The tangible prospect of external effects played by the layman altering the course of a game that's battled by the most elite professional human beings in that niche system will always remain a fascinating topic for everyone. The 12th Man in Seattle played a huge role, and the coaches and players all admit it, in guiding them to home-field advantage and a Super Bowl victory. We were aghast when Miami Heat fans left the arena with their team down in the final seconds only to attempt to squirm back inside when Ray Allen nailed one of the most memorable shots in NBA history. Oracle Arena, in itself, is renowned by most as one of the main reasons the Golden State Warriors are a great home team.
Unfortunately, digging a little deeper into the aesthetics of that notion is the fact that a great home crowd doesn't necessarily equate itself to a great home team. I say this because many pundits, fans, and even myself associate the Warriors frenzied crowd and electric atmosphere to meaning that the Warriors are unbeatable at home. The Warriors are sixth in attendance this season, according to ESPN.com, ahead of teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Their home record? 14-8, good for 11th best in the entire NBA. Given the expectations and talent of the team, you'd expect a top-ten finish at least, right?
Last season, the Warriors finished fifth in attendance and 11th, again, in the NBA at home. How about the year they went 48-34 and barely missed the playoffs despite an epic finish down the stretch? Sixth in attendance and 12th best home record in the 2007-08 season. Granted, they're still way above the .500 mark in the three seasons they've been successful. After years and years of cumulative losing, it's harsh to suddenly suggest a team would win every game they're supposed to and dominate them, at that. But the consensus trope remains that the Warriors crowd is the best in the league and the team is a force to be reckoned with at home. The team is very good and when the crowd is rolling after 2-3 Stephen Curry threes, the saying isn't wrong, but most of the time, and the small sample size of history suggests they're not as great in Oakland as we would think.
Why is this the case? The Nellieball Warriors played a style of basketball that was conducive to shootouts and ultimately gave both teams a good chance of winning, despite opponent record and strength. In the past two seasons, the Ws have used a scintillating identical 6-1 road trip swing to buoy their record. Is the pressure getting to the team at home? The answer probably lies in the cliche'd response of expectations. Everyone watched the landslide of Curry threes, furious Andrew Bogut slams and Klay Thompson fireballs and expected that to remain the norm for this team throughout every game of the regular season. Simply put, the team can't function and feed off this type of energy on a Tuesday night game against the Washington Wizards. They can't be expected to stay up for every opponent and play up to the crowd, exhorting them into a playoff atmosphere against a middling opponent.
The players themselves have talked about finding that consistency in feeding that energy night in and night out. When everything is clicking, this is a devil of a team, swarming on defense and hitting shots from all over the court on offense after several rounds of tic-tac-toe passing. When it's searching for something, anything, on a game they seem like they could care less about? Well, games against the Wizards and Denver Nuggets happen.
A 26-15 record at home, their current pace right now, isn't awful. Perhaps that's a better indictment on the team at this moment than offseason and fan expectations will have you believe. But when talent and pressure meet at a crossroads in which one has to overlap the other, perhaps we're seeing the Warriors in this particular instance. The team is likely better than their current 14-8 record at home but their talent simply isn't as high as people would suggest. Harrison Barnes was never going to be a high-scoring explosive scorer off the bench. Injuries in various places were bound to happen (Andre Iguodala and Jermaine O'Neal). Klay Thompson has improved but not markedly on offense where he can carry a unit singlehandedly. The bench was always going to and is struggling. Put all that together with some of Mark Jackson's odd substitution and schematic patterns tossed in, and we have a team that's talented enough to beat the best teams, but also bad enough to lose to some not-so-good teams when they're anxious and tired.
Curry has to do so much, play so much, that when things are going wrong, the team expects its savior to make something, anything happen. When it doesn't happen, missed free throws, hurried passes, missed open jumpers, all coalesce in a cataclysmic effort down certain stretches of games (see Spurs, Nuggets, Pacers losses). But these are mostly intangible guesses and a somewhat educated shot in the dark from a person that's only been around the team in person for a little over a month.
Even through the struggles and unlikely sudden improvements, a 26-15 home record would be disappointing and still appears a bit on the low side. A great crowd doesn't make a great home team, but here's thinking that if the Warriors can make the playoffs without facing the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, that fabled crowd will elevate this team to new heights.