73 Is a Magic Number

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 14th, 2016 by bill

It is done. Last night the Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 125–104, to secure their 73rd win of the season against 9 losses. That’s a record.

Meanwhile, down in Southern California, Kobe Bryant just had to screw us one more time by scoring 60 points in his last game and siphoning off an inordinate amount of media attention. After the euphoria of the W’s victory, I had to sit there fuming as ESPN showed Kobe’s seemingly endless press conference.

But it’s all good. It wouldn’t do, anyway, to get overly excited about the regular season when the real season – a.k.a. the playoffs – starts on Saturday. I won’t mention that Steph Curry made three-pointers numbers 393–402, obliterating his own record of 286 that he set last year. I won’t mention that he scored 46 points on 15–24 from the field while it took Kobe 50 shot attempts to get his 60. Just another day at the office. Now the Warriors get two days off, and the whole circus starts up again when the Houston Rockets come to town to start a 7-game series. See you then.

The Running of the Bulls’ Mouths

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 12th, 2016 by bill

An interesting subplot to the current NBA season has been how the various members of the old Chicago Bulls have reacted to the Warriors’ attempt to break their record. First Scottie Pippen came out and said that the 95-96 Bulls would sweep this Warriors team. Then Horace Grant doubled down on that by saying that any of the Bulls’ six championship teams would have swept the W’s. These kinds of statements are easy to make, of course, because they can never actually be disproven. The classier move would be to just shut up, but it’s all par for the course.

But now it’s come out that not only did Michael Jordan tell Draymond Green that the Warriors should go ahead and break the record, but that he, Jordan, would hold Draymond personally responsible if they didn’t. Now, is that some kind of tricky reverse psychology thing intended to mess with Draymond’s head? If not it’s a surprising turnaround from MJ, who’s always been nothing if not hypercompetitive, or to put it another way, dickish.

It’s been my official position that arguing the relative merits of the two teams is a waste of time, but if you wanted to have that conversation, I could go there. Give Jordan and co. credit: they certainly seem to have done more with less. I just looked at the 95-96 Bulls roster for the first time in a while, and it is surprisingly thin. After Jordan, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, you get to people like Ron Harper (a savvy guard who was past his prime); Toni Kukoc (a gifted scorer but European and soft); Steve Kerr (great shooter but a liability on defense – sorry, Steve); and a rotating cast of centers led by Luc Longley, nobody’s idea of a dominating force in the middle.

The Bulls roster had room for people like Randy Brown (who?), Jason Caffey (a promising rookie who flamed out when he got traded to the Warriors – as, to be fair, everyone did in the 90s and 00s), Rodman babysitter Jack Haley, James Edwards, Dickie Simpkins, and worst of all, Jud Buechler, the living embodiment of the concept of “garbage time.” Most of those guys would get flat-out cut from the Warriors, and none of them would play, except maybe Caffey.

None of which is meant to belittle the Bulls’ accomplishment; it just makes it all the more remarkable. And most of it has to be chalked up to Jordan, who above and beyond his athletic ability, in those years just seemed to have the ability to bend reality to his will.

And at the moment, his will is that the W’s should go ahead and stomp the Grizzlies tomorrow. So take note, Day-Day, and don’t disappoint the man.

72 and Counting

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 11th, 2016 by bill

'I'd kiss you if you'd take out your damn mouthguard for once.'

Last night a basketball game was played in San Antonio, Texas between the home team, who call themselves the Spurs, and a bunch of guys from “Golden State,” wherever that is. This was the 81st game in the National Basketball Association season for both teams, normally not something the world at large has much interest in. But it just so happened that the visitors – whom we’ll call “The Unstoppable Force” – were going for their 72nd win in those 81 games, while the Spurs had not lost at home all season. We’ll call them “The Immovable Object.”

It also so happened that the Force had not beat the Object on their home floor since 1997, a span of 33 games. So the Force really wanted this one, and many of us who root for them were very nervous before the game, pacing our living rooms and muttering darkly about streaks, curses, and the sorceror Gregg Popovich. (Of course in any discussion of this type I am legally required to mention that regular-season goals are secondary to the real prize, which is winning a championship. I have now said it.)

Then the game started, and from the drop it was intense and exciting, if somewhat ugly. Both teams were playing their toughest defense, holding each other around 30% shooting, and at halftime the score was 35-35. This is unusual in any NBA game, much less one involving the Force, who regularly score in the high 30s in the first quarter. It looked less like two sweet-shooting, run-and-gun, 21st-century offenses and more like the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks, circa 1994.

But after halftime things opened up a bit and the Force began to flow. (Aside: Now that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise, how long until there is an actual pro sports team called the Force, or maybe the Jedi? It seems inevitable.) The game remained close but slowly the visitors started to create a little separation, getting huge contributions from all over – I can remember individual big plays by Mo Speights, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Andrew Bogut, not to mention the usual Steph-Klay-Dray triad.

