Andrew Unterberger just completed the first leg of his trip. Here’s his report from Oakland…
After my Sunday afternoon game at ARCO, I had a nice relaxing trip down to San Francisco, driving well under the speed limit and avoiding my usual imaginary feuds with other drivers on the road. I crashed at my cousin’s place in Portrero Hill, and the next day, grateful for the day off from travel, I forewent the sight-seeing suggestion — hey, I was here for like a week two years ago, I’ve gotten my Bay Area fix — and just watched HBO movies on their gorgeous big-screen television. (“The Box,” by the way, might be the most fundamentally insane movie I’ve seen in years.) Then that night me, my cousin and her fiancé headed to Oracle Arena in Oakland for a showdown between the Warriors and Nuggets — their first-ever live hoops game, and my third in three days.
With stories continuing to abound about the insane atmosphere at Oracle — many of them probably still leftover from their unexpected playoff run four seasons ago — I think it’s safe to say that this was one of my more highly-anticipated arena visits. Combined with the fact that the Warriors had already made for two very exciting games as an away team on my trip and that they were playing a fairly offensively-powered team in the Nuggets, I was expecting a fairly fun game to try to sell my cousin and her fiance on the live basketball experience. This was to be my last game before something of an extended Thanksgiving break — not planned really, just how my schedule worked out — so I also wanted a good memory to tide me over during those horrible, hoopsless days I would be forced to spend eating and drinking with friends and family.
The Stadium: Just about any stadium would likely look state of the art compared to my recent visit to ARCO, and Oracle certainly met those qualifications. The arena itself was not all that remarkable, and is arguably hurt by its surprisingly close proximity to the infamously anonymous Oakland-Alameda County Colliseum (right next door, really), but it had some nice food and beer stands and a cool lounge on the second floor with one of those “The Man Who Fell to Earth”-style TV-stack setups for watching multiple games at once. I also dig the new retro-looking visual scheme (the blue and gold with the bridge logo) the team’s adopted the past year — much classier than the comic-book look the team had gone with in years prior, even if the transition does come at the expense of Thunder, the team’s old mascot who was basically the living embodiment of Henchman #21 on “The Venture Bros.”
I don’t have all that much else to say about Oracle itself, so instead I’ll talk about the ridiculous on-court promotional contest that the stadium held in the third quarter. I’ve come to love watching these stupid races as much as the games themselves, to see grown adults really getting their competitive juices up to perform these mind-boggling tasks, while the hype man excitedly cheers them on like he’s announcing the Preakness Stakes. This one, sponsored by gas station chain 76, had its contestants dress up in station-attendant overalls, ride a tricycle across the court, sink a layup, ride the tricycle halfway back, chug a glass of water, and then ride the rest of the way back. Perhaps you had to actually see this in action to fully appreciate the absurdity, but from the very outset of the race, where one of the guys got stuck trying to slip into his attendant overalls, I couldn’t stop cracking up.
The Game: For three-and-a-half quarters, every bit the slugfest I was hoping to see. Well, maybe not every bit — I was hoping my cousin and her fiancé would get to see a bit more from Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, who had been so electrifying the two times I’d seen Golden State earlier in the trip. Ellis had an off-night shooting (7-22 for 20 points) and showed little of the trademark wizardry I’d come to expect from him, while Curry hit a couple nice Js early but had far more rattle out, also ending with something of a subpar statline (8-21 for 17 points). The Warriors got fill-in production from other, less-expected corners, like replacement power forward Dan Gadzuric (8 points, 11 rebounds) and my boy Rodney Carney (16 points on 7-9, including a solid double-clutch breakaway dunk before half) to keep the game close and interesting, but it would have been nice to see the team’s stars really shine.
We got far more of that from Denver. With Chauncey Billups out with a broken nose and sprained hand (yikes), the game was basically Carmelo Anthony’s to win or lose for the Nuggets. Needless to say, he certainly rose to the occasion with a game-high 39 points to go with nine rebounds and five assists. ‘Melo didn’t have the greatest night from the field, shooting 10 for 24 (though he got those ten in his predictably impressive variety of scoring moves), but it was fairly stunning to see the impunity with which he got to the free-throw line. Once he started driving to the basket, the Warriors were just helpless, without a single defender able to sufficiently halt the irrepressible force of his big body. And once at the line, all Melo did was drain every one of his 17 FT attempts, consistently keeping the Nuggets afloat throughout the game. Not the most show-stopping of offensive displays, but one I was certainly glad to be able to appreciate in person.
Despite being neck-and-neck for the great majority of the game, the jumpers stopped falling for the Warriors in the fourth quarter, and whenever the Nuggets needed to get some easy points, they were able to just clear out for Carmelo and let him force his way to the basket and/or the charity stripe. Denver hit a couple key jumpers in the closing minutes while Golden State had a couple tough-luck in-and-outs, and eventually the Nuggs put the game squarely out of reach. Final score: Denver 106, Golden State 89, bringing the home teams on the pre-Thanksgiving leg of my trip to a Tri-State-level-bad 3-9. “You’re not such good luck, are you?” my cousin asked me as we were leaving. Redeem me in December, The South.
The Fans: Before we left for the game, I was talking with my cousin’s roommate about her recent trip to a Warriors game at Oracle. “I heard it’s a pretty crazy atmosphere there, huh?” I asked. She looked at me blankly in response, as if her brain was searching through all possible definitions of the word “crazy” but was unable to find one to appropriately match. That worried me a little, as did a good number of empty seats in the arena when we showed up. Maybe the stories about Oracle’s nuttiness really were just tied to memories of that ’07 upset of the Mavericks, and that the last two years of largely-deplorable basketball the team had played under Don Nelson had sucked more of the energy and passion out of the fan base that everyone cared to admit.
