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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Kawakami: In a day full of events and deep emotions, Mike Brown was the Warriors’ perfect interim leader (again)

The crowd was sighing in relief, the players were milling around the court after the Warriors’ rough-and-tumble Game 4 victory, and Mike Brown and Draymond Green headed straight for each other, then shared a long, strong hug that communicated a multitude of emotions.

A big man’s embrace. A moment when two people who have meant so much to the Warriors seemed to lean into and blend into each other for a bit, sharing things only they could know.

So much happened Monday before the Warriors ever played the Grizzlies in this crucial game at Chase Center. So much pain and transition and surprise and adapting on the fly. So much that had nothing to do with each other. And so much that had everything to do with each other and the community of this team.

Early in the morning, news broke that Draymond’s former Michigan State teammate, Adreian Payne, had been shot and killed in Florida. Later, Brown was officially hired as the Sacramento Kings’ head coach. Then, a few hours before tipoff, Steve Kerr tested positive for COVID-19, which meant he couldn’t coach the game (and probably Game 5) and Brown suddenly was the guy, as he’d been for 11 games during the 2017 postseason when Kerr was suffering from the effects of a botched back surgery.

So much going on.

“I love Draymond, you know, and when he hurts, we all hurt,” Brown said after the game. “So that was tough on me personally. Then to find out Steve was out, too, it was an up-and-down or emotional day for me, too.”

But the Warriors had to get through this game. It was not a small game. The 101-98 victory, as ugly as it looked, gave them a 3-1 lead as they head to Memphis for Wednesday’s Game 5 and a shot to end this grueling series. The Warriors very much did not want to lose this game. So they had to deal with everything as it all came down Monday, which was pretty much all at once.

They had the perfect guy to handle it, though. Which the Warriors knew, because Brown has handled this before.

“You know, we’ve done this drill before,” Brown said after the game.

And once Kerr called to tell him he wasn’t feeling well and then later that he’d tested positive, Brown did the perfect Warriors thing: He leaned on the dynastic figures of this franchise. Led by letting them lead, too. Leaned on them while they leaned on him.

“Andre (Iguodala), I know he’s not playing, but just his voice, his presence, he’s always saying the right thing,” Brown said. “It uplifts all of us. And for me, it uplifted me. I told him, I told Draymond, I said: ‘I need you guys tonight. I need you guys. I’m going to lean on you guys.’ And those guys stayed steady the whole game, Andre on the bench obviously and Draymond out on the floor, and we found a way. You can do that when you have Steph Curry and (Jordan Poole) out on the floor.”

Maybe the clearest indication of the currents that flowed through the players and the staff came when Brown declined to speak about the Kings job because he wanted to remain focused on the Warriors’ situation and didn’t want to talk about the Kings until his full attention was on his next role. And then, about 20 minutes later, Draymond patiently stood in the interview room waiting for Curry’s presser to end, then politely said he couldn’t talk at length right now.

“So my emotions are kind of all over the place now,” Draymond said. “I’m going to go home and just sit on my podcast and talk because I can pause that and cry if I need to cry. I don’t like to cry in front of people. What I will say is (my wife) Hazel and I are going to donate $100,000 to a fund in Adreian’s name.

“I call on my Spartan family, coach (Tom) Izzo, Magic (Johnson), Jaren Jackson, Miles Bridges, Mat Ishbia, all of my Spartan family to come in, and let’s do something in honor of Adreian. If that’s naming something on a campus after him, if that is some scholarships for some kids from Dayton, whatever that is, I call on my Spartan family to band together and do something in Adreian’s name. So I’m going to go home and talk about Adreian, and I’ll talk a little bit about this game.

“But I can do it at my own speed and at my own space. I apologize. I will give you guys the greatest press conference after Wednesday’s game, but I just don’t have it in me tonight, I truly apologize.”

It would be a cop out to say the run of events leading up to the game caused the Warriors’ incredibly sluggish first three quarters Monday. They also knew Ja Morant was unlikely to play because of his injured knee, which could’ve led to a Warriors letdown. And also, the Warriors just couldn’t shoot for a long time in this game.

They trailed after the first quarter. They could barely score in the second quarter and trailed at halftime, too. Curry, Klay Thompson and Poole were all struggling. Everybody on the Warriors was struggling. They trailed 69-62 going into the fourth thanks to Desmond Bane’s 32-foot buzzer-beater.

But the Warriors have been together for too long and have held together for too long to despair in the face of any of that.

“I had a feeling we were going to win the game when Bane hit the tough shot to end the third, we just willed it to four, and I just knew we could,” Klay said. “We were going to win the game. I just had a feeling. It was ugly, but at this time of year, all that matters is that win.”

Curry got hot in the fourth quarter. Klay made a huge jumper from the corner. The Warriors defense surged. The Grizzlies offense, without Morant, hit the wall. Draymond brushed off his foul trouble and stopped Jaren Jackson Jr. at a few crucial moments.

Brown ran the game calmly. He didn’t call a million timeouts. He didn’t veer from his and Kerr’s rotation plan. He didn’t try weird things to show the Kings and the world how gutsy and creative he can be. He just ran the team. And when it was over, he accepted congratulations from the rest of the coaching staff, patted a few players as they headed to the locker room and beelined for Draymond.

“Yeah, it was an emotional day,” Klay said. “Prayers up to Adreian and his family, and Draymond, I know they played together. Just a terrible loss of life, and his legacy will live on. It was just a sad day.

“Really happy for Mike B., though. He’s going to do great things for Sacramento. His head-coaching record for Warriors playoff games, I think, is undefeated. We did miss Steve a lot, just his voice, his presence. But we’ve been here before in 2017 when Mike took over and we rolled off a lot of wins. I reflected on that a lot. Just an up-and-down day as far as emotions were going.”

The Warriors are going to miss Brown. They know that. He joined the staff for the 2016-17 season, just in time for the arrival of Kevin Durant and to fill in for Kerr during those 2017 playoff games, on the way to a championship.

“Coach (Kerr) talked about it, I think this morning, about what (Brown has) meant to our team and to that coaching staff,” Curry said. “And just maybe the way they approach it all year in terms of everybody having a voice for us and being able to hear that throughout the year, it makes situations like tonight a little bit easier of a transition. He had a lot of good words tonight.

“I don’t know in the history if you could name the head coach of two teams in 24 hours. He’s continuing to set many trends.”

Of course, being the Warriors in a moment of victory, it had to have humor, too. During his TNT postgame interview, Curry joked that when things were going poorly, it felt like the whole team had been traded to the Kings. (He tried to backtrack a bit later, which was almost as amusing as the one-liner.)

“Yeah, we got a lot of jokesters on the team,” Brown said with a smile when asked about the Curry crack, “and I’m OK with it.”

You get used to that kind of thing when you’re around the Warriors. You get used to major swings of emotion, surprises, drama, passion and a lot of victories. And at the end, sometimes, you just hug somebody who needs it, and you realize you need it, too.

(Photo Mike Brown and Draymond Green: Joe Murphy / NBAE via Getty Images)

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