Long story short, the good guys won. They are now tied with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for most wins in an NBA season, with a chance to win one more against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. What else is there to say?

There Are No Clever Headlines for 71

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 10th, 2016 by bill

Why can't I get any calls?

My hope is that in retrospect we’ll look at last night’s game as something we all just had to suffer through – an annoyingly close game against a shorthanded but scrappy opponent that ended up hinging on some questionable calls.

I unfortunately had to go through the difficult process of detaching myself from a game that was entering the 4th quarter still in doubt. We had promised to attend a disco-themed murder mystery birthday party (and if you find that phrase confusing, don’t worry about it), and so had to follow the final minutes on the NBA app on my phone. The Warriors were down 10 with about five minutes to go, then came roaring back, and it was touch-and-go down the stretch.

In the end the Grizzlies had the ball, down 100-99, with about 8 seconds left on the clock. Our host tried valiantly to get the broadcast on his TV, but couldn’t get it done, so I was still watching the play-by-play when the game ended. It appeared that the Warriors had won, then some message flashed up about an “altercation review” – I still don’t know what that means, but upon watching the video, it appears that the Grizzlies got off two contested shots on their last possession, and some people thought there should have been foul calls on one or both.

Could be. Bet let me say this – watching the first 3 quarters, I was amazed all over again at how often the referees let people bump, grab, and push Steph Curry without calling anything. I mean, the man is the MVP, he’s on the smaller side…blow the whistle, ferchrissakes. It almost seems like there’s this idea that he’s cheating by being as good as he is, that he doesn’t need the added benefit of having fouls called.

If they keep letting people get away with it, one of these days Steph is going to get injured, and who will that be good for? Well, maybe the other 29 teams in the NBA; but I don’t think they want it to go down that way. The league itself has a vested interest in protecting Steph, so why don’t they do it? It really and truly mystifies me.

Alright, enough dwelling on the past. There’s another game tonight, in San Antonio, where the W’s haven’t won a regular season game since 1997. It would be really, really nice to win this one, for several reasons. I assume that the Spurs are going to play all their guys, as they’d like to a) keep their undefeated home streak going and b) thwart the Warriors in their quest for 73 wins. Then again, I wonder if there’s not some part of Gregg Popovich that wants to rest his players and let Steve Kerr, who is something of a protege, go ahead and make history. Pop is a complicated guy and it’s dangerous to try to parse his thought process, so I’ll speculate no more for now. Tipoff is in 6 hours.

R.I.P. Merle Haggard

Posted in Whatever Else on April 9th, 2016 by bill

I feel like I would be remiss not to note the passing this week of Merle Haggard, namesake of my most loyal reader. I was a latecomer to country music, and I would not claim Merle as one of my personal heroes, but I respect his style and his body of work.

Here’s my favorite Merle song, which shows off a sly, sardonic, and subversive sense of humor; the way he says the words “Bubble Up” is a joy in itself:

Slippery Rock 70

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 8th, 2016 by bill

PB&J (Playoff Barnes & jam)

All of Dub Nation is breathing a little easier today, now that our team has reached the nice round number of 70 wins – and clinched the #1 seed throughout the playoffs – with a convincing victory against the San Antonio Spurs. The worst they can do at this point is finish with the second-best record in NBA history, which is not too shabby.

Before the game, the W’s got some encouragement from an unexpected source: one Kobe Bean Bryant. “If I’m them, and I’ve got a chance to set the record, I’m trying to set the damn record,” said Kobe. “I don’t care what anybody else says. I don’t care how you feel about it. I don’t care what they say about it. If you’ve got a chance to do that, go do it. And, win a championship.”

For once I find that Kobe and I are in complete agreement. I don’t see any reason why the Warriors can’t have their cake and eat it too; after all, these are professional athletes. Playing ball is what they do. I don’t remember Jordan taking many games off back in the day, and no one said a damn thing about it. But then, I’m a pie-in-the-sky idealist, so what do I know?

Anyway, once the game started, there were a few tense moments as the Warriors looked shaky early, with Draymond Green getting two quick fouls and throwing a temper tantrum that drew a technical. But they righted the ship and started playing the way they’re supposed to play, moving the ball, hitting open shots, playing scrambling defense. They took a double-digit lead in the 2nd quarter, and the Spurs never really threatened again.

This was not a complete stomping like the last time the Spurs came to Oakland, but it was a very convincing win. At times in the second half it seemed like the Dubs were playing with the Spurs, letting them think they might have a chance, then dropping the hammer and running back on D laughing. Better still, Playoff Barnes made an appearance, going for 21 points on 8-13 shooting, including a nasty left-handed spike that got the crowd going.

Now Coach Steve has make some decisions about who’s going to rest and who’s going to play in the remaining three games. They may be made somewhat easier by the fact that two of those games are against the undermanned Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizz are missing both their center (Marc Gasol) and their point guard (Mike Conley), both of whom were playing when the Warriors beat them by 50 back in October.