But much to my relief, the place quickly filled out, and from relatively early in the game on, the crowd was certainly invested — like at ARCO, they did a very good job of cheering for the little things, and properly exploding for bigger things like blocked shots (Andris Biedrins had a particularly nice rejection early), three-pointers (though the team only had six the whole game), and breakaways in transition (the Carney double-clutch — always an underrated athlete, that RodCar). It was certainly the crowd I’ve had the most fun cheering along with so far, though my personal affection for the team might have had something to do with that. Unfortunately, it sort of ended up like the Portland game in the final quarter-plus, where the team often seemed one big shot away from getting the crowd to glass-shattering levels, but was unable to get it to go down. Story of my trip so far.
The fans I talked to were mostly up on the team — especially Curry and Ellis, of course. “I think they’re the best back-court in the NBA,” a fan named Lenny told me, and certainly from an offensive standpoint, it’s hard to think of many better. People were also up on Keith Smart, especially Lou, the fan sitting next to me who said frustration over the Nelly era persuaded him to give up his season tickets. “He’s changed the attitude,” Lou said of Smart. “Nelson was wearing out his welcome. The team just needed a new start.” The primary concern for the team’s chances this year was injuries — unsurprising for a team with as bad luck in recent years as the Warriors. “If they’re healthy for the rest of the season, sure,” said a fan named Garrett when I asked him if the team could make the playoffs. Lenny agreed, qualifying “If the big three are not missing. We need Monta, Curry and Lee.”
(Side note: Thanks must go out to Warriors PR guy Dan Martinez, who stopped by my upper-deck seats to make sure everything was cool with my stay at Oracle — definitely the first team official on my trip to reach out to me unsolicited. At the very least, it made me look semi-important in front of my cousin, so thanks for that, Dan.)
Most Popular Jerseys: Curry narrowly getting the nod over Ellis for current, but a fairly high percentage of the fans were going retro, with a fairly even split among Baron Davis, Jason Richardson and Chris Mullin for the most popular throwbacks. Even got a couple Gilbert Arenases (Areni?) No. 0s in there.
Also Worth Noting: For a fanbase that still dwells as much in the recent past as Golden State’s, there was certainly no love lost between the Oracle crowd and ex-Warrior Al Harrington, the current sixth man for the Nuggets. Booed heartily upon intros and just about every time he touched the ball afterwards, there was much more of a grudge still there than I had anticipated. “He had a bad attitude before he left,” Garrett explained to me. “He refused to play. That’s not cool.” Doubly bumming for the Oracle crowd was that Harrington had himself a nice game for the Nugs, going 5-7 from deep for 19 points total. (“We keep booing him, and he keeps scoring,” a fan behind me moaned.)
Lou also brought up the interesting point of often having to deal with ghosts of Golden State’s recent past passing through on winning ballclubs. “That Dallas season was just SO awesome,” Lou said. “The frustrating thing is to see former Warriors players find success somewhere else.” Indeed, with Jason Richardson making the conference finals with the Suns, Stephen Jackson powering the Bobcats to their first-ever playoff experience, Matt Barnes showing up on contending Magic and Lakers teams, and Baron Davis single-handedly leading the Clippers back to prominence (uhh … give it another couple years), it’s pretty understandable that Warriors fans would feel a little slighted rooting for 20-something-win teams these last few years.
Swag Acquired: My first not-red NBA hat, an adjustable blue-and-gold (officially Warriors Royal Blue and California Golden Yellow, according to the team’s Wiki page) Warriors cap with the new Golden Gate logo.
Underworld – “Always Loved a Film” (BBC Radio, XM 29). Surprisingly great comeback jam from 90s dance gods. Got expectations unreasonably high for the mediocre accompanying album, “Barking.”
So yeah, no more games for a bit. Here’s my remaining schedule, though — feel free to hit me up here or on Twitter if you’re going to be at any of these games and want to talk about my trip and/or your team for a few minutes.
Nov. 28th — Clippers vs. Jazz, Lakers vs. Pacers (Staples Center)
Dec. 1st — Jazz vs. Pacers (Energy Solutions Arena)
Dec. 3rd — Nuggets vs. Clippers (Pepsi Center)
Dec. 5th — Suns vs. Wizards (US Airways Center)
Dec. 7th — Rockets vs. Pistons (Toyota Center)
Dec. 10th –Spurs vs. Hawks (AT&T Center)
Dec. 11th — Mavericks vs. Jazz (American Airlines Center)
Dec. 12th — Thunder vs. Cavaliers (Ford Center)
Dec. 13th — Grizzlies vs. Blazers (FedEx Forum)
Dec. 15th — Hornets vs. Kings (New Orleans Arena)
Dec. 17th — Hawks vs. Bobcats (Phillips Center)
Dec. 20th — Heat vs. Mavericks (American Airlines Arena)
Dec. 25th — Magic vs. Celtics (Amway Arena)
Dec. 27th — Bobcats vs. Pistons (Time Warner Cable Arena)
Dec. 29th — Wizards vs. Pacers (Verizon Center)
Dec. 31st — Celtics vs. Hornets (TD Garden)
Jan. 2nd — Knicks vs. Pacers (Madison Square Garden)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Go Lions.