Steve Kerr draws parallels from Jeff Hornacek

Nov 9, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Krr looks on against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Krr looks on against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

PHOENIX — The Suns drafted one in 1986 and the other in 1988. That in itself was surprising.

Neither Steve Kerr nor Jeff Hornacek were supposed to have the pro basketball careers they did, yet both knew there were meant to be coaches.

“I thought I would coach right out of college,” said Kerr, the Golden State Warriors coach, on Sunday. “The NBA career, it kind of happened. Didn’t expect it, but it happened. Once I was done playing, my kids were kind of junior high age. I knew the toll that coaching can take family-wise so I chose the TV route, which balanced out my life, which was great. Now my kids don’t care where I am everyday so I might as well coach.”

Kerr, who first tried his hand as Suns general manager, brought his Warriors into U.S. Airways Center on Sunday and walked away with a 107-95 loss, their first defeat in six games this season. Kerr followed the same path as Hornacek as a player turned coach, who last year was walking in these same shoes.

Unlike Hornacek, Kerr had front office experience and TV broadcasting under his belt rather than any experience as an assistant, so a five-year, $25 million contract to replace player-favorite Mark Jackson of course came with a bit of controversy. There was always one big similarity, beyond tussling with Michael Jordan (Hornacek did that in the Finals while Kerr did it in practice).

“I think Jeff and I are pretty similar personalities,” Kerr said. “There’s a lot of fire inside, but pretty calm and laidback at the same time. I think players appreciate that. You don’t want a huge emotional roller coaster ride everyday. But you want some direction and some fire.”

Kerr’s former television partners have ragged on the cool and collected former point guard for picking up two technicals in the preseason despite his six technicals over a long playing career.

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Kerr, who played for Hall of Fame-level coaches from Lute Olson, to Phil Jackson, to Gregg Popovich, perhaps is showing a little more of what’s inside of him these days.

But on Sunday, it was Hornacek who got hot early. Three-and-half minutes into the game, he drew a technical from the officials.

“I was just trying to get our guys going,” Hornacek said. “We’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately. In the San Antonio game we played well, we haven’t played well since then. It’s about effort. I was trying to get them fired up some how, some way.”

Eventually, Phoenix found a groove. His Suns were finally playing with a similar aggression by the second unit wearing on a tired Golden State team to outscore the Warriors 36-16 in the fourth quarter.

Kerr called Hornacek’s offense “innovative,” but often on Sunday it looked ugly. It took Gerald Green going for 16 of his 19 points in the fourth that propelled the Suns forward, but Phoenix’s defense ignited much of the momentum after Golden State had led from the 9:07 mark in the first quarter until 8:55 remained in the game. Isaiah Thomas led Phoenix with 22 points — he scored 15 in the fourth — and seven assists, but it was his defense and foul drawing that stood out most.

Thomas’ 13 free throws made were the most since Hakim Warrick made as many in 2010, and he was responsible for Stephen Curry being phased out in the second half because of better Suns defense and foul trouble.

“It takes a little bit of their aggressiveness away when they get those,” Hornacek said. “Isaiah is a smart player, he’s herky-jerky in ways just like Curry. Curry does all that herky-jerky stuff and when you reach on him, he’s smart enough to pull through that and draw a foul. Isaiah tried to do that too.”

Thomas drew Curry’s fourth and fifth personal fouls on the night, not to mention Draymond Green‘s fifth. That came after Green had 22 and Curry added 24 in the first 36 minutes of play. Green went scoreless in the big fourth quarter as Phoenix’s Green went off. Curry mustered just four more points for just six total in the second half.

Phoenix still has its rotation to figure out and will need to answer a number of questions about how the offense can improve. But the first issue is more solvable — opening with that aggressiveness on offense and a little more fight on defense. It was the lack of those things that allowed Curry to get rolling early on.

Golden State may be lightyears ahead of Phoenix in experience, but it is likewise adjusting to different rotations — or what came with Klay Thompson and David Lee injured.

So far, the Warriors are playing hard for their new coach — a win for him in such a circumstance — but on Sunday it was the Suns who found the fight thanks their player-turned-coach.

“He loves the game,” Kerr said. “I learned so much from him just trying to guard him in practice every day. He was one of the guys I tried to emulate. I wasn’t nearly as good as him but he inspired me to get better. With Jeff it was: the guy’s a basketball savant. You could feel it as a teammate. Playing against him, I knew it was only a matter of time before he got in the coaching ranks.”