets — Durant relies more heavily upon isolations and post-ups, the ball doesn’t move as well, but it works because, well, have you seen Durant in isolation? He’s almost unstoppable. Surround him with shooters and maybe there’s less ball movement and they are a little more predictable, they take more midrange jumpers, but it doesn’t matter. They still score, they still defend at an elite level (even a little better than with Curry).

No Curry may mean a tougher first-round series for the Warriors. Golden State (all but locked in as the two seed) could draw a Utah is a team other West teams talk about wanting to avoid — it would be a physical, defensive, grinding series. The Jazz don’t score enough to win it, but they will make it hard. If the San Antonio Spurs are the seven seed and get Kawhi Leonard back that’s a dangerous matchup. Jimmy Butler expects to be back playing with the Timberwolves in the first round, and that makes them far more difficult to dispose of.

The Warriors likely still beat any of those teams — and then likely face an impressive Trail Blazers team in the second round. It’s a team that is defending well (top 10 in the league) and has elite scoring guards. The Warriors could really use Curry in that series, without him it’s close.

Also, while I love Kerr’s confidence, the Warriors are not beating the Rockets without Curry. Even with Curry, that’s the toughest series Golden State will face.

Kerr can afford to think long-term and save Curry from himself for a round. However, this is the most difficult road to a title the Warriors have faced in the Kerr era, and they need a fully loaded roster to get through all of it.