A Clearly More Sinister Dimension

A few days ago I started J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, a 1975 dystopian novel set in a London apartment tower. A paragraph in I was nodding to myself and mumbling, “Now that’s one hell of an opening.”

Imagine my surprise at scrolling the Twitter today and seeing it again, but in a new context.

Song of the Week, 7/14/2019

Somehow or other I mostly missed Blur when they were happening. My first Blur album was their fifth, the self-titled one that came out in 1997. It was only later that I went back and explored their earlier stuff, and some of it fell through the cracks… like this one from 1995’s The Great Escape.

What a smashing number. I particularly like the unconventional structure, the way what appears to be the chorus — “there must be more to life/than stereotypes” — shifts into a chorus-within-the-chorus, the “all your life you’re dreaming” part, and then back. I listened to this song at least once every day this week, and I’m not tired of it yet.

6/13/2019: Raptors 114, Warriors 110

Yup.

If beauty were indeed truth, and truth beauty, I would be sitting here right now writing about how Steph Curry hit a buzzer-beater last night to send the NBA Finals to Game 7. That is undoubtedly the better story.

Things were all set up for it to happen. The Raptors, nursing a 1-point lead in the waning seconds, committed a horrible turnover to give the W’s one last shot. Steph received the pass, got a good look at the basket, and let it fly. It should have been glorious.

Unfortunately, in the timeline I currently find myself in, the shot clanged off the rim and caromed back toward halfcourt. All 10 of the large men in short pants scrambled for the ball; Draymond Green ended up with it and the W’s tried, as one does, to call time out before the clock expired. Unfortunately, they were out of timeouts, which resulted in their being assessed a technical foul. (In basketball this is known as a “Webber.”) And that was pretty much that. The dream was over.

After years of being lucky as well as good, the Warriors found themselves rolling snake eyes over and over in this series. First they brought back Kevin Durant and quickly lost him to a torn Achilles; then in the 3rd quarter last night Klay Thompson went up for a dunk, was fouled in the air by Danny Green, and came down awkwardly on his left knee. After writhing in pain for awhile he headed back to the locker room.

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6/10/2019: Warriors 106, Raptors 105

“We’re alive!”, Steph Curry was heard to say as he jogged through the tunnel to the visitors’ locker room after Game 5 of the Finals.

It is true. And so are the Dub Nation’s hopes for a third straight title, after a tense, hard-fought game came down to Kyle Lowry on the left wing in the final seconds, Raptors down one. He rose to take a jump shot that could have won the game, and the trophy, for the Canadian upstarts. But Draymond Green, who was lurking nearby, extended one long arm and brushed the ball, causing it to fall way short. The clock expired and the Warriors lived to fight another day.

This came after the W’s found themselves down 6 with three minutes to play. Toronto had all the momentum and their fans were starting to celebrate — prematurely, as it turned out. It was at this point that Raptors coach Nick Nurse chose to take a timeout — a decision that has been hotly debated all day today by those who care. He says that he wanted to give his team a rest, but he gave the Warriors one too, as well as a much-needed moment of calm amidst the frenzy.

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Song of the Week, 6/9/2019

As fate would have it, we were walking down St. Charles Street in New Orleans on Thursday when I happened to glance in a shop window and saw on the TV screen that Dr. John had died.

I actually met the Night Tripper back in the early ’00s, when I was working at the Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland. Yoshi’s Jazz Club often put their guests up at the Lake Merritt , which was a funky old art-deco place well-suited to musicians and other degenerates. The Dr. spent about a week there. He was very nice and frail-looking even then.

The day after his passing a second line was organized — if that’s the word — starting at Kermit’s Mother-in-Law Lounge in the Treme. It was there that I saw this sign:

That’s a reference to a song from Dr. John’s 2012 album Locked Down, which coincidentally I had listened to earlier in the day. It’s a good one.

And it’s true, of course. There will never be another like him.

6/7/2019: Raptors 105, Warriors 92

All of Canada and most of America is rejoicing today, after the two-time defending champion Warriors were laid low by the upstart Toronto Raptors. The Raps now lead the series 3–1, and historically such a lead is all but insurmountable.

