Allonia Archie sat in the front seat of her car in the sun-baked parking lot at Oracle Arena. A handmade sign in the windshield read: “Let’s ‘Curry’ Up and Win This!”
It was, the San Jose resident said, right where she thought she would be Monday afternoon, waiting for the doors to open for Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, even after her Golden State Warriors lost three of the first four games in the seven-game series.
“With our talent, I knew they weren’t going down easy,” Archie said. “A kick in the (groin) ain’t gonna stop us from winning.”
Indeed, a sense of confidence permeated the tailgates outside and the seats inside Oracle before tipoff Monday – one the defending champion Warriors rewarded by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 to complete their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and return to the NBA Finals. For a handful of fans, it underscored how far the team has come in recent years.
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Rex and SheryAnne Wui of Dublin recalled the seasons when “we’d be sitting upstairs (at a game) and they’d say, ‘Hey, come down, there’s plenty of seats.’ The team slogan back then, they said, was “It’s A Great Time Out” – as in, enjoy the experience, but don’t expect a win.
“Now it’s winning-driven, together-driven,” SheryAnne Wui said. “The fans are part of the team.”
If that sounds trite, Warriors coach Steve Kerr suggested before the game the fans could have an impact in Monday’s outcome.
“You hear the crowd going crazy like that, it helps fuel you and helps fuel momentum,” Kerr said. “There’s no scientific explanation; it’s just how it works. We hope that works tonight.”
A capacity crowd, most clad in gold T-shirts they found draped over their seat backs, was raucous from the onset, as chants of “Warriors!” nearly drowned out pregame introductions of the Thunder. There were murmurs of worry after the Warriors went into halftime down six points.
But as Golden State wrested control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring the Thunder 29-12, the noise built to ear-splitting levels.
It reached a crescendo in the final minute, when league MVP Stephen Curry buried a three-pointer to give the Warriors a 10-point lead. Curry screamed to the rafters, faced the crowd near halfcourt, broke into a grin and posed, the cheers swirling around him.
The Warriors are headed for a rematch of last year’s Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even if Golden State were to fall short of a repeat, several fans said it wouldn’t diminish for them a season in which the Warriors set an NBA regular-season record with 73 wins.
“There’s a phrase out there: ‘73-9 ain’t a thing without a ring,’ ” said Andrew Wong of San Francisco. “I think it would be a discussion. But when people really think about it, you can’t deny 73-9.”
Eric Ignacio stepped away from the seafood paella cooking on a portable grill in the back of his SUV before the game to lend a dash of perspective. If the Warriors don’t repeat, he said: “I won’t be disappointed.”
“All of us,” he said, indicating his tailgating group, “have been lifelong fans, since World B. Free. We’re so used to so many bad years – anything positive, the last few years, have been great.”
Ignacio said less-seasoned Warriors fans “don’t know the struggles and pain we’ve been through the last 20 years.” He said he welcomes “bandwagon” fans – on one condition: “If you’re going to hop on,” Ignacio said, “don’t hop off.”
The crowd for Game 7 included such notables as Bay Area rapper E-40, several members of the neighboring Oakland A’s and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, who arrived around halftime. In the top row of Section 219, Andrew Wong said he bought his ticket the day before for about $300.
Perhaps the oddest sight was a group of four men sitting in the front row behind the Thunder bench – wearing Sacramento Kings gear.
“This is probably one of the best games in the last 20 years, right?” said one, Ali Youssefi of Sacramento, who said the group acquired their tickets “online.”
“We’re big basketball fans,” Youssefi said. “And excited for when the Kings are going to be in this position – hopefully sooner than later.”