Padecky: Breaking down the NBA Finals with Steve Kerr's old buddy Craig McMillan

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It’s Wednesday night, minutes before the Warriors play the Raptors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The Dubs are on the telly. Craig McMillan is sitting to my right and his assignment, if he chooses to accept it, is to analyze what he is about to see. He accepts it.

McMillan’s perspective is many-layered. He’s Santa Rosa JC’s basketball coach, 2014 conference Coach of the Year (the Bear Cubs were the state champion that year), a three-time conference Coach of the Year and owner of a 323-151 coaching record.

Oh, and McMillan was Steve Kerr’s teammate for three years at the University of Arizona. Kerr, for those who just left a 10-year solitary confinement at Folsom, is coach of the Warriors.

“Steve runs a tight ship but not too tight,” McMillan said. “Steve is great at finding the right balance on the floor.”

Then came the expected, a quite noticeable pause. At no time in his coaching career has Kerr faced this: Trying to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson would not play. Blossoming star Kevon Looney was out. Finding the right balance for this game would mean playing, among others, Jonas Jerebko and Alonzo McKinnie, great guys but not the centerpiece of a NBA champion.

“Steph (Curry) is going to have to fill it up a lot if the Warriors have a chance,” McMillan said. “If the Warriors get behind, will they leave Curry in the game? That’s what I have been hearing today. Will they wear out Curry in a game that looks lost? Will they take that chance?”

By the end of the first quarter Curry has 17 points, the Warriors only 29. Toronto leads by seven. Feels like 70. His teammates search for Curry every possession. McMillan, a big fan of team basketball, finds himself thinking about James Harden, the Houston sharpshooter. Mac is not a big fan.

“Does Harden ever catch and shoot?” McMillan asks his assistant coach, the always loquacious Mo Thompson. Thompson shakes his head. Harden takes a pass and pauses … and pauses … and then decides to go one-on-one or shoot a jumper by throwing his leg forward into the defender to get a free throw. Drives McMillan nuts.

“If your intent is to throw up a shot to get to the line …” McMillan gets quiet and shakes his head. McMillan prefers happier thoughts.

“Every time Steph shoots,” he said, “I expect it to go in. Half the shots he takes would be bad shots for 99% of the players in the league.”

With 44.8 seconds left in the first quarter, a Warriors flashback occurs. Draymond Green dunks after it took three passes to get the ball to him. Three passes. Quick. Clean. Crisp.

“That’s a play the Warriors make all the time,” McMillan said “ … and you don’t see other teams in the league make.”

Yes, it was a moment to reminiscence, but McMillan knew — heck, probably even Steve Kerr knew — that such vintage Warrior movement would occur infrequently in this game, if at all. With no serious outside threats besides Curry …

“The defense collapses,” McMillan said. “And Toronto has a great defense.”

With 10:45 gone in the second quarter, the Warriors’ Shaun Livingston gets the stuffing knocked out of him. No foul is called. To be fair, one could see the play being called either way.

“Is there a tougher sport to officiate than basketball?” McMillan said. Yes, if someone wants to get as far away as they can from the stress of being a basketball official, try lawn darts.

It’s now 52-38 Toronto with 7:03 left in the second quarter and McMillan returns once again to the question he will ask repeatedly Wednesday night.

“Do you want to fight your butt off,” he said, “and lose by 9?”

Meaning, do you run the risk of depleting Curry with Game 4 just two days away? After all, Curry has 25 at the half, Toronto leads by eight, a comfortable eight. Curry is perpetual motion. His game has to be on the run. Slight of build, he can’t muscle shots.

“If they don’t make a run pretty quick,” McMillan said with Toronto holding a 13-point lead at the end of the third quarter, “when will they pull Curry?”

Curry isn’t yanked until there’s 1:37 left in the game. Toronto still has that 13-point lead. McMillan isn’t about to register a strong criticism of his buddy Kerr. After all, the Warriors have pulled off many a victory in these playoffs through grit and commitment.

“But there comes a point you run out of weapons,” McMillan said.

I ask: “If I had told you before the game that Curry would make 47 points, what would you have said?”

“I’d say they’d have a good chance to win,” McMillan said. “I thought it was a 50-50 game going in.”

The Warriors announced Thursday that Durant will not play in Game 4, but Thompson is expected to be available. As Game 3 was wrapping up and the status of those two stars was still in question, McMillan and this columnist went to an historic imagining, one that would be the perfect storybook ending to their NBA Finals run of five consecutive seasons.

“What if they keep Durant and Klay out the next game?” I said. “And they lose and now trail 3-1 in games?”

“And then they come back for the last three games?” McMillan said.

“And they win three in a row,” McMillan said.

“And then Kerr runs for governor,” I said under my breath.

Yes, that’s legendary, a Netflix special. But what if? What if there’s no magic or storybook ending? Will the Warriors wonder what could have happened if everyone was healthy?

“They don’t have that mentality; they never had it,” McMillan said. “They could have cashed it in, but that’s not how they think. They play who they have and they compete.”

No one cries for Goliath. No one. Even if Goliath has a chest contusion, hamstring strain and a tweaky calf.

To comment, write to bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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