That “all but” is important, though. Both Warriors fans and haters are acutely aware that back in the 2016 Finals, the W’s held such a lead against Cleveland and let it slip away — a loss both painful (leading to endless mocking memes) and productive (prompting Kevin Durant to join the team).

Speaking of Kevin Durant — a lot is riding on that right calf of his. It’s now been a full month since he sustained what was initially called a “mild sprain,” and has apparently turned out to me more than that. News from the team about the injury has been sparse and cryptic; outside sources reported that he went through a workout before Game 4, that “it did not go well,” and that he “suffered a setback.” All coach Steve Kerr would say was,

“We’re hoping [Durant] can play Game 5 or 6. And everything in between I’ve decided I’m not sharing because it’s just gone haywire. There’s so much going on, and so it doesn’t make sense to continue to talk about it. He’s either going to play or he’s not.”

And I don’t have much more to say either. I don’t necessarily care to talk about the subpar performance by My Personal Savior Steph Curry, who managed 27 points but on 9 of 22 from the field and 2 for 9 on threes in what could end up being his last game at Oracle Arena.

Or not. With or without KD, the Warriors will have to reach deep down inside and find the best version of themselves if they want to win Game 5 in Toronto. In a situation like this you can’t even think about winning the series; you have to focus on what’s right in front of you and hope to live to fight another day. That’s all we can ask for.

6/5/2019: Raptors 123, Warriors 109

Some nights are just like that.

Acceptance of what is, and of what must be, is an important life skill. The Dub Nation is getting a chance to practice ours today, after our shorthanded team dropped Game 3 of the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors.

Kevin Durant remains sidelined almost a month after suffering a “mild calf sprain.” Kevon Looney sustained a season-ending rib injury in Game 2. And Klay Thompson, who tweaked his hamstring the other day, was listed as questionable right up to gametime. “I don’t see myself not playing,” quoth the Klay; but alas, he is a basketball player, not a doctor or a soothsayer. He ended up sitting on the bench, in uniform but inactive, as his team went down double-digits early and never really threatened afterward.

This despite a heroic performance from Steph Curry, who poured in a career-playoff-high 47 points to go with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. But No One Does It Alone — Steph desperately needed some help on offense, and none was forthcoming; only Draymond Green (17) and Andre Iguodala (11) reached double figures.

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6/2/2019: Warriors 109, Raptors 104

I had spent three days psychologically preparing myself for the possibility of the Warriors going down 0–2 in the Finals. This would be uncharted territory, and while not a death sentence necessarily, certainly a stiff challenge; but all the omens seemed to be pointing that way.

And at about 8:00 New Orleans time, it was looking like my preparation had been all too necessary — the Dubs were down a dozen and sinking, looking lost on both ends of the floor, scrambling on defense and unable to find shots on offense. I was watching on a smallish screen at a crawfish restaurant, slow-drinking double ryes and chanting my chosen words of self-comfort as despairing texts came in from my friend in Denver, the only fan I know who takes these things harder than I do.

But the W’s battled and scrapped and managed to pull the difference back to 5 at halftime, which seemed like something of a miracle. Then we had to relocate because the restaurant was fixing to close, and by the time we Lyfted to the Bayou Beer Garden and got in front of the screen, the Warriors were ahead by 5. I did a double-take and continued to goggle as the run ballooned to 18–0, turning a 5-point deficit into a 13-point lead.

The Raptors were now the ones looking lost, and the arena full of hopeful Canadians sat in stunned disbelief. My only regret is that I could not actually hear the eerie silence that settled over Toronto in those six glorious minutes.

Mind you, I have nothing against Canada, or Toronto, or even the Raptors per se — it’s not like the Houston Rockets, or the Clippers of old, or the Dallas Cowboys always. But they are the opponent, and so all warm neighborly feelings must be put aside for the nonce; diplomatic relations can be resumed once the series is over.

