OAKLAND – Steve Kerr repeated the phrase so many times last season that it began to echo from the mouths of players up and down the Warriors roster.
The phrase: Appropriate fear.
The significance: The Warriors perform better with it than without it.
And as the Warriors prepare to face the team that gave them their only loss this season, there most certainly is appropriate fear. It’s spiced, however, with a bit of annoyance directed toward those Milwaukee Bucks, who last Saturday expressed tremendous jubilation at taking down the then-undefeated Warriors.
“We just felt disrespected a little bit,” Klay Thompson said after practice Thursday. “That’s fine. I have no problem with them celebrating the win. It’s just that there was a couple things they looked real cocky about.”
As they look ahead to Friday night and a rematch against the team that beat them in Milwaukee, the Warriors are flexing their self-motivation muscles. They’re suddenly viewing the Bucks though a prism similar to that which they always view the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Warriors have, in their own way, created some animosity toward a team that by record (10-17) is a minor threat but by recent experience a considerable menace.
“It’s just another game,” Draymond Green said with a verbal wink. “Against a 10 and 18 team.
“Or 10 and 17, something like that.”
Dart thrown, target punctured.
Finding a chip to place upon your own shoulder is a time-tested approach to generating inspiration against an opponent. Locate something that causes irritation. It could be something they did, or something they said or even something completely fabricated. Kobe Bryant resorted to it. So did Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and Bill Russell. It seems to have served them well.
“Whether you’re tricking yourself or you believe it or what, it gives you a competitive edge," Luke Walton said. "I’m all for that stuff. I’ve played with Kobe. I’ve seen him do it. I’ve seen Phil (Jackson) jab in the newspapers. I’ve seen this stuff work.”
It’s another way to instill appropriate fear, to utilize Kerr’s message. It surely helped the Warriors win a franchise-record 67 games and an NBA Championship last season. It has helped them win 25 of 26 so far this season.
“We raise the level of intensity,” is the way Thompson described the process. “We know if we’re playing a team that threatens us we know we’ll send a message if we beat them. You’ve got to have appropriate fear every night because this is the NBA. Everyone is here for a reason. It’s easier to get up for some games than for the others. I know where Steve is coming from.”
Kerr is not coaching the team, but he has been around every day this week. So Walton has been sending the same message to the players. Appropriate fear is good.
Getting fired up, though, is even better.
“I’m into getting the competitive spirit up,” Walton said. “If that’s through some verbal talk or a rivalry game or what, as long as nothing dirty ever happens or is said, I’m fine with it.”
Another factor, in this instance, is that the rematch is so soon after the first meeting.
“I don’t think they knew that,” Green said of the Bucks. “But they know now. So it’ll be a fun game.”