I’m going to start this breakdown with a personal note — for most of my years growing up as a Warriors fan, I hated the We Believe Era jerseys.
Not because they represented that magical first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs, when the 8th-seeded Warriors scored a monumental upset over the Dallas Mavericks, a team who finished the regular season with a league-best 67-15 record. No true fan of the Warriors would ever hate those jerseys for that reason — in fact, it was probably the only legitimate reason why Warriors fans would love those threads.
We often associate that aesthetic with We Believe, because before all of these championships and superstars, it was the only positive memory that could ever be associated with such a design. Before that, the jersey represented the many years of suffering that fans endured, when losing back then was as expected as winning is in the current era. Seeing the Warriors lose night in and night out while wearing those jerseys made up most of my resentment towards that design.
Nowadays, the Warriors losing even one game is an event worthy of being considered as scandalous, with many fans pondering where the Warriors went wrong, which players should be blamed for holding back the team, and whether Steve Kerr should be fired for not playing a particular player enough or failing to adjust in the middle of a game.
Hearing some fans call for Kerr’s head forces me to take things into perspective — and eventually, I just come to the realization that it’s a ridiculously hilarious take. It forces me to remember all of the previous coaches I have personally witnessed ever since I became a Warriors fan at the age of 6. (Fun fact: my first ever live game was Yao Ming’s first visit to Oracle Arena during his rookie season.)
PJ Carlesimo. Garry St. Jean. Dave Cowens. Brian Winters. Eric Musselman. Mike Montgomery. Don Nelson. Keith Smart. Mark Jackson. Steve Kerr.
Believe me, when some of you find out (if you haven’t known already) that Keith Smart had a tendency to bench Stephen Curry in the 4th quarter for Acie Law, then you would realize how immensely blessed fans are to have a coach like Kerr. But I digress.
Three of those coaches hold a special place in my heart. Don Nelson was the architect of We Believe, and his patented system termed as “Nellie Ball” — one that put emphasis on a fast paced, positionless brand of basketball — was a precursor to the hybrid egalitarian motion offense that the Warriors currently employ.
Mark Jackson is perhaps the most polarizing coach in Warriors history. His hiring changed the culture and mindset of the Warriors almost overnight. From their years as the punching bags of the league, they became a team that nearly lived up to their potential — and Jackson played a big part in making them believe that they were much better than what everyone else thought they were. He motivated them to play defense. He instilled confidence in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to become the Splash Brothers. He managed to lead them to the playoffs for two consecutive seasons after having missed it for five straight seasons. Even if Jackson had his faults — and there were several — his contributions cannot be ignored.
Jackson laid the foundation for a contending team — and Kerr took that foundation and built it up to a height that rivals that of the Burj Khalifa. His egalitarian system transformed Curry from an All-Star into an MVP; it transformed everyone around Curry from mere bystanders and occasional contributors to crucial parts of a well-oiled machine; and it gave the Warriors three championships in the span of four years, with a fourth title very much in the realm of possibility.
Nelson made us believe. Jackson fostered that belief in a new generation of players. And Kerr helped fulfill the belief that the players had in themselves, as well as the belief that fans had in the team to reach their full potential.
So when Curry walked into the building wearing a Monta Ellis jersey, it was a portent of the night to come. Ever so respectful of the past and of those who came before him, Curry was more than ready to pay tribute to the building that bore witness to all of those 47 years — from the Warriors’ first championship in the Bay Area in 1975; to the excitement and promise that Run TMC brought with them; to the dark ages of the Chris Cohan regime, when players such as Vince Carter and Gilbert Arenas slipped from the team’s grasp, and when the Warriors only had one playoff run and only two winning seasons out of the fifteen under Cohan’s ownership.
To the underdog story of the We Believe team;
to the 7th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft;
to the trade of Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut, and the crowd reaction that came with it;
to the upset of the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs;
to their first championship in 40 years, which will forever be the sweetest out of all of them;
to the massive heartbreak that was the 2016 NBA Finals;
to the subsequent redemption season and the best playoff run in the history of the NBA;
to some of us — this author included — it all started with this look.
And Curry — true to his aforementioned knack for showing proper respect for the past — gave Oracle Arena one last hurrah befitting of its long and storied heritage.
Curry finished the night with 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, with an 11-of-20 clip from the field (55 percent) and a 3-of-10 clip on threes (30 percent). The greatest shooter of all time didn’t have a particularly great time shooting the three, but he made up for it by increasing his forays into the paint and by being aggressive.
Here is Curry being the usual off-ball maestro that he is — when he is being overplayed, with no one in the paint to protect the rim, you can be sure that he will lose his defender for a hard dive toward the rim.
