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Kerr expects response from Warriors after calling them soft

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Kerr: Stats don't matter when you win (1:06)

Steve Kerr thinks Steph Curry's and Klay Thompson's struggles were overblown after Golden State endured its first loss of the Finals, and says he's confident the Warriors will handle themselves better in Game 4. (1:06)

CLEVELAND -- Steve Kerr was angry. Not break-a-clipboard-with-a-karate-chop kind of angry. More like a guy who had spent the past three hours stewing over a set of issues he thought his team had grown out of long ago, or certainly during the last round of these playoffs when the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink of elimination.

But after sitting through Golden State's uninspired 120-90 loss in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night in Cleveland, he was mad.

And so he said a word he knew would get everyone's attention. Said it twice, actually.

"Soft," Kerr said at the beginning of his postgame news conference. "We were extremely soft to start the game."

That's one of those words that travels quickly in the sports world. From news conference to locker room to headlines to sports talk radio, call somebody soft and it's going to echo.

Kerr has been on the other side of the media world from his broadcasting days with TNT. He knew exactly what he was doing with that quote.

But this wasn't Kobe Bryant trying to provoke a reaction from Jeremy Lin and other teammates by repeating "Charmin" over and over, and taunting them while cameras were rolling at the end of a Lakers practice. (That was just as much about Kobe enjoying his image as an unapologetic jerk toward the end of his career as inspiring Lin.)

Nor was it Kerr challenging his team's manhood. The Warriors proved theirs and then some in rallying from a 3-1 series deficit against Oklahoma City.

This was Kerr as an annoyed boss, telling an employee to stop showing up 10 minutes late or being so sloppy on expense reports.

"We were soft," Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said after shootaround Friday morning before Game 4. "I know it's not PC, but that's like the best way to describe what we played like. They did whatever they wanted. They played harder than us, they played tougher than us, so in every sense of the word, we were soft."

The controversy thing, the part where a coach calls his players out and they bristle and trade barbs through the media, was never going to happen with this incident. If anything, it inspired a round of self-flagellation among Warriors players and coaches that speaks more to their confidence in themselves than any deep doubts about their abilities.

Klay Thompson said the Warriors were all "embarrassed" by how they played in Game 3.

Draymond Green said they "got punked" by the Cavaliers.

Steph Curry shrugged and said Cleveland was "more physical ... more purposeful about what they were doing."

If anything, this was Kerr telling the Warriors that he trusts them to get their act together. The equivalent of Phil Jackson letting his team work through a run of bad play rather than rescuing them with a timeout.

"Steve isn't about playing mind games," assistant coach Jarron Collins said. "He's not thinking, 'I'm going to show the guys I'm mad and break a clipboard.' He's just mad.

"When we lose our mindfulness, it's very apparent out there on the court and in our play. It's something we can't accept."

Mindfulness is a word you hear a lot around the Warriors. For them, it means being smart, aware, in control. That's really what they let slide in Game 3. Thompson pointed to the jump shots he settled for -- and missed -- in the first quarter when Golden State fell behind by as many as 20 points. Curry pointed to his foul trouble and six turnovers.

Some of that is how the Cavaliers are defending the Splash Brothers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 22 of the Warriors' 26 attempts in Game 3 were contested, including 13 of their 16 3-pointers. They went 2-for-13 on contested 3s.

In other words, Cleveland is doing whatever it can to crowd Curry and Thompson and make them uncomfortable.

When you're the two-time MVP, though, that can't be an excuse.

Yes, there have been lingering questions about Curry's health. Is his knee bothering him? Is that why he's committing so many reaching fouls or shooting so poorly?

How you answer those questions is something of a Rorschach test on how you feel about Curry in general.

What's clear is that he has been ineffective in the first three games of this series, just as he was in the first three games of last year's Finals when the Warriors lost two of those games.

This year, Curry has 48 points in three games. That's the fewest points through three games in NBA Finals history by a player who averaged at least 30 points per game during the regular season.

Could he just be a slow starter? Livingston said he thought Curry needs time in a series to see how a team is playing him before he can work out adjustments.

Another Warriors staffer said it could also be a focus issue, much like a boxer who needs a few hard blows to wake up and fully engage in a fight.

Which brings us back to Kerr's "soft" comment after Game 3.

It's a stretch to say it was directed at any player in particular, let alone Curry.

But it's the kind of comment that travels quickly and is meant to provoke a response.