They deserve a new arena in the big, rich, progressive city across the water. And they’ll have one, at some point in our lifetimes, never mind the obnoxious opposition group that claims game traffic will impede ambulances when it hasn’t been an issue at, oh, the corner of Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street in midtown Manhattan.
But Thursday evening, a relic nearing its 50th birthday never seemed more relevant. If it’s oxymoronic in theory — a team that is reinventing basketball doing its groundbreaking lab work in an ancient building — the Warriors still have a kinship with Oracle Arena that plays a powerful role in the ongoing history blazed each night. They’ve fed off the rocking decibels in the intimate bowl, built before decks of suites elevated arena roofs toward the sky, and with a 121-106 victory over an envious Kevin Durant and the wobbling Oklahoma City Thunder, they’ve now won 44 straight regular-season games inside the nuthouse.
That ties the NBA record first set by the team they’re chasing in the larger picture of preeminence, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls team of 20 seasons ago. Like two previous games against OKC, the Warriors were pushed deep into the fourth quarter, again out-rebounded by the bigger opponents and limited to only eight second-chance points. Unlike the first two times, the Warriors pulled away with a 17-9 run, further demoralizing a broken underachiever that is 2-6 since the All-Star break, has turned nine sizable fourth-quarter leads into losses and is crumbling beneath trust problems, a struggling rookie coach in Billy Donovan, two recent deaths in the organization and an increasing likelihood that Durant will bolt this summer, surely longing to be a Warrior every time he revisits the Oracle experience.
The Warriors now have won 55 games, double nickels, and lost five. This is a joyride unlike few ever in sports and life on Planet Earth. “Fifty games over .500. Crazy,” Steve Kerr said. “You can’t even dream this stuff up. It’s been that kind of season for us. Our team’s confidence level is deeper than it was a year ago.”
The Oracle love-in only grows louder. “CURRY FOR PRESIDENT!” read a sign held by a fan, shortly before Stephen Curry hit two more of the long 3-pointers that keep Durant and Russell Westbrook up at night, as well as fans nationwide who stay up late to watch the show.
He’d win the election, you do realize.
“It’s unbelievable we can have a record like that,” Curry said after a 33-point performance that revealed no ankle pain. “With all the noise and energy in this building, it’s great for our fans to feel like they’re part of what we’re achieving. It’s a compliment to us as a team and obviously to our fans. They bring that atmosphere every single night, and it gives us the ultimate home advantage. That’s a high level of consistency to take advantage of a home crowd. If we don’t lose another home game the rest of the year, it means good things are gonna happen.”
Another championship, in fact.
“We do it for them,” said Mo Speights, who hit two 3-pointers and whipped a court-length pass that was converted by Draymond Green and rallied the crowd. “Every time we step on the court, we hear them and we play harder.”
“When we look back,” said Shaun Livingston, “it’s pretty cool to be in that company. Those guys [the Bulls] are legends. I grew up watching that team specifically.”
It’s a team that went 72-10, meaning the Warriors will shatter a record of whopping magnitude if they go 18-4. “We’re competitors. If it’s there, we’ll go for it,” said Livingston, who had 11 points, eight assists, no turnovers and helped defend Durant (32 points) with Andre Iguodala limited with a tender hamstring.
More important than a number, 44, the home dominance symbolizes why this team has become the nerve center of sports in America and beyond. When Kerr arrived, he talked of creating a lockdown advantage at Roaracle. He never dreamed the edge would become one of the most intimidating experiences for an opponent in the annals of athletic competition. With Luke Walton’s help earlier this season, his team has played 78 games in the old jewel box, counting the postseason. Seventy-four have been victories, an astonishing rate..
“I didn’t anticipate anything like this,” Kerr said. “I just wanted us to be cognizant of the importance of dominating your home floor. If you’re a great team, you have to dominate your home floor, so I’m proud our guys have done that.
“We’re just a good team to start with, and then when you play at a place like Oracle, with crazy fans and a loud, loud atmosphere, it’s tough for opposing teams to come in and win. The history of the NBA shows how difficult it is to win on the home floor of a great team.”
He would know, having won five championships as a player with the Bulls and San Antonio Spurs teams that ruled their local domains. What Kerr also knows is that 44 merely is a regular-season number, like 73 wins. To make those numbers shine like diamonds and pearls — hey, Prince was sitting across from their bench, with a considerable ’fro and silver walking stick — they’ll also need to win more titles. Though a 41-0 home season would be a revelation, unprecedented in the league, Kerr sees no urgency in maintaining the streak.
“Zero — and I mean that,” he said when asked about how much pressure the team feels. “Our guys relish the atmosphere that we have at Oracle and they relish the pressure that comes with winning. If you lose it’s not that big of a deal. It’s a basketball game. In the long run, 20 years from now, nobody is going to care.
“What matters to us is winning a championship. We’ve talked about it over and over again, is to be the number one seed in the West. We want to be the one seed and have homecourt throughout the playoffs so we can play playoff games in front of Prince.”
His Royal Badness didn’t stick around for the second half, perhaps wanting to avoid a “Let’s Go Crazy” dance-off among fans. That left owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who were sitting beside him, to root their employees through another grinder. At one point, Lacob bowed as Curry ran past him after hitting another three.
He wasn’t going to play if he felt any soreness in his left ankle, injured last Saturday night when Westbrook stepped on it. Kerr and the training staff asked him to be honest before tipoff. Answer: No pain. “That was the criteria for me getting out there. There was an opportunity for me to regress if I played on it,” Curry said. “I didn’t feel much [pain] at all.”
There will be time to rest the ankle, the entire body. He’ll play Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, when the Warriors face his boyhood idol, Kobe Bryant, for the final time. But why play Monday night against Orlando, which will be the record-breaking No. 45 with or without him? He’ll be needed next Wednesday and Friday against Utah and sizzling Portland, but not Saturday against woeful Phoenix.
The fans won’t mind. They’re lost in euphoria. This was the franchise that missed the playoffs 17 times in 18 years, that drafted Todd Fuller over Bryant and Steve Nash, that allowed Latrell Sprewell to choke P.J. Carlesimo and Chris Webber to feud with Don Nelson, that featured Joe Barely Cares and Chris Washburn.
Thursday night, like every night since Jan. 27, 2015, the past was scrubbed away.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.