Pre-Game: Zen and the Art of Drawing Fouls
It’s one of those fog-filled days you expect in July. Is this an omen? Good or bad?
The dog says it could be worse, weather-wise. Like, we could be stuck in the muggy bog they call Houston, Texas. He sniffs.
This morning, the pre-game hype has been eclipsed by the Boston Celtics’ surprising win over the Cleveland LeBrons and the tech dollars pouring into London Breed’s campaign. Has anyone checked out how much Dubs and friends are giving to the mayoral race of what will be their new home?
Then comes news of tonight’s starting Refs. They include the dreaded Scott Foster and Tony Brothers who have in the past been accused of blowing a quick whistle on the Dubs while blissfully accommodating the antics of a James Harden or Chris Paul (CP3). Will the Dubs have to play 5 against 8?
Wisdom from Reddit: “Let’s all enter a pre-game zen state so that watching Harden and CP3 play for whistles doesn’t drive us up the wall.”
Sound advice for the “Cool Gray City of Love.”
But what is a “pre-game zen state?”
Around 4 p.m., the clouds part, the winds die down and the sun makes a short, but meaningful, appearance. I get it.
First Quarter: The Pork Store.
My friend L and I are the only customers on hand at tip-off. Which is strange. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter, as the Pork Store screen is big enough to completely lose yourself in the game.
We barely toast and James Harden has already scored 9 points and snookered Draymond Green into a technical foul.
Throughout the first quarter, we see what Houston does. Harden or Chris Paul holds the ball, dances around and drives to the basket. Or fakes a drive and steps back for a three-point shot. Or drives right and passes to the guy standing in the left corner. Or drives left and passes to a guy standing in the right corner. The final option is a lob to center Clint Capella, who’s standing under the basket.
Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.
This is what Houston does. Play after play after play. And, given the players they have, it often works. Like it does in the first quarter. At the beginning and then once more about midway through, it seems the Rockets might blow open a big first-quarter lead, but the Dubs respond with KD and Klay Thompson hitting shots. Then, at the end of the first quarter, the Rockets have a one-point lead, 30-29.
The Dubs must be feeling good.
Second Quarter: Giordano’s.
“Where is everybody?”
“A lot of guys are watching at work,” says Steve.
Oh, right. Work.
Giordano’s is full, not packed, like for a Pittsburgh Penguins game. Given what happened in the first quarter, I would have expected a higher decibel level.
Like, something to match the intensity level at which the game is being played. Throughout the quarter, the Dubs and Rock Heads match baskets, misses and turnovers. The Dubs take the lead but just before time runs out, Houston snatches it back after James Harden scores 7 points in just over 30 seconds. With 11 seconds left, Nick Young hits a 3 for the Dubs and at halftime the game’s tied at 56 apiece.
How can you watch a game like this at work? I mean, really: either you’re working or you’re watching the game. You can’t do both.
And given how exciting the first half was, any time working would have been time lost.
The fog is back and the wind is up. In Spencer Alley, I meet a doctor who has examined dead bodies for a lifetime. “Stick a fork in ‘em,” he says referring to the Rockets. “They’re toast.”
Third Quarter: Bar San Pancho.
The bar is crowded and the crowd is amped on the Dubs!
With KD shooting lights out from almost anywhere on the floor, the Dubs take a five-point lead. With eight minutes, ten seconds left, James Harden cuts the lead to three points. Harden will score only two more baskets the rest of the quarter.
And the Rockets score just 24 points as the Dubs put on a defensive clinic. Curry, Thompson and Green get steals. In three straight possessions, Kevon Looney stops Eric Gordon in his tracks, KD draws a charge and then Gordon throws the ball away.
Rockets find a hand in the way every time they shoot. Outside or inside doesn’t matter, as the Dubs easily switch from one player to another. The Dubs are known to play a “beautiful game” on offense, but tonight the defense scintillates.
Meanwhile, the Rockets do what the Rock Heads do: Harden. Paul. Pass right. Pass left. Lob. They are nothing if not predictable.
By the end of the quarter, Harden looks gassed.
The Dubs are beginning to look a bit predictable on offense as well: give the ball to KD. But it works.
The Dubs take a seven-point lead, and look like they’re about to step on the gas.
Fourth Quarter: Bar San Pancho.
The vibe at Bar San Pancho is particularly strong (“It’s a neighborhood bar,” says Kayla). I once lived above Bar San Pancho when it was called Sefi’s. Early one morning, a jilted lover turned on the gas stove in Sefi’s and lit a match.
Tonight the Dubs don’t look as explosive as they do locked in, that is smart and focused. It shows on both sides of the ball.
And it’s also notable that James Harden has been sitting for the first three minutes of the quarter. Now he comes back to launch a Rocket comeback.
Harden and KD face off. Harden drives past KD and dunks. KD gets the ball and hits a three in Harden’s face, giving the Dubs a 13-point lead.
The Rockets will get it down to nine, but after Curry picks Harden’s pocket with five minutes to go, they fizzle.
The Dubs prevail 119-106.
As it turned out, the omen was good. The Dubs bogged down the Rock Heads, who played in a fog for much of the second half.
Which gives the Dubs home-court advantage for the series.
For reasons not quite clear, they say a playoff series doesn’t really begin until the road team wins. On Wednesday night, the series begins (again) with Game 2 from Houston.
At 5 p.m. Watch it at work.
Warrior Fever Strikes the Mission, A guide for the Perplexed, May 14, 2018