Five-time NBA champion Steve Kerr, now a member of the media, is paid to be objective.
But during the 2013 NBA Finals, that hasn’t been possible for the TNT analyst.
“I’m cheering for the Spurs here,” Kerr said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Those are my teammates. (Tony) Parker, (Tim) Duncan, (Manu) Ginobili, Pop, the staff – those are my guys. I’m supposed to be impartial here, but I’m not. I want the Spurs to win this series because those are my ex-teammates.”
Kerr, who won titles with San Antonio in 1999 and 2003, struggled to watch the end of Game 6. The Spurs led by five points with less than 30 seconds to go in regulation and wound up losing in overtime.
“It’s the ultimate gut punch,” he said. “I felt the gut punch myself. I felt so bad for those guys. The only analogy I could make was the Texas Rangers being (one strike) away from the (2011) World Series and the Cardinals coming back twice. I think that’s the closest analogy I could come up with. I couldn’t sleep (Tuesday) just thinking about those guys being that close to a title and for Miami to just basically take it from them like that … They have to come back and rejuvenate themselves somehow.”
Kerr’s former coach, Gregg Popovich, has come under fire in the last 48 hours for questionable decisions he made during the fourth quarter and overtime, including his decision to rest both Duncan and Parker to start the final quarter.
“I have a hard time questioning anything Pop does,” Kerr said. “The guy’s such a great coach. I played for him for four years. He’s among the best to have ever coached the game, so I always want to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he felt like his guys needed rest, then absolutely by all means take your guys out and trust your bench.”
In retrospect, it may have been the right choice.
“Parker looked exhausted by the end of the game, and that was even with a five-minute rest in the fourth quarter; Duncan didn’t even score in the fourth quarter,” Kerr said. “So I trust that Pop sensed they were both exhausted. He’s relied on his bench all year, and he relied on them in that situation. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out.”
There was also Popovich’s decision to sit Duncan on the Spurs’ final defensive sequence in regulation. Chris Bosh wound up getting an offensive rebound and found Ray Allen for a game-tying three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to force overtime.
“I understood the logic,” Kerr said. “You don’t want them to shoot a three, so you want to get a smaller lineup that’s going to switch everything. But they didn’t execute. LeBron was wide open on his miss. If you’re going to play a small lineup, you’ve got to switch off everything.”
Kerr said that nothing scares a defense more than an offensive rebound when you’re up three. Why? Because everyone is scrambling to get out to the perimeter – which is why some, if not most, believed Duncan needed to be out there. If he gets the rebound, there’s no scrambling. Duncan would be fouled and headed to the free-throw line to ice his fifth championship.
Of course, Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard had opportunities to do that, and neither came through.
“I don’t look at this as the Spurs choked,” Kerr said. “A lot of people are saying that – that they gave it away. Missed free throws are part of the game, especially in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. All that pressure – people are going to miss free throws. I give the Heat credit. They made two threes in the last 15 seconds or so. They made the shots that they had to make and made the plays they had to make. Man, it was some finish.”
It was some finish, in part, because of LeBron James, who erupted in the fourth quarter – much of it without Dwayne Wade, it should be noted.“It opened up the whole floor,” Kerr said. “Wade really had a bad game – not just because he didn’t really get going, but because he disrupted the flow of their offense because he wouldn’t shoot (jump-shots).
“(Wade and James) have to take those shots. Even if they miss, at least the rhythm of their offense is sustained.”
Kerr did say that he thought Ginobili was fouled on his drive to the basket at the end of overtime, but added that the officiating overall was solid.
“Ginobili got fouled on that drive, for sure, and I thought you could very easily call a foul on Bosh on (Danny) Green’s three,” Kerr said. “But I don’t look at the officials as the difference in the game. I thought they did a pretty good job of letting the players play.”
Kerr picked the Spurs to win the series and will stick with his pick heading into Game 7 on Thursday. If the Heat win, Kerr knows that the James/Jordan comparisons will be in full swing.
“I always hesitate to compare them because I just think they’re much different players,” Kerr said. “I think Michael was so much more offensive-minded and, in a lot of ways, skilled – around the basket, (with) footwork, dunking on people, hitting midrange shots. LeBron’s a better passer. They’re just a lot different.
“But for LeBron, he’s constantly going to be compared to Michael and the area where he is similar is the presence and dominance physically. What I’ve been most impressed with LeBron is how he’s constantly competed. He just keeps fighting. I love watching LeBron play. I love his desire to win. What he’s done is pretty amazing.”