Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Clippers Warriors game and experience in person the most highly anticipated 5th game of a season in NBA history. Not only was it a grudge match between the best rivalry in the NBA, but both of those teams just happened to be undefeated and also really good at tossing the orange sphere into the round thingy. Despite a broken heart and some lingering frustration/anxiety over certain coaching decisions, I have returned unscathed and still alive after journeying into the lion's den. Here are four quick takeaways I learned from venturing behind enemy lines for a Clipper game:
1. The Heckling Wasn't As Bad As I anticipated
One of the top concerns that I had before the game was if I should proudly wear my Blake Griffin jersey or not. Warriors fans have a reputation for being somewhat
annoying rowdy. They're from Oakland and no one is going to question their passion, especiallyafter winning their first championship in 40 years. Wearing my Clippers jersey to the game meant I was voluntarily putting a target on my back the whole night. I mentally prepared myself for a cascade of insults straight from an ESPN comment section: Floppers! You'll never win a Championship! Always second to the Lakers! Blah Blah Blah.
In reality, the heckling wasn't that bad. While waiting in line and during the game I got booed and called out by some fans (the direct result of some of my Warrior coworkers' actions), but mostly Bay area fans were generally civil and polite, a far cry from what I expected from this rivalry. I think as much as it's fun to hate the Clippers and Blake Griffin, there's a begrudging respect that they are good, which was said to me when talking to different Warriors fans. One of the biggest loud mouths got my section to boo me, then whispered, "Blake's on my fantasy team so I hope you lose, but he does great."
Then again this all could have changed if I followed through with my real dream and made this into a poster to bring to the game:
I mean come on. It's hilarious. It's funny because it's not true, but Warriors fans become so defensive about it. Obviously I didn't actually make the sign and bring it because I place some value on my personal safety, but a better man with Sam Cassell type balls needs to make this for the Nov. 19 rematch.
2. ROAR-ACLE or SNORE-ACLE
Around the league, ORACLE arena is held with high regard for being a great place to play with fans that really get into the game. And man I can attest that ORACLE gets LOUD during the games. Fans started booming chants of "WAAAAAAARRRRRIORS" before the game started and even during the national anthem (which I think means they hate America). Every time Steph dribbles or takes a shot, the crowd collectively readies itself to explode and the atmosphere is terrific. The loudest points were either Steph in the 4th or Ezeli stuffing Blake's dunk attempt.
With such an enthusiastic crowd for a lot of the game, nothing pleased me more than in the 3rd quarter and beginning of the 4th to hear 30,000 people go absolutely silent. When Josh Smith hit his three to put the Clippers up like 7 or 10, you could've heard a pin drop in the stadium. Warriors fans seemed to be stuck in disbelief that their team wasn't winning; after beating teams by an average of 25 to start this season losing may be an unfamiliar concept to them. More amazing than how loud ORACLE can become, is how quickly it can be silenced.
3. Watching Warm Ups are Awesome
I got to the game earlier as a necessity because it was championship ring replica giveaway night, and there were tens of thousands of people lined up hours before the game. While I didn't get a ring, one of the benefits of being there so soon was being able to go and watch the different Clippers go through their warm ups. The nice thing about being at an away game is that you can get really close to the Clippers to watch pregame because no one else really cares or is crowding around.
Maybe I'm a basketball nerd, but I was just so incredibly happy and fascinated by observing J.J. Redick going through shoot around and seeing the different ball handling drills Chris Paul is put through to get ready for the game. Not often do fans get to see how the sausage is made, but warm ups are a quick peak behind the curtain. Also, it's incredible seeing the difference between warm ups and in game shooting. I cringe every time Josh Smith takes a three in the game because he's historically considered a bad shooter, but in warm ups I watched him hit like 14 out of 15 threes from the same spot. It's a nice reminder how hard NBA basketball is.
One last side note I thought was interesting was that while Cole Aldrich was not good at hook shots even in warm ups, he was able to shoot corner threes with surprising ease, not sure if that'll ever be a part of his game though.
4. Steph Curry is Unfair and Unbelievable
Steph is the most exciting player to watch in basketball in general, and is probably the best player alive right now. Through three quarters I thought the Clippers were about to catch a huge break. Curry had struggled with fouls early on, and even seemed to have an off shooting night by his standards, I think he was 0-6 in the third frame. Then my coworker commented to me that Steph was changing his shoes on the bench, and to watch out for him in the 4th, like that would make any difference.
Goddamnit she was right. After seeming human for 36 minutes, in the 4th Curry morphed back into his true self, a basketball shooting robot designed by Silicon Valley. There is nothing more frustrating/exciting/heart breaking than to watch Steph come off a high pick, gain a sliver a room, and step right on to his launching pad. There were about 4 times when I kept screaming, "Stay Up DJ, Stay Up! NO NO NO NO NO NO, DAMNIT." While there are a lot of things from a Clipper perspective I can gripe about in the last couple minutes, I have to hand it to Steph, he was amazing when it counted most.