Steve Kerr saw the future two summers ago with Team USA when he essentially became the lead assistant of the American Celtics. Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led many of his lineups featured in the FIBA World Cup in China, before the two wings become two of the top 15 scorers in the NBA they are today.
He knew then the Celtics would find success with that group, as Brown and Tatum flashed the ability to defend any position on the floor, along with footwork, vertical and shooting ability to score in any way.
“Both guys to me are the modern archetype that we’re all looking for,” Kerr said. “What makes them even better is their human qualities, their work ethic, the chemistry they generate on a team, they’re fun guys to coach, fun guys to play with ... it’s a good combination.”
The Warriors and Celtics are at a crossroads with Boston rising as an east powerhouse with their two stars entering their prime, while Golden State contends with a last place finish a year ago and devastating injury to one of their own. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson changed the NBA almost 10 years ago with their floor-stretching abilities and pace attack, something that inspired Brad Stevens and linked the teams stylistically and nearly watch them meet on the biggest stage in 2018.
Curry remembers the first year Brown and Tatum led the Celtics to Game 7 of the east finals with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward down. The teams split eight hotly contested games, starting with a double overtime classic in 2015 that marked the 24th and final win of the Warriors’ undefeated start, which took enough gas out of Curry and company that they lost to the Bucks the next night.
Jaylen Brown led a narrow win at home to begin 2017, Irving scored 37 in a close loss at Oracle, before Hayward sparked a blowout win with 30 points in March, 2019 that started the most recent win streak — three games in Boston’s favor with two last season after the team lost Thompson and Kevin Durant. Boston has since lost Irving and Hayward, though Kemba Walker arrived to fill the talent gap and Brown and Tatum thrived in bigger roles.
Curry fell injured last year and has occasionally struggled to uplift this 11-9 Warriors’ offense (23rd in offensive rating). Additions like Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre have yielded mixed results, and James Wiseman’s hopeful upside seems poised to bloom in future seasons, when Curry dives deeper into his 30s.
“We’re going to find out,” Curry said on extending his prime. “There are things that you can do to put yourself in a position to stretch it out even further ... I feel like I’m in my mid-20s right now, maybe I’m tricking myself.”
Steve Kerr: “I love Brad (Wanamaker), he’s a guy who I just trust. Whenever I put him out there I just trust him. It was that way from day one, when I signed him Brad Stevens called me and said he’s an everyday player ... he was saying the same thing I am now.”
Steph Curry: “You have two talented guys (Brown & Tatum) that have to figure out how to play off each other, one guys got it, the other guy’s got to stay engaged ... you both elevate yourselves in that same process. They got thrown into the fire ... I’m sure they benefited from that, understanding how they can evolve and get the most out of their individual talent, but put it together and balance it with the rest of guys. Definitely a lot of similarities (to me and Klay).”
Kevon Looney: “That Boston front line, they’re not the biggest ... it’s a different type of team, different type of bigs.”
Brad Stevens: “The goal is for (Payton Pritchard) to do some of the stuff, but anything live, no.”
Daniel Theis: “Nobody does what Marcus does on the court, for us, it’s a collective ... he’s missing on the defensive end as a playmaker, whoever steps on the court has to do whatever they can to help us win. We can’t just keep going back and forth the whole season with wins and losses.”