SALT LAKE CITY – It's hard to say how the challenge started. When you work with players as often as the assistant coach of Golden State Warriors, Chris DeMarco, what is to say every day, sometimes twice a day, many things are said along the way. In this case, Warriors guard Klay Thompson and forward Kevin Durant challenged DeMarco to prove he could still nail. You see, the sixth year assistant played at the Dominican University and used to have ups. There were featured videos with evidence, but Thompson and Durant needed more. Then a bet was invented. Before the end of the regular season, DeMarco would have three attempts to prove he could nail.
Challenges like these are what make the NBA world work during the regular season. But the Warriors, in particular, live for things like this. Since Steve Kerr took over as head coach in 2014, Golden State has developed a reputation for having one of the funniest cultures in the league. Anything that made someone remotely embarrassing or funny would come to a movie session. The practices ended with half-court competitions, which the two-time MVP Stephen Curry often turned into his own version of kickball. Sometimes Kerr jumps into basketball and has a tactical soccer game in place.
"As a former player, he receives the energy," said forward David West. "He has not forgotten what it's like to be a player going through that."
But this is year 4 of the Kerr era. Year 4 of this core group of Thompson, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry trying to come back and win the NBA Finals. Year 4 of the same culture, the same jokes, the same personalities. And like most relationships, work is needed to keep things fresh after the honeymoon period. And it really takes work when Curry, the team leader Kerr compares to Tim Duncan, has missed 31 games due to a maddening variety of ankle and knee injuries.
Kerr expected that discomfort, having played in several dynastic teams, the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, during his playing career. But this is an unexplored territory, even for him.
"I was never in a team that went to the Final four years in a row," Kerr said. "You have to have LeBron [James] on your team to do that, or Bill Russell … It's difficult, a difficult feat, and our guys know it"
And without Curry to focus the Warriors on the court For large portions of the season, Kerr has tried things this season that he never resorted to during the first three years. He has criticized his team through the media, as has one of his mentors, Phil Jackson. He has delivered his clipboard to the players, letting them run and train during a particularly non-competitive game against the Phoenix Suns. He told them to stay away from basketball on days off.
Steve Kerr creates the play but gives the board to Andre Iguodala, who trains the group during a timeout.
If there was a push button that could help light the collective fire, he pushed it. Little work apart from letting the players train. In any case, Kerr's harsh assertion that the team needed to worry more after a lethargic loss in Indiana seemed to offend several players. He later pushed back the comments.
As the Warriors limped towards the end of the regular season, having lost 10 of the 17 games since Curry injured his ankle and knee, it became clear that Kerr could do little from the bench to rekindle the joy and the competitive fire that were once so essential to the success of the Warriors.
If that was going to happen with the playoffs starting Saturday against the Spurs, it had to come from inside.
"You have two options," Kerr said after an embarrassing 40-point breakdown to the Utah Jazz in the regular season finale on Tuesday night. "Fight through everything and give everything you have, or go quietly."
The loss of Jazz was expected. The Warriors had no more than pride to play, while Utah was pushing for the playoff seeds. But losing by 40, the worst loss of the Kerr era, felt like a turning point. If that kind of loss does not attack the pride of the team, the Warriors of this season could follow the path of the last dynastic teams whose spirit and flesh simply did not respond in the fourth year of their careers. Think of the Miami Heat of 2014 and the Los Angeles Lakers of 2011 and 2003.
That the loss of 40 points against the Jazz came after one of the best moments of the season was even more worrisome. You see, DeMarco did not make his dunk in his first three attempts at shooting practice that morning. But he was close on the second attempt. "It was like a seventh grade dunk in which you put it, but you pull the edge down to make it look like you were submerged," joked fellow assistant Jarron Collins. Thompson and Durant gave him an additional opportunity to slam it shut.
This time, DeMarco threw a thunderous jam with one hand that unleashed a wild and jubilant celebration. Kerr raised both arms as if he had just won a title. Durant pumped his fist. The center Zaza Pachulia hit him in the chest. Nick Young threw a ball into the stands. And DeMarco, well, he ran down the sand stairs.
The video of the dunk and the subsequent celebration quickly went viral. Even DeMarco's alma mater tweeted congratulations.
Video of the Dominican graduate Chris DeMarco & 09; # 39; 11 MBA, assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors, winning a bet with the Warriors players getting wet before last night's game in Utah! https://t.co/xIhNr1B69d https://t.co/VmzMhK8eYH
– Dominican University (@DominicanCANews) April 11, 2018
"It was amazing," Kerr said before the game. "We needed that."
Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson challenge the assistant coach of the Warriors, Chris DeMarco, to kill him and he responds with a little emphasis.
And then the Warriors came out and got smoked for 40.
Donovan Mitchell scores 22 points and the Jazz crushes the Warriors 119-79 for their sixth straight win.
Why is it difficult to read this equipment? Are they complacent or cursed? Are you waiting for the playoffs to start changing the proverbial switch? Or has the electricity been completely cut off?
With Curry out for at least the first round due to an MCL sprain, many Warriors have pointed to Green as the player who needs to take a leadership role. Green has always been the emotional leader of the Warriors, the ardent, combative personality of Curry's calm and sin-border style. It has evolved to the point where they balance each other, and warriors clearly need both. But without Curry, Green's edge is not digested too.
"Mentally, I think it reaches a point where you have to create that adversary," West said of Green. "I do not think anyone gave him that hook he was looking for, what they would give him [last year].
" He tried with the referees [Green racked up 15 of the Warriors’ 68 technical fouls this season] but it is a different treatment from the players. … and he needs that. "
Finding a worthy opponent should not be a problem in the playoffs.
" Maybe I have a chance, "West said with a smile. What is at stake is much more, things will be a little more irritable. "
Kerr told his players and employees to take all day off after the Utah loss. Take the day, play golf, see their families, focus.  Technical assistant Bruce Fraser, who has become a spiritual meteorologist for the team over the years, said he noticed a big difference when the Warriors returned to practice on Thursday.  "We had a much better mentality and vibes. He felt completely different from what he has been, "said Fraser. You can feel the emotion and energy. You could feel our bond. You could feel all of that today.
"Our family has been together for a long time, that's a good thing, but we just had injuries, and a lot of things have happened, it's been like a roller coaster of a season … And many of these games, they have not imported I am not an expert in motivation, but I feel that the motivation has been removed from our sails sometimes based on incidents … But our culture has not changed or has been affected. "
Kerr specifically pointed out the injuries of Curry, four ankle injuries and the MCL sprain that cost him the last 10 games of the regular season, as reasons why the mood and flow have been so inconsistent.
"It's huge," Kerr said. "We talk about joy all the time here, that has been the hallmark of our group, Steph embodies our culture and joy, with it we have lost something of our soul and identity"
Fraser, who is Kerr's best friend and Frequent confident, he also noticed the terrifying injury of forward Patrick McCaw on March 31 in Sacramento.
"When you lose Patrick McCaw, the way we lost him really affects you," Fraser said. "We were starting to roll, we had good mojo, and then the whole place was silent, it was really scary because I was on the floor without moving for 15 minutes, our whole balloon was deflated, that crushed us, that's one of our guys and he was down. "
McCaw is out indefinitely, but made an appearance in practice on Thursday.
Curry has been ruled out of at least the first round of the playoffs, but has been traveling with the team and going through practice drills in practice this week.
Small signals, yes. But the most important as the Warriors reach the part of the season that will determine their place in the history of the NBA.
"I think there should always be a question in mind if the switch is going to flip," Green said. "As basketball players, you know it does not work like that, but if someone is capable of that, it's us"