By Art Spander
OAKLAND – Even when they’re the only game in town, as the Warriors were on Monday night, it seemed they would be upstaged. The 49ers had traded for Anquan Boldin, and we know how big the Niners are, so big that on this night when the Warriors were the only game in town Niner quarterback Colin Kaepernick was doing his star turn on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Boldin and Kaep, a tough combination. No matter, the Warriors would do their “Hey, we’re down here in the righthand corner” routine. They wouldn’t go unnoticed. On the contrary.
They would send the New York Knicks back to the NBA’s dark ages of scoring. They would send the rest of the league a message, as delivered by head coach Mark Jackson, to wit: “This is who we are. Get used to us. We’re not going anywhere.”
He meant they’re not going away, and the way they had played, losing 6 out 8, 11 out of 16, that seemed a figurative possibility. Down, down, while below them in the standings, the Lakers, the dreaded Lakers, were moving up, up.
The Warriors changed direction, if only momentarily. The Warriors won 92-63. Reads like a college score. Reads like a reassuring score.
The 63 points were the fewest for a Warriors opponent in almost 60 years, since Dec. 28, 1953, when the Philadelphia Warriors beat the Milwaukee Hawks, 69-63.
On Monday night, the Warriors were effective. Stephen Curry (26 points), Klay Thompson (23) and David Lee (21) alone combined for more than the entire New York team. The Knicks were pathetic. They made only 20 of 73 field goal attempts, 27.4 percent.
“I don’t know how many teams in history have had nights like that,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson was saying. “It takes a combination of great defense and, at times by the other team, bad offense. We have played that defense before and teams have made shots. But at the end of the day, it’s closer to who we truly are. And it’s a great way to stop the bleeding.”
Oh, the Warriors, with sellout crowds at Oracle Arena almost every game – there was one Monday, 19,596 – with the most loyal followers in the Bay Area, with seasons of unfulfilled expectations.
Their games are half sporting event, half party. Are there really more people in the concessions area than inside the arena, or does it just seem that way? The smoke-and-mirrors introductions. The pizza giveaways. The acrobatic dunking routine. The intermission stunts.
Warrior games are entertaining. And often disappointing. What is it, 17 years out of 18 the W’s haven’t made the postseason? Changes in ownership. Changes in coaching. The dream persists.
Curry scores 54 against the Knicks, and the Warriors get their few seconds on ESPN, but they’re only a cameo. It’s Kobe and the Lakers, the Celtics, the Thunder and deservedly LeBron James and the Heat who receive the attention.
Part of the problem is geographical. If you’re in California and you’re not in L.A., then you’re virtually nonexistent. The Giants win the World Series, and nobody in the East watches.
Part of the problem is historical. The Warriors’ body of work is not considered worthy of serious study. When’s the last time the W’s were on a Sunday afternoon national telecast?
Jackson is a New York guy, who played at St. John’s and with the Knicks and then worked as an analyst for ESPN. If he can’t get attention, nobody can. On Monday night, he and the Warriors got it.
And Jackson, as usual, got texts from his mother, Marie, who’s in the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We made it click,” said Jackson. He insists he took no more pleasure in sticking it to the Knicks – who two weeks earlier had stuck to the Warriors, despite Curry’s 54 – than any other team.
“We executed,” said Jackson. “We defensed. We rebounded.”
That’s basketball in the essence.
”That’s what we need to do,” said Lee, who had missed the previous two games. “I thought we played as good a defense as we did all season long. This was a very important win for us, and we have one on Wednesday and try to get that one as well.’
That one is against the Houston Rockets. Then two days later, Friday, is another, against the Chicago Bulls. Starting with the Knicks, three games in five days all at home. Oracle will be full. Will what takes place there be fulfilling?
“The important thing,” said Lee, “is to take what we did (against the Knicks) and build on it, because each game presents its own challenges. The biggest thing is to remember the energy we played with on the defensive end.”
The biggest thing in the region where the 49ers, Raiders, Giants, A’s and, yes, the Sharks, also play is to stay relevant. The energetic Warriors on Monday night appeared very much so.