OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant gets his ankles retaped. Zaza Pachulia changes into a fresh jersey. Draymond Green removes his sneakers. Some of the players even check their phones, because of course they do.
The Golden State Warriors do a lot of mundane stuff at halftime.
Yet what happens next is extraordinary. Their explosive third-quarter runs have become a phenomenon, and nobody knows quite what to make of it. The players themselves are mystified.
“I honestly have no idea,” Stephen Curry said.
We are not about to solve that riddle, either. Entering Game 1 of the N.B.A. finals on Thursday night, the Warriors had outscored their opponents by an unprecedented 130 points in the third quarter this postseason. It defies easy description. But a closer examination of their halftime rituals may provide some illumination.
The 15 minutes between the end of the second quarter and start of the third are a carefully choreographed production, featuring clips of game footage, wardrobe changes and managerial strategies straight out of business school. Coach Steve Kerr, based on interviews with players and coaches, has worked to create an environment of inclusion. This is not a place for Lombardi-esque rah-rah speeches. Rather, the Warriors’ halftime locker room is a high-speed 360-degree team review.
“Everybody is a leader here,” said Pachulia, the veteran center. “At least you have a feeling that you’re a leader.”
The Warriors actually begin preparing for halftime as soon as the game begins. Assistant coaches will identify plays that the team may want to review at halftime by signaling them to Willie Green, an assistant and 11-year N.B.A. veteran who sits one row behind the bench. Green is in charge of keeping track of the time and score for each of the plays in question.
“Put that on edit!” the coaches shout. Or simply, “Clip that!”
Periodically throughout the first half, various other members of the staff — including Samuel Gelfand, the team’s analytics guru, and Kyle Barber, the strength coach — run portions of the list back to the locker room, where James Laughlin, the video coordinator, assembles the clips on a computer.
Laughlin also has the freedom to pull clips that he thinks should be included. He aims for a total of 8 to 10 for the halftime reel — but that number tends to stray into the 15 range in a high-pressure playoff game.
Once the first half ends, the coaches spend 3 or 4 minutes talking among themselves. At home, that happens in the coaches’ office adjacent to the locker room. On the road, they improvise. For example, when they were in Houston for Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, they met in the hallway outside the visiting locker room because the coaches’ quarters were so cramped.
Bruce Fraser, an assistant coach, described these sessions as think-tankish: Kerr solicits input from his staff, then listens. Sometimes, though, he takes advantage of the opportunity to vent, which is partly by design. By ridding himself of his frustrations, Kerr can act like a more rational human once he appears in front of his players.
“He’s got a fiery side to him,” Fraser said, “and he’ll be screaming and yelling in the coaches’ room for 30 seconds.”
Many of the players, spend that time attending to their various health and equipment needs — in addition to checking their phones.
“We have time until Coach walks in to do our little things,” Pachulia said.
(As an aside, nobody in franchise history had a more curious halftime ritual than Gilbert Arenas. He famously used that time to take a shower — including once in his uniform.)
Once Kerr has a good grasp of the material he wants to cover with the team, he and the rest of the coaches enter the locker room with about 11 minutes left before the start of the third quarter. Kerr does not obsessively check the clock. He chooses to keep time by feel.
Kerr is the first coach to address the team — “Steve makes, in a brief way, sense of what just happened, good or bad,” Fraser said — before the clips that Laughlin collected in the first half are projected onto a large screen. Kerr runs through them.
But he trusts his staff so much that he does not need to know in advance which clips Laughlin and his assistants have selected for the halftime show. Kerr’s staff members seem to have an intuitive understanding of the types of plays he will want to highlight.
During the first half of Game 7 against the Rockets Monday night, the Warriors played so poorly their assistant coaches kept simultaneously shouting “Clip that!” whenever the team had a decent possession. They knew that Kerr, who loves to emphasize the positive, would want to show the players those plays at halftime. When he did, the sequences reinforced the message that good things happened whenever they moved the ball, and reminded the players at a fragile moment that they were better than the 11-point deficit suggested.
Kerr, a former television analyst, also has a special ability, Fraser said, to take the information he gathers from his staff and deliver it to the players in digestible morsels.
“The broadcasting definitely helped him to articulate lots of thoughts in a condensed way,” Fraser said.
Yet Kerr does not want to be the only voice in the room — far from it, in fact. He has carved out time for others to speak. Once Kerr finishes making his main points, the associate head coach, Mike Brown, often speaks to the group. Then, the senior assistant coaches, Ron Adams and Jarron Collins, add their thoughts. Kerr likes to close by seeking input from the players, too, especially in the playoffs.
“Do you have anything for us?” he asks them. “Do you see anything?”
It probably won’t come as a total shock to learn that Draymond Green is the most vocal Warrior. Andre Iguodala, who tends not to say much during the regular season, likes to pipe up in the playoffs — and that might not be much of a surprise, either. Iguodala, though injured in recent weeks, has done some of his finest work in the postseason, on and (apparently) off the court.
Like the Warriors organization itself, the halftime locker room is, above all, an open forum.
“He is the authority based on title,” Fraser said of Kerr, “but our culture is by community. He’s one of them. He doesn’t look at himself as a figure that they have to defer to.”
Pachulia has played for nine head coaches during his 15-year N.B.A. career. He said he had never been a part of a more democratic locker room.
“It’s open for us, from 1 to 15 — anybody can say something,” he said. “That’s how this team is built: If you see something, please say something.”
As for strategy, the Warriors run a read-based offense — meaning they look to pick apart the soft spots in opposing defenses. Halftime gives them the chance to recalibrate.
“After you play a half, you can see what teams are trying to do,” Fraser said.
Perhaps the most amazing feature of the Warriors’ halftime routine is its brevity. Kerr tries to wrap up his whole spiel with about 7 minutes showing on the clock — 6 minutes at the latest. He knows the players want to get back on the court to take some warm-up shots. He also probably knows there is only so much he can say.
“The one thing we ask him to do is, ‘Steve, let us go at the 6-minute mark,’ ” Pachulia said. “He respects that. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the game is going. At the 6-minute mark, we’re out.”
As the players head back to the court, Kerr reconvenes with his assistants. They keep an eye on the clock. Once it hits 2:30, they make their way to the bench. There is confidence born in the routine of halftime — confidence that the players will heed their message and execute the plan.
“That all adds to what’s next,” Fraser said.
What’s next has become utterly predictable to fans, opponents and even the Warriors themselves: hope-destroying scoring runs that tend to erase any memories — and any deficits — of the first half.