Thoughts, musings and impressions from a glorious night at Oracle Arena in Oakland, where the Golden State Warriors seized control of their second-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies with a blowout 98-78 victory:
1. I hate Bay Area traffic. Having cajoled a close friend to come to the game and to drive himself, myself and my roommate, we collectively figured that leaving at around 5:15 in the evening for a 7:30 tipoff would leave us ample time to beat traffic, get to Oakland, park, find our seats and buy some food to satiate our ravenous hunger. Boy, were we wrong. Interstate 280 was slow up until 92, the San Mateo Bridge best resembled a parking lot and the instructions on our parking pass directed us through an early exit and three traffic lights when a later exit would have also gotten us to our destination. We were barely in our seats in time for tipoff and didn’t get a chance to grab munchies until the end of the first quarter. Lesson learned — leave three hours early next time, wallet willing.
2. Great shooting can overcome any and all sloppiness. At the outset of the game, Zach Randolph unleashed hell on the Warriors’ frontcourt, burying a fadeaway jumper, tipping home two dubious offensive rebounds and even burying a three from the top of the key (??!?). The Warriors, in the meantime, turned the ball over loosely and settled for contested and ill-advised shots from all over the court. The game looked eerily similar to the debacles that were games two and three of this series for the Dubs, until a certain Stephen Curry decided to jump into the fray. In a patented Curry-flurry at the end of the quarter, Golden State turned a double-digit deficit into a 26-25 lead behind some truly inhumane shooting, including a long-range bomb from well outside the 3-point line. Against the Warriors, no lead is truly safe, especially when chunks of it can evaporate three at a time. And with the Warriors’ defense playing lights-out, it’s very hard to force these Warriors to give up big leads.
3. The fall of Tony Allen. After shooting his way out of game four, the prime question became how Memphis coach Dave Joerger would manage to hide Allen’s truly frightening outside shooting while keeping him on the floor, as his defense was one of the key factors in shutting down the Splash Brothers in Memphis’ wins. The question became moot, however, after Joerger shut down Allen due to injury, and he cut a resplendent figure on the sideline in dress clothes. The cynic in me wonders just how injured Allen truly is, and whether this was a face-saving maneuver to keep him from launching more 3-point bricks without sacrificing his dignity. Without Allen on the floor to harass Golden State’s armada of shooters, the Grizzlies were pummeled by a barrage of long-range buckets and uncontested jumpers. Any (incremental) gains in offense were offset by the severe losses on defense. If Allen can’t go in game six, Memphis is in a world of trouble.
4. The rise of Harrison Barnes. The “Black Falcon,” as he is nicknamed, has always offered a tantalizing mix of wondrous athleticism and coordination, but he has too often been marred by inconsistency and bouts of complacency. This series, he has channeled the aggression he often shows when playing as a stretch power forward and has done so in every game without fail, decisively getting to the rim off the dribble and confidently stroking jumpers and threes whenever he comes open. In a series where shot-making has come at a premium, the ability of Barnes to put points on the board (and even defend difficult matchups like Z-Bo) has the Warriors in prime position to advance.
5. The pursuit of perfection. Steve Kerr and Dave Joerger, the head coaches of the Warriors and Grizzlies, respectively, are both considered rising stars, with Kerr leading the Warriors to one of the best regular seasons in the history of basketball and Joerger dragging an injured and incomplete team through the grind of the Western Conference to reach the second round of the playoffs. And part of what makes them so successful is their attention to detail and their relentless pursuit of perfection. It was very interesting to watch Kerr stalk his sideline, exhorting his players to move the ball and not settle. At one point, after a slightly sloppy fast break resulted in a Curry three, Kerr used the TV timeout to rip into his squad, exhorting them (in an animated fashion) to ostensibly execute better and stop being so sloppy. Joerger’s timeouts all came after defensive breakdowns in transition, and at one point he paced all the way across the floor to cool himself off before returning to talk to his team. He, of all folks, knows that this Grizzlies squad cannot give up any freebies to a team that thrives on them.
6. The magic of Roaracle. Words don’t do justice to just how loud Oracle Arena gets when the Dubs get on a roll. After a restless first quarter ended with Curry’s magical moment, he turned to the crowd and whipped it into a frenzy. Shirts were spun around like towels, eardrums were popped and drinks were spilled as noise filled every inch of the 19,000-plus-seat stadium. Listening to the radio broadcast highlights after the game was a futile exercise, because I couldn’t hear jack diddly squat over the roar of Roaracle. The atmosphere at Warriors ground, as it is known, is truly magical, and the cliche “Strength in Numbers” motto that is on every freebie t-shirt fits perfectly with the Golden State fanbase. As Warriors fan blogger Adam Lauridsen wrote after the game, Curry’s entreaties “weaponized” the crowd. And what a great weapon to have in your back pocket come playoff time! To Warriors owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob: I know you guys have good reasons for wanting to move Warriors ground to San Francisco, but pretty please, make sure that the wonderful home-court advantage at Oracle is not lost in the transition.
7. The future. As the postseason continues, the only certainty lies in the inherent uncertainty of playoff basketball. But if the Warriors play like they did from the end of the first quarter onwards yesterday night, it will be quite difficult to knock them off. The future of this team looks as bright as the fireworks that lit up the Oakland skyline after the game.
Unlike a significant portion of the 2014-2015 Warriors’ fan base, South Bay native Vignesh Venkataraman is not a bandwagon fan, and has in fact devoutly followed this team for years. If you think you’re a bigger fan of your favorite team than he is of the Warriors, let him know at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.