Steve Kerr motivated the Warriors by letting them coach themselves

Dan Devine

The Golden State Warriors have been in something of a slump of late. (Or, what passes for a slump for a team in the midst of a historic multi-year run of regular-season dominance, anyway.) They’d split their last six games entering Monday night and had often been plagued by slow starts, ranking as the second-worst first-quarter team in the NBA over the past two weeks. Head coach Steve Kerr’s been open about his team’s malaise, saying the defending champs are “mentally fried right now” and “limping to the finish line of the All-Star break” this week.

So, with the Dubs squaring off against the lowly and Devin Booker-free Phoenix Suns on Monday night — precisely the kind of David vs. Goliath contest that seemed destined to elicit a less-than-inspired effort from his team — Kerr decided to take his hands off the wheel and let his players steer for a while:

Kerr’s not the first coach to hand the reins over to his players during a game — his old coach has been known to do it from time to time — but he might be the first to let them run things for virtually the entire game:

It wasn’t all beer and Skittles at the start, as the Warriors allowed newly minted Suns point guard Elfrid Payton to dance all over them to the tune of 16 points and six rebounds in the opening quarter. Despite Payton’s 7-for-7 start, though, Golden State held a 25-24 lead after 12 minutes and hit the gas from there, annihilating Phoenix over the final three frames en route to a 129-83 rout.

Stephen Curry led the way with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in 30 minutes, but every active Warrior scored on Monday, and several players who have been struggling mightily got well in a big way. Omri Casspi got the start for Draymond Green, out with a sprained left index finger, and came through with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting and 10 rebounds; he also made a 3-pointer for the first time since Dec. 14. Second-year swingman Patrick McCaw, who’s been trying to find a rhythm with the Warriors’ G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, scored nine points in eight minutes and hit his first 3 since Dec. 27.

The Warriors shot a blistering 58.4 percent as a team while holding Phoenix to just 34.7 percent shooting. They dished 36 assists on 52 made baskets against just 11 turnovers, blocked 16 shots and came up with eight steals, and didn’t play anybody over 30 minutes.

Kerr’s choice might not be popular everywhere:

But it evidently didn’t set any teeth on edge in Phoenix’s huddles …

… and it sure seemed to have the desired effect, drawing out precisely the sort of focused, composed, total effort Kerr had been looking for:

“We love it,” Casspi said after his breakout game. “I mean, guys had a blast. We ran film session. We ran practice, shootaround. We ran the timeouts. It was great. I mean, we have so many great basketball minds on our team that they can be great coaches at the end of their careers.

“Steve always says, ‘Guys, this is your team, and I want you guys to feel like you guys are going out there and representing yourselves,’ and it’s been great,” Casspi said. “Coach has been doing an amazing job for us.”

That’s not how Kerr sees it, though.

“I told Jay [Triano] afterward — I said, people may make a big deal of it, but it had nothing to do with being disrespectful,” Kerr said after the game, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “It had to do with me trying to reach my team. I have not reached them for the last month. They’re tired of my voice. I’m tired of my voice. It’s been a long haul these last few years. I wasn’t reaching them, and we just figured it’s probably a good night to pull a trick out of the hat and do something different.”

A 46-point win without Green in which Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson all got to sit out the fourth quarter would seem to suggest that, yes, this was a good night for it, and to remind them of what they can be when they commit to the bit.

“It’s the players’ team,” Kerr said after the game. “It’s their team. They have to take ownership of it, and as coaches, our job is to nudge them in the right direction, guide them. But we don’t control them. They determine their own fate.”

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!