Covering the impact of coronavirus on the sports world
SAN FRANCISCO — After yet another trademark Golden State Warriors third-quarter run, Stephen Curry walked toward the stands, gesticulating desperately for the home fans to get louder. From the outset of Game 1 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, the crowd’s timidity in the first-ever playoff game at Chase Center was more than perceptible, particularly when contrasted with the organization’s previous, sanctified building across the Bay Bridge — the one that earned the “Roaracle” moniker for its pervasive, eardrum-popping din.
It wasn’t malice or frustration coming from Curry. It was permission. Loosen your ties. Let down your hair. Let’s get wild — this is the Warriors. And we’re back in the playoffs.
“It was almost because the lead was so big, you lose the anxiousness of the moment, and that’s where you remind yourself like, this is a playoff game. Every possession is important,” Curry said after the game. “I started pointing at the scoreboard, trying to get everybody hype, knowing that you’ve got to build on that momentum every game to create that home-court advantage.”
The sellout crowd responded in kind, slowly reaching a crescendo before launching into the haunting, goosebump-inducing chant of “Waaaaaarrrrriiiioooooorrrrrs.” Curry stood at halfcourt, hands on his knees, nodding his head in approval. Though ubiquitous at Oracle, the trademark chant has scarcely been uttered since Chase Center opened its doors. It was a little taste of the Warriors’ success from the past making its way into the new era, much like the Curry 6 sneakers that Steph wore, paying homage to the building in which he became a basketball legend and “passing the torch off” to his new environs.
Stephen Curry shouts out Oakland and takes it back to the Curry 6.
The 6s were worn during the Warriors’ final season at Oracle Arena and featured a “10 in the Town” pack of colorways honoring Curry’s decade in Oakland. pic.twitter.com/WGiy9rR8GZ
There’s a scene in a movie called “After Yang,” in which Yang, a humanoid robot purchased as an older sibling to a young, Chinese girl adopted by non-Chinese parents, uses tree grafting as a metaphor to explain how cultures can blend to create something new and unique.
“The tree is becoming part of another tree,” Yang says. “But you should know that both trees are important.”
In so many ways during Saturday night’s 123-107 win over the Denver Nuggets, the Warriors showcased how successfully they’ve blended the old with the new — a rare formula for sustained success in the cutthroat NBA.
Let’s start with the old. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney played in the same game for the first time since the 2019 Finals, nearly three years ago. The quintet has more titles than an 18th-century British noble, and all of their skills and quirks were on display in the Game 1 win.
Thompson firing up an airball heat-check … on his first shot of the game. Green playing unfathomably persistent defense on Nikola Jokic, a superstar six inches taller than him. Iguodala stripping the ball with his lightning-quick hands and throwing behind-the-back passes to the corner. Looney collecting rebounds and scoring inside despite not being able to jump over an iPad. And then there’s Curry, who started off cold from the field en route to 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting in 22 minutes, but characteristically ended at plus-17 for the game.
“So special,” Thompson said of being back on the floor with the old guard. “Something I won’t take for granted, just being able to play playoff basketball. It was very surreal for me.”
The vintage performance from the mainstays was buoyed by the electricity of playoff newcomer Jordan Poole, who dazzled his way to 30 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. The 30 points tied Mitch Richmond for the highest total for any Warrior in his playoff debut besides Wilt Chamberlain — talk about bridging generations.
Poole’s development has been on display since the second-half of last season, and went to a new level in the past month and a half, but players with greater resumes have melted to the point of dissolution under the brightest lights. Poole passed his test with flying colors, as he’s done since last postseason’s play-in games, and credited his reliable veterans for smoothing the transition to playoff basketball.
“There is no better feeling than having the guys behind you who’ve already been through the fight. They’ve been through it at the highest level,” Poole said after the game. “Knowing that if you make any mistakes, you’ve got those guys that’ll pick you up. There’s no better feeling than that.”
Poole wasn’t the only new face to make an impact, either. Gary Payton II put up five points, three rebounds, two assists and a monster block, while playing his usual brand of suffocating defense. Nemanja Bjelica was as aggressive offensively as he’s been all season, scoring eight points in 15 minutes. Otto Porter Jr. provided four points and four assists in 25 minutes, and equaled Green for the best plus-minus on the team at plus-21.
Then, for a brief moment, we got a glimpse of the next green wave of contributors. With the game in hand in the fourth quarter, rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody checked in to wet their playoff feet. Both played important roles at different points during the regular season, and they’ll likely eventually be called upon during big playoff moments — perhaps as soon as this series.
It’s incredibly difficult to sustain winning in the NBA, even with the best players in the world on your payroll. The Warriors know this as well as anyone, missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons amid injury problems and roster changes. The San Antonio Spurs were able to bridge the gap due to a legendary coach, the grace with which their Big Three aged and the forceful arrival of Kawhi Leonard.
The Warriors hope that they’ll eventually become synonymous with the Spurs in terms of franchises that embody undying success, but they’re being careful not to get lost in daydreams. Right now they’re not allowing themselves to ponder the next round of the playoffs, let alone a championship. The only thing on the Warriors’ minds is Monday’s Game 2 against Denver.
“For the guys that have been there and understand what that journey is like at this stage of the season and the playoff chase, yeah you start to kind of think about what next. That is because we’ve been there and we know,” Curry said after the game. “But it’s also a reminder that this group hasn’t done it yet.”
© 2004-2022 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.
CBS Sports is a registered trademark of CBS Broadcasting Inc. Commissioner.com is a registered trademark of CBS Interactive Inc.
Images by Getty Images and US Presswire