Former Blazer finds himself in the finals Ñ again

Steve Kerr rides the bench until Spurs need clutch shooting

Steve Kerr was in his customary spot during Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night on the San Antonio bench for the entire 48 minutes.

Kerr is used to it. In San Antonio's first 15 playoff games this spring, the veteran guard played all of 13 minutes.

In the Spurs' 16th game Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against Dallas Kerr proved himself a safety valve worth every penny of his $3 million annual salary.

Relying on savvy and freezer-cold veins, Kerr bombed in four straight 3-pointers in the final 16 minutes to lift San Antonio to a come-from-behind, series-clinching 90-78 win.

'That was a thrill,' Kerr says. 'Are you kidding me? I didn't really think it was me out there.'

With the Spurs reeling and a Game 7 appearing inevitable, coach Gregg Popovich had motioned to a startled Kerr.

'Steve, get ready,' Popovich said. 'I'm going to sub you for Speedy (Claxton).'

With 3:44 left in the third period and the Spurs trailing 63-48, Kerr entered the game. Four times he spotted up outside the 3-point line, as he has done so many times during his 15-year career. Swish! Swish! Swish! Swish!

And when it was all over, there was Kerr, speaking to the national media and explaining that he had played all year to have that one special moment.

'That's kind of what kept me going through the year, working hard and trying to be ready in case I got the call,' says Kerr, 37, who played for Portland last season before being part of a trade that brought Antonio Daniels to the Blazers.

It wasn't the most memorable moment of Kerr's distinguished career, which has featured a spot on four championship teams three with Chicago and one with San Antonio. That came in Game 6 of the '97 Finals, when his jumper with five seconds to go iced the Bulls' series-clinching win over Utah.

'That was No. 1,' Kerr says, 'but I said after the game that this one was right there with it. The one against Utah can never be topped because it was the final game of the championship series. But I enjoyed this one just as much because of my age, the point I'm at in my career and hardly having played for the last two months. It was unlikely, and that's what made it great.'

Kerr, the NBA's career leader in 3-point percentage (.459 entering the season), says he felt loose when he checked into the game against Dallas.

'It was a great spot,' he says. 'There's no pressure when you're down that much. You just come out and fire. If you miss, you have already lost. If you make them, you're a hero.'

Kerr now has a chance to earn his ring No. 5. Game 2 against the New Jersey Nets is 5:30 PT tonight, at San Antonio. The Spurs won Game 1, 101-89.

'New Jersey is good,' Kerr says. 'The experience of reaching the finals last year will help them. They have a lot of confidence É but the argument could be made that they haven't played anybody in getting to the finals. I think it is going to be a six- or seven-game series, and it could go either way. I think it will be our toughest test of the playoffs.'

This is likely to be Kerr's final season, although he hasn't ruled out continuing his playing career if somebody is interested in his services as a free agent.

'I'm guessing this is it, but I want to sit down and think about it for a while before I make a decision,' he says. 'Frankly, it's an incredible lifestyle. The money is great. Traveling around the country, playing basketball a couple of hours a day É and I have been able to bring my son to the locker room and enjoy it with me. I'm hesitant to say I can walk away from it.'

Like Scottie Pippen, Kerr turns 38 in September. He read what Pippen told the Tribune a couple of weeks ago that it's harder to prepare mentally and physically for each season as he gets older.

'I could totally relate when Scottie said that,' Kerr says. 'He said he will wait to see if he feels like working out to get ready for another season. I think I will be the same way. If in a month or so I get the urge, we'll see.'

Kerr eventually would like to coach. He thinks that broadcasting would be a good intermediate step, 'to transition away from the competitive aspect of the game for a year or two, because coaching is a grind.'

There will be some network analyst jobs open next season, with Danny Ainge and probably Jeff Van Gundy leaving for the coaching ranks. That would be a good fit for Kerr. If a coaching opportunity should arise in Portland, though, he would give it serious thought.

'It is a place where we would love to live,' Kerr says. 'It's a good organization and a great city. At some point, my wife (Margot) and I hope it happens.'

Kerr has followed the unsettled situation with Portland coach Maurice Cheeks, whom he admires. And he's puzzled why the Blazers haven't sought Geoff Petrie for their vacant general manager position.

'The fans there are dying for a Portland guy, somebody who really loves the community and the team,' Kerr says. 'Geoff would be perfect. Not only that, but he has an unbelievable track record. It doesn't make sense not to go after him.'

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