Course you can’t take anything for granted; we learned that the other night when the Dubs belly-flopped against the Timberwolves. But regardless, today is a good day to be optimistic.

It’s a long way to the top

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 6th, 2016 by bill

Oops.

I still don’t know what happened. There I was at Sidelines, drinking whiskey and laughing as the Warriors did their thing. After toying with the Minnesota Timberwolves for two quarters, they were pulling away in the 3rd behind a typical Steph Curry outburst, en route to win number 70. Iguodala, Bogut, and Ezeli were all back on the floor, Harrison Barnes was giving a Playoff Barnes preview, and all was right with the world.

And then it all went wrong. The Wolves started hitting shots, the W’s failed to counter, and next thing you know we were headed for overtime. Uncharacteristically, the home team looked flat in OT and ended up losing their 9th game of the year and 2nd at Oracle, 117-112.

Fortunately, as Merle so helpfully pointed out yesterday, none of this matters. The Warriors will win 70+ games this year, and they will be the #1 overall seed in the playoffs; anything else is just gravy. In a postgame interview, Draymond Green admitted that the W’s were “bored.” “We’re ready for the regular season to end,” he said. And you can see where he’s coming from. Fortunately, there are only four more to play, home and away sets against the Grizzlies and the Spurs.

Speaking of the Spurs, they have been playing their usual coy head games, first saying they’re going to rest their key players against the Warriors, then saying they’re not. Fortunately, again, none of this matters, not at the moment anyway; it’s all about setting the stage for what we all hope will be an exciting Western Conference Finals. In the meantime, the two teams will get to see each other up close tomorrow night in Oakland.

69 Love Songs

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 4th, 2016 by bill

I think a lot of us were nervous about this game. The Warriors’ aura of invincibility had been dimmed a bit by the loss to Boston; could they, as previously unthinkable, lose two in a row? It didn’t help when they gave up 37 in the first quarter to a hungry Portland Trail Blazers squad, with Damian Lilllard being his usual thorn in the side.

And the game stayed close most of the way, even with Steph Curry showing off a nice selection of his most preposterous shots and Draymond Green being a triple-double monster. But throughout the second half the Dubs slowly pulled away, and down the stretch they started hitting everything. The final score of 136-111 is deceptive, but the number that really matters is 69. The Warriors became just the fourth team in NBA history to win that many games, with five more still to play.

And here is where, to justify the title I gave this thing, I should compose a little ode to Steph. Again last night he put together a highlight reel that would be a pretty good season for most people, including a beautiful no-look pass to Harrison Barnes for a dunk and several of his long, off-balance threes that don’t even move the net. But time is tight, so instead I’m going to give the last word to NBA great Nate “Tiny” Archibald, who summed up Steph Curry in these four beautifully chosen words: “He’s exuberating with confidence.”

Downer Day in Dub Nation

Posted in Golden (State) Years on April 2nd, 2016 by bill

It was that kind of day.

Well this is embarrassing. One day after I wrote that the Warriors were not tired and there was nothing to worry about, they looked tired in their first home loss of the year, 109-106 to the Boston Celtics.

I already had this window open to write about what would have been their 69th victory of the season, which I now realize is bad juju. So maybe this whole thing is on me. Or maybe it was just an elaborate April Fools joke on the fans by the team. Or maybe it was karmic payback for the kinda mean prank played on Festus Ezeli by some of his teammates.

In any case, what’s done is done. The Warriors are now 36-1 at home, which is not too bad, and they still can lose one more game and still break the Bulls’ record. The big issue is if fatigue is starting to catch up with them, and if coach Steve Kerr needs to start prioritizing rest over the record. I’m glad it’s not my decision to make; that’s why Steve gets the big bucks. We’ll see what he does tomorrow, when the Dubs take their second shot at win #69 against Portland.

Summer of 68

Posted in Golden (State) Years on March 31st, 2016 by bill

In the audience last night: Andrei Kirilenko (R), victim of the greatest dunk in Warriors history.

OK, it’s not quite summer yet, though it has felt like it the last couple days. But the Warriors did win their 68th game of the season last night, even if they ended up needing overtime to do it. We were watching at the bar at Tomo Sushi in Arcata, where the mood was apprehensive as the W’s repeatedly failed to put the Utah Jazz in their rear-view mirror.

It’s funny, Dubs fans are so horrified now at the prospect of, God forbid, them losing a game. Not that long ago they were regularly losing 50, 55, 60 games a year. At the moment they are stuck on 7, and April starts tomorrow. Good God almighty.

The signature moment last night was Klay Thompson’s 3 to tie it at the end of regulation. Like Steph Curry’s legendary corner 3 at the end of Game 3 of the Pelicans series last year, this was his second shot in a row from the exact same spot after an offensive rebound.

As with the Pelicans, we were forced to go through the formality of an overtime, but there wasn’t any doubt of the result. The Jazz were out of gas and the Warriors put them down without much of a struggle.

Friday night against Boston the Dubs go for 69. Heh-heh.