Climbing the hill that leads to the plaza that spans Oracle Arena and the Coliseum, there’s an OPD officer just beyond the metal detectors, the first checkpoint.
He’s holding a giant, black assault rifle. The sun is baking. The TV set is already buzzing with fans, crew members and on-air personalities. Atop the concrete bowl what appears to be a pair of snipers stand sentry.
The last playoff run at Oracle Arena is one hour from beginning.
“For me, the past two years have felt different than the first three,” head coach Steve Kerr admits at his customary pregame press conference before the 121-104 win over the Clippers on Saturday night.
For the first time this season, Kerr is holding court in the playoff press conference room. It’s down the hall from where he speaks for regular-season dates and twice as large.
“The first three felt a lot fresher,” Kerr continues. “It felt like we were on the climb and on the cusp of something, even after winning our first one, the next year we won 73 games.”
The bowl is golden.
The giveaway t-shirts, with a blue silhouette of the Bay Bridge emblazoned across the chest, are draped on every seat.
Out of nowhere, Kevin Durant is flying through the air. He catches the alley oop from a Warriors staffer.
The net swishes violently.
“The following year, Kevin arrives — got a new toy,” Kerr recalls. “Everything was just sort of new and fresh.”
The assembled media and fans let out a collective gasp. His early warm-up is complete.
Dripping sweat, Durant makes his way toward the tunnel that leads under the lower bowl to the Warriors locker room.
“These last two years, no question, have been arduous,” Kerr explains. “There’s no other way to put it. It gets more difficult as you go.”
Durant stops to hug a security guard. On the bench sits Rich Kleiman, his agent and business partner. It’s a who’s-who of NBA luminaries.
Near center court, Mark Jackson, the deposed coach turned broadcasting star, is catching up with a Warriors assistant.
“The good thing is that we have a lot of experience,” Kerr says.
Klay Thompson is up next. As he walks out onto the court, he points up to the giant video board that hangs high over head.
Stephen Curry, who will punctuate his warm-up with the patented tunnel shot, is last.
“We’ve made it through the regular season, to this point, in good shape and we’re healthy. No matter how you get here, you’re here and ready to roll.”
Dual flamethrowers perched atop the stanchions and fireworks descending from the catwalks, are the accoutrements of the national anthem.
Blue and gold strobe lights flash through the darkened bowl. The music blares.
The flamethrowers belch again.
The Warriors, as always, are dancing around the floor in goofy, exaggerated fashion
Surveying the scene is the septuagenarian assistant Ron Adams, stiff in his starched suit, buttoned up as ever; it’s quite the juxtaposition.
There are more pyrotechnics. And more strobe lights.
It’s a party.
Literally. That’s what the text on the video board reads.
It’s not an omen of what is to come. Cousins fouls out in 21 minutes and finishes a team worst -17.
An emphatic dunk from Draymond ensues on the next possession and Doc Rivers, the veteran coach of the Clippers, hits pause.
In the current era, it’s the visiting coach special — call timeout before the Warriors go on a lightning quick run and the game spirals.
Draymond lives for the playoffs.
Green barges into Ivica Zubac. There’s hard contact. He gets the bucket and the foul.
The second quarter and the second unit is a different story.
Suddenly, the Warriors are up 38-37 just over three minutes in. The playoff vibe has faded into a decidedly regular-season-y feel.
Head coach Steve Kerr calls timeout.
Thompson, the only starter to anchor the back-up unit, throws a towel to the ground in disgust as he takes a seat on the bench. He flings another towel all the way to the baseline.
There’s 6:57 on the clock and the Clippers, briefly, take a 42-40 lead.
But the Warriors recover and close. A 29-14 run makes it 69-56 when the teams trickle into their respective locker rooms. It’s a mini-implosion for the Clips, who earn a pair of technicals in the final 37 seconds — the latter assessed to Rivers as he makes his way off the court.
By the time Bob Myers makes it back to his perch, some 15 rows up and directly behind the Warriors bench, the lead has shrunk to seven.
His ankle scare in Memphis, on the penultimate night of the regular season, feels like a distant memory.
“He’s a great player,” Rivers says. “I was telling my coaches, I still think Steph Curry is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. I don’t even know how that happens, but he is. He’s taken for granted.”
Curry ends the quarter on the bench.
He’s jumping up and down, spinning his “Strength in Numbers” towel above his head like a helicopter.
It’s 98-79. The Clippers are cooked.
That’s 30 in 30 minutes for No. 30.
“All I know, when he’s on the floor, he is a handful and he makes them better in so many ways,” Rivers adds.
Curry’s 8-for-11 overall, 6-for-8 from distance, has corralled 13 rebounds (tied for his playoff career high) and has six assists. He’s +24.
It’s loud. Playoff loud.
E-40 is blaring through the stadium speakers during a timeout. The promotions crew, who blast t-shirts into the crowd with hand-held air cannons, are riding around the court on scooters. But it’s not over — not until Curry returns to ice it
With 8:10 to go, Curry re-enters. 11 seconds later he hits a 26-footer. 105-89.
The in-arena camera catches him on the bench amid a timeout. A minute earlier, Curry connected on his eighth 3-pointer of the night. In the process, he passed Ray Allen for most 3-point makes in playoff history.
“I get asked that a lot,” Kerr explains. “Is this the best he’s played? It seems like every year that’s the question. Is the best he’s played? Is this the best he’s played?
Curry ends his evening with 38 points in 37 minutes, shooting 11-for-16 and 8-for-12. He collects 15 rebounds and seven assists. His final line is +27.
“He’s been playing his best for about five years — as far as I can see,” Kerr says.
There’s still one final act.
Patrick Beverley is chirping at Durant. A lot.
“I’ve been playing against Pat Bev since he was at Arkansas,” Durant says. “So, I kind of know what he brings. He’s a Chicago kid and he grew up and was raised in the Chicago area, so those dudes play with a different kind of grit. So, I can appreciate that about him.”
It’s a double tech.
“Pat’s going to talk and that’s legal,” Rivers says.
“And Kevin can talk too…”
19 seconds later, it’s another double tech.
Durant guards Beverley so fiercely that the Clipper guard ends up falling face first into the scorer’s table. He pops up and immediately starts talking.
“That’s two technicals,” Kerr says. “You get seven technicals. Your seventh one is a suspension in the playoffs — whether you play four playoff games or 24. Seven is the magic number.”
“That’s a bad trade for us. The Clippers have made a lot of good plays this year and that was maybe their best.”
After the game, Durant, who’s wearing that black White Sox hat that has become the staple of his postgame wardrobe, is unbothered. He says he was just having “fun.” He’s not concerned about the double tech.
“Nah, I can control myself.”