OAKLAND — Eddie and Gail, a married couple from Modesto, brought a hand-written sign inscribed with “16-0” and “sweep” to the Game 4 watch party at Oracle Arena in expectation of a series-clinching win from the Golden State Warriors over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They weren’t alone.
After the Warriors failed to close out a 3-1 series lead in the 2016 NBA Finals, many fans arrived at the sold-out event with signs touting the team’s chance at redemption and a perfect postseason. A few carried cardboard cutouts of the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“[A sweep] would put the icing on the cake,” said Gail, who’s been fan of the team since 2002. “We’ve been so excited all day.”
Instead, the Cavaliers won, 137-116, preventing the crowd from experiencing a cathartic victory.
Despite the ugly blowout, however, fans at Oracle remained engaged until the final minutes, cheering, chanting and dancing along to music blasted through the arena speakers throughout the contest.
For many, the $20 entrance fee presented a way to experience a playoff atmosphere without paying hundreds of dollars to acquire a Finals game ticket. Plus, open concessions and on-court entertainment such as a gymnastics display and T-shirt tosses provided an additional incentive to attend.
Wes and his son Grant, Warriors fans visiting the Bay Area for the week from Colorado, went because they weren’t sure they could put their Game 5 tickets to use. Wes said it was a “great idea” to give people an affordable avenue to catch a game in a communal setting.
As the opening tip-off approached, fans, buoyed by Golden State’s 3-0 series advantage, grew increasingly excited to watch their team compete more than 2,000 miles away.
When hype men simulated starting lineup announcements by running onto the floor wearing masks of the starters, the crowd exploded as if Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were actually taking the court. And when the jumbotron, which streamed the telecast, showed Lebron James for the first time, people booed without hesitation.
“The atmosphere was great,” said Monica, a fan from San Francisco donning a Curry jersey. “I’m super disappointed with how it turned out obviously, but we had a blast. … I would definitely come back to one of these [watch parties] again.”
After Kevin Durant drained an early 3-pointer, leading to high-fives among strangers in the lower bowl, James converted a layup through contact at the other end. The play, which typified Cleveland’s record-breaking 49-point first quarter, forced the crowd to watch quietly as Quicken Loans Arena entered a frenzy on the jumbotron.
In the fourth quarter, a tip-in from David West cut the Warriors deficit to 11 with 9:38 to go. But after supporters rose to their feet following the score, Kyrie Irving sat them back down with a 25-foot 3-pointer, one of his seven long-range makes.
While the shot ignited flashbacks to last season, when Irving’s offense helped Cleveland come back to win the finals in seven games, the crowd didn’t panic as the Cavaliers pulled away.
In fact, fans erupted when a graphic previewing Game 5 flashed on the telecast late in the fourth quarter. Before Monday, the Warriors hadn’t won a title on their home floor since moving to California.
Still, among a smattering of postgame “Let’s go Warriors” chants, people understood the importance of Golden State taking care of business in its next game. Keon, an Oakland native, described the underlying fear of a potential Game 6.
“I know one thing — they don’t want to go back to Cleveland,” he said.
Never doubt Keon from Oakland.