It happened late in a weird stage of the regular season — a segment segregated by the All-Star Break and the exciting end and focus on the impending future. Somewhere along the dog days of a 67-win regular season, Oracle Arena started flaming out. It probably isn't fair to fans to call them out for not creating an absolute raucous atmosphere in a Wednesday night game against the Phoenix Suns. But it happened. And it was a bit concerning only if that became a legitimate thought process because what else am I going to complain about?
I started to consider the options: the fans were bored, used to the greatness even is only sustained through 60 games. Or was it something even else? As ticket prices soared, and mainstream interest grew, did the crazies that enthralled the nation begin to subsist in front of their TV instead of next to Stephen Curry?
The first game against the New Orleans Pelicans started with a bang, with chants on every single possession before the game turned into a blowout and drag at the end before sputtering into a murmur. Game 2 even less so. The Memphis series remained about the same, with the crowd waiting to explode, hoping for the 20-2 run so afforded to them in the regular season. In turn, the Warriors played to those tendencies and it avalanched into a weird situation between want and need. James Harden then stifled the crowd for entire swaths of Games 1 and 2 before Curry singlehandedly lit things on fire. Ears were splitting but it was merely coming in spurts rather than waves.
Now the Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals. And Game 5 at home against Houston Rockets, when the Warriors were in the midst of a 7-0 run, and James Harden stepped up to the free-throw line for two free throws, of one he made, began the largest, loudest, and exasperated crowd roar I've ever experienced. I was not there in person for the emotional burst of the "We Believe" Warriors so there's no comparison. But it eclipsed last season by a mile and crushed any sound system poured into the speakers of arenas around the world. It hurt.
As I made my way to the locker room, I expected a cataclysmic eruption of joy, a team that's endured less pain than others before it but exceeded expectations to the point where failure seemed the only endpoint. Instead, it was the hypothetical end of the tunnel that embedded itself into the atmosphere of the players, coaches, and sound behind the scenes. Stephen Curry sat in the corner, looking at the box score, shocked James Harden turned the ball over 13 times but that's the most I heard of him throughout the rest of the media session. Draymond Green and Brandon Rush argued over the song as Green fumbled with the aux and his mom on the phone. David Lee and Klay Thompson were barely noticeable, as if these were the end of regular season games. Shaun Livingston seemed happiest, overheard saying "No one thought I could make it here" but even then, just stating it in a calmed tone, reminiscent of his game and role off the bench.
Perhaps the liveliest came from Peter Guber and Joe Lacob, seen holding glass cups of *ahem* water or something. Nothing changed in the expressions of anyone beyond them trying to navigate through the scourge of media flooding the room. It was calm, confident, and representative that even though it's been 40 years since this happened, they expect this to happen for the next 40.
So all this to say what? Oracle Arena has changed. That's undeniable. But this team has also gone through a transformation. The franchise as well. They did not come back out onto the floor and congratulate themselves amongst the fans like Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, and Andris Biedrins. These are neither a good nor bad things, but a thing. These Golden State Warriors seem bored at times with their opponents, coming in playing unprepared and falling behind quickly. The crowd comes into games expecting greatness and when hit with mediocrity, unable to comprehend why Stephen Curry just missed another off-the-dribble 27-footer.
I'm not really sure what I'm trying to get at in the end. The crowd and the franchise are more intertwined than ever, it seems. Both expect greatness, and are getting it in spades. What comes through in their forms of expression has changed, will change when the NBA Finals are over, whenever and however that may be. The Golden State Warriors and Oracle Arena host the NBA's best team and crowd. They've both changed for better and for worse, and we're about to find out just how great they can be next Thursday.
For more on how the Warriors won the West, check out our storystream for Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.