Which reminds me, His Obamaness was in the audience, which must have helped. He probably didn’t go to the visitors’ locker room at halftime and chant “Yes We Can” with the team, but I’d like to imagine that he did.

But what did actually happen? I’ve been trying to piece it together all day, and especially enjoyed this piece by ESPN’s Jackie McMullen:

The champions cranked into overdrive with such ferocity and cold-blooded efficiency, it was as if the Toronto Raptors were unsuspectingly mugged in a dark alley after midnight.

Never mind that the Golden State Warriors implemented the theft of these NBA Finals under the bright lights of the Scotiabank Arena in front of 19,800 incredulous witnesses wearing red shirts and the stupefied daze of a crowd that just had their wallets swiped. This is what coach Steve Kerr’s team does when it discovers its collective rhythm, feeding off a savage defense that clamps down with impunity, extracts turnovers and transforms them into transition artistry that douses the spirit of even the most resilient opponent.

It seemed that everybody chipped in — Andrew Bogut, Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko, and especially DeMarcus “Don’t Call Me Boogie” Cousins, who got the start and responded with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. And of course Old Pro Andre Iguodala, who got his head half taken off on a Marc Gasol screen in the first half, but was a key cog in the big run and then — after the Raptors had clawed it back to within two with seven seconds left in the game — found himself standing all alone behind the three-point line with the ball in his hands.

Watching Andre shoot is always an adventure. He’s quite capable of making them, and also quite capable of missing badly. You’re never quite sure which Andre you’re going to get.

But in this case it was the good Andre. The shot did a little pas-de-deux with the rim before finally dropping in, and that was that. The drunk Warriors fangirl near us who had been finding and taunting the Raptors boosters throughout the second half stepped it up a notch, and the Dub Nation breathed a big sigh of relief, knowing we’d gotten away with one.

Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney had sustained injuries of unknown severity along the way; Steph Curry had fought off flu-like symptoms and struggled mightily to put 23 points on the board; Iguodala was just plain beat up all over; and the status of Kevin Durant remained a question mark. Despite all that the series is tied 1–1, the next game is in Oakland, and today is a good day to be alive.

5/30/2019: Raptors 119, Warriors 108

The NBA Finals got underway last night, and not a moment too soon; after a week-plus of Super Bowl–style blather and hype, it was great to see some basketball being played.

The result of the game was not what I would call “good.” Although as this map shows, most of the continent would disagree with me:

It is assumed that all of Canada was rooting for the Raptors, who were making history just by appearing in the Finals. Also historic: This was the first time in their five-year run that the Warriors played Game 1 of the Finals on the road, and the first time they lost.

The Warriors lost. I just keep saying this, because though I had been telling anyone who would listen that the W’s needed to be worried about the Raptors and Kawhi Leonard — who is playing at a Jordanesque level right now — in practice I was not quite prepared for it. Fortunately I had inoculated myself against any pain I might have felt with a large Redwood Rye Manhattan.

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5/20/2019: Warriors 119, Blazers 117

Last night the Warriors completed their sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, claiming a place in their fifth straight NBA Finals. This is something that has been accomplished only once before, by the Boston Celtics — who went to the Finals 10 straight years (from 1956–57 through 1965–66), winning all of them but one, including eight in a row. Chances of the Dubs matching that: effectively zero. But that was the NBA’s Age of Titans, and to even be included in the same paragraph with those Celtics (who won two more titles in 1966–67 and 67–68) is an enormous honor.

The feeling for the Nation is a little different than it was after the Houston series; there is not the same joy in standing over the battered and bruised body of an opponent you feel an affinity and empathy for. The Blazers are a class act (and as for what that says about the Rockets, you can draw your own inference).

They just had the bad luck to run into a Warriors team that has rediscovered its mojo and does not look inclined to lose another game to anyone, ever. In each of the last three games of the series the W’s went down double digits at halftime, shrugged, and took care of business down the stretch. Though Game 4 got pretty dicey — it took an overtime, a bit of good luck, unexpected offense from Draymond Green, and Steph Curry playing the whole second half and overtime to seal the deal.

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