September 25, 2022

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Ahead of the NBA Finals, Steve Kerr used a bit of self-deprecation when explaining how much the game had changed. Having contributed to several dynasties as a player and manager, Kerr can look back over 30 years, but for a question about how teams creatively hunt specific defenders, he focused on the dramatic change over the course of the game. time he spent leading the Golden State. Warriors.

“I feel like it wasn’t like that when I started coaching eight years ago,” Kerr said of NBA offenses that have evolved from chasing mismatches to force them with their actions, screening and spacing. “Maybe over the last five or six years it’s become more and more popular because we’ve had more and more three-pointers, more five-out lineouts, because the field is so open. And all the switches, it’s hard to attack the switches. I think that’s the reason for the hunt in recent years.

Then Kerr, a little-known big shot on defense, laughed at himself.

“I’m glad they didn’t have it 25 years ago,” Kerr said. “That wouldn’t have gone well for me.”

The Celtics are shrinking from the moment, and they’re doing it to themselves

Over the past decade, Kerr has been at the forefront of an innovative era in the NBA, a period in which rookie coaches with fresh ideas dominated the Finals scene and tinkered appropriately. the best practices of the sport to match the evolving skills of modern players. In 2015, Kerr won the NBA title in his first season as a coach, and with the Warriors holding a 3-2 lead over the Boston Celtics, they could clinch their fourth title in eight seasons on Thursday night in Boston. . But Kerr will have to find a way to outsmart Ime Udoka, the last smart rookie coach to guide a team to the final.

Since Kerr and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt met in 2015, the Finals have regularly showcased the value of new coaching blood. In 2016, Kerr met a better coach for the first time for Cleveland, Tyronn Lue, and the Cavaliers eventually rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the historic Warriors (73-9 during the regular season) in seven matches. After Golden State defeated Cleveland in the next two finals, Kerr faced Toronto’s Nick Nurse in 2019. The Raptors won and it made Nurse a Year 1 championship coach.

Add it together, and the NBA has seen five rookie coaches in the last eight Finals. Three of them won the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And these are not cases of beginner’s luck. Blatt is the only coach in the group to pass out. Kerr, Lue, and Nurse continued to have success with various rosters and situations. With most of the Celtics’ core between the ages of 24 and 28, Udoka also appears to be a durable strategist.

We are only just beginning to realize the impact of the NBA’s adoption of new ideas. The basketball style is more enjoyable, although the extreme reliance on three-point shooting is a bubbling issue. Even in a final featuring two stellar defensive teams, the beauty of the game is evident amidst all the mud. Kerr’s movement attack revolutionized the look of NBA basketball. It’s a hybrid system that borrows wrinkles from classic systems like the Triangle Attack, Princeton Attack, and Jerry Sloan’s Utah Jazz System, but it becomes its own transcendent thing as it’s built around the ability of Stephen Curry’s multi-dimensional shooter and game and elite complementary skill. set of Klay Thompson.

With skilled players and shot-makers all over the court – and a powerful forward with playmaker vision in Draymond Green – the Warriors play both a smooth game and a thoughtful man’s game. It’s a game of chess in which decisions have to be made at an incredible pace. After nearly a decade of trying to keep pace with the Warriors, teams aren’t just hoping to copy some of their offensive principles. They have designed defensive systems that are much more versatile and better suited to today’s positionless basketball culture.

Under Udoka, the Celtics have become the NBA’s No. 1 defense, and they could have a long career as a trailblazer. It is a masterpiece of interchangeable parts. They don’t have weak individual defenders. Their big men can function as guards on the perimeter. With Robert Williams III they have rim protection. Their roster is flexible enough to play big or small. They have length. They play physical. Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart is a disruptive point guard.

It took more than half of Udoka’s first season, but Boston has a championship identity. Offense, especially turnovers and decision making, has been the problem for the Celtics against the Warriors. Even when they played drop coverage and gave Curry plenty of freedom, the Celtics did a lot to limit Golden State. Although the series lacked any dramatic last-minute endings, it was an interesting battle of wild swings. The in-game coaching game has been fascinating, with Kerr making slight changes to free up Curry and Udoka balancing a stubborn defensive philosophy with a fresh look at an opponent who has seen it all.

“Two physical teams, two great defensive teams,” Curry said. “There are a lot of adjustments from game to game. The further you progress in the series, the more you know each other so well. Things get a little more difficult for both parties. If you accept the fact that even if it’s not pretty, you can still win the game, and that’s all that matters.

Now we really have come to the time to adapt or die. The series can always go either way, but the Warriors have been here before. They closed out the Finals three times under Kerr, and two of the championship-clinching victories were on the road. They also missed three chances to eliminate Cleveland in 2016. Boston, young and erratic, has never been on the brink before. But Udoka’s ability to communicate with the players and sternly tell them the truth has gotten them this far. The end can be summed up in confidence and courage.

Whether Kerr or Udoka celebrate, new blood wins. And a diversity of thought leads to a diverse hiring. Next season, half of the league’s 30 coaches will be black. Many of them are like Udoka, newcomers who have been in the game for a while. When the Los Angeles Lakers trade what could be LeBron James’ last good years to a Darvin Ham rookie, the pattern is clear.

Throughout the sport, the coaching profession evolves. Legends are retiring. Mindsets are changing. It’s the perfect time for a refresh, and as another NBA season draws to a close, ingenuity continues to own the moment.