And once again, with the Clippers intent on overplaying Curry, he manages to get inside position on his defender. With no other defenders around to help, Curry catches the pass and sneaks a layup behind the Clippers’ defense.
With Kevin Durant acting as the facilitator up top, Curry and Thompson both look to spring free for a catch-and-shoot jumper. Thompson fails to get open, while Curry — with a little help from DeMarcus Cousins’ rock-solid pin down that takes the defender out of commission — catches the pass from Durant and knocks down his first three of the night.
But with Curry largely struggling to find a rhythm from behind the arc, he was content with trying to take advantage of defenders overplaying him, as well as using his handles to take advantage of favorable one-on-one matchups. Here are two such sequences, where after Draymond Green’s defense forces a turnover, Curry takes advantage of a mismatch to drive inside for a reverse layup. Not long after, Curry once again cuts inside after being overplayed, getting him deep enough in the paint to go up for a flip shot.
Curry’s second three of the night came from a classic low-post split. Bogut makes the entry pass to Durant in the post, and then proceeds to set a hard screen on Curry’s defender that wipes him out from the sequence entirely. Besides his passing ability, this is what makes Bogut so valuable on offense — his screens skirt the boundaries of legal and illegal, and in this case, there can be an argument for it to be illegal. But the referees swallow their whistles, and Curry benefits fully from Bogut’s hard pick.
Curry closes out his first half by linking up with Bogut for two high pick-and-roll sequences, with the first one allowing him to bury a mid-range jumper, and the second allowing him to take his defender inside and slipping by for a layup.
While Curry’s scoring was mostly quieted during the Warriors’ 3rd quarter rampage, he was still able to make an impact. His unselfishness knows no bounds, including making sure to help out a struggling teammate. Here he is making a play for Cousins, who went 0-of-8 overall in the first half and 0-of-4 on threes.
Curry’s drive inside draws two defenders, allowing him to kick the ball out to Cousins in the perimeter for the big man’s first three of the night.
The Warriors then run “Double Punch,” a play that usually results in a Curry three. When that option is denied, Curry improvises by flowing into a pick-and-roll with Kevon Looney, who catches the pass from Curry and rolls toward the rim for the finish in traffic.
To close out his night, Curry shows two shining examples of his scoring versatility. Some people misconstrue him as being “only a three-point shooter,” which shows how much those people really know about Curry’s greatness. He is an elite scorer from any point of the floor. His ability to finish at the rim is sublime — according to tracking data from NBA.com/stats, Curry is currently finishing at a rate of 58.3 percent on shots that are less than 10 feet from the rim. So it’s no surprise that he was able to finish on this drive using a beautiful up-and-under move.
But Curry is more known for his long range snipes. It was a foregone conclusion that he wouldn’t be playing the 4th quarter due to the Warriors amassing a huge double-digit lead. For all intents and purposes, his night was officially done — his last regular season game in the arena where he built his legend didn’t even require him to play the full four quarters.
Before Curry bid farewell to his final regular season minutes in Oracle Arena, he gave the building one last parting gift — and in vintage Stephen Curry fashion, it was a present delivered from the hash mark, one that has seen its fair share of ridiculous shots from its most accomplished tenant.
A fitting final shot from perhaps the greatest player to have ever called Oracle Arena his home court. Everything else that the Warriors were able to accomplish on this historic night — including clinching the number one seed in the Western Conference — was important, but ultimately rendered academic.
For Oracle Arena has just seen its last regular season game. Chase Center is awaiting, and while that is an upgrade of epic proportions, one cannot help but feel melancholic that part of the fabric and soul that made the Golden State Warriors a storied franchise is being left behind.
As Bitter Sweet Symphony played while a banner commemorating the Warriors’ tenure in Oakland was revealed, I couldn’t help but reflect on how thankful I was to have seen the Warriors’ rise from irrelevance to a place among the greatest teams to have ever played in the NBA. I couldn’t help but be thankful that the franchise was able to build its core mostly through the draft, and thankful that the franchise eventually built up its reputation to convince a generational talent to come play for them.
And most importantly, I was thankful that the Warriors had finally found its franchise superstar who delivered on his promise to lead the team and its fans to the promised land.
Promise to all the Warrior fans...we will figure this thing out...if it's the last thing we do we will figure it out— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) November 12, 2009
All of these were things that Oracle Arena witnessed. And while it will cease to become the official home of the Warriors, it will never cease to house the countless memories that are contained within its antiquated walls.
Farewell to the regular season memories in Oracle. Here’s to making more playoff memories during the last two months of the season.
Eighty down, 2 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.