2017 Finals Game 5: A Personal Recollection From Oracle Arena

Re-broadcast tonight on NBCSN at 8pm Pacific.

Tonight, NBCSN is replaying 2017 Finals Game 5 at 8pm Pacific. 

A Personal Recollection

I attended Game 5 live as part of the crowd.

The Warriors had a ton of pressure on them, being the favorites and having all the bandwagon haters smirking about 3-1 for a year, and all of non-Dub-Nation whining about KD for a year.

So in 2017, they came back from CLE up 3-1 to finish things off in Game 5 at home. Probably doesn’t mean as much today, but in 2017, that was seriously fraught. I had attended 2016 Game 5 and the blown 3-1 lead cast an inescapable shadow.

I remember lining up in the big metal detector choke points outside Oracle Arena. These are usually bustling with anticipation, cheerfulness, grouchiness from the wait. Not that late afternoon. It was silent and tense. One fan started clapping and yelled, “Come on, let’s go!! We have to get loud! We’re gonna do this!” No takers, and people murmured nervously. We all desperately wanted to exorcise the 3-1 demon and knew it would be truly unending pain if somehow GSW blew another 3-1 lead.

My point is that this game was neurotically TENSE. Now in hindsight with a lot of petty commenters trying to devalue the KD years with a “oh it was obviously unfair”, you can see the dominance of the 2017 run. But even at the edge of redemption in Game 5, I think I speak for a lot of Dub Nation that the whole thing was fraught.

The last 1:30 of this game is so emotional. The Warriors know they’re about to do it. They are about to get the biggest monkey off their back. Kevin Durant wanders around having an emotional breakdown… he insists on isolating LeBron and is stripped. The Cavs have now crept within range. Steph then iso’s Kyrie, also seems out of control… and hits the game sealing 3 over him. Andre is clapping right in KD’s face to keep playing the game. Steve Kerr looks like he wants to tell the team to settle down, but he is too overcome himself.

Another score, inbounds to Steph and he just stands there letting out a year’s worth of frustration, fist pumping and screaming after the inbounds. He did it. HE MADE THAT OLD. Andre and Dray are yelling at Steph to keep playing the game and get it across half court. KD is high-fiving the crowd.

And the crowd was making the most indescribable noise and motion. Everyone was just jumping non-stop, high-fiving, overflowing with emotions, and just looking around at each other. Can you believe we are alive together here for this? It was more than championship joy, it was relief, it was exorcism, it was redemption, it was catharsis after the year of abuse… it was just RELEASE. It was the best live sports event of my life.

I wrote what I think is still a pretty excellent piece about it, which I’ll end by quoting. I had noted that 2015 was like Star Wars, A New Hope. 2016 was The Empire Strikes Back. And then:

The third Star Wars movie was originally titled Revenge of the Jedi. The name was changed to Return of the Jedi because Lucas decided that Revenge was not a Jedi value. 

I had expected that when the Finals ended, I would feel a kind of cackling vengeance for all the abuse the Warriors fans have taken this last year. That I would feel that dark energy of meeting abuse with abuse. And strangely, I did not. Instead I have felt a lasting happiness and contentedness, and I felt that I could reclaim memory and pride over all of the last three years.

Until then, because of the toxic environment, I couldn’t feel appropriate pride in 14-15 and 15-16….

And what a satisfying 2017 Finals it was. It seemed to shine a purifying light on almost every foolish, simple-minded or wicked take.

2016 Stephen Curry wasn’t injured? No one could ignore how devastatingly agile and accurate 2017 Curry was with a year to recover. 

Kevin Durant is just a coat-tail rider? He blossoms into a fantastic two-way player and gets Finals MVP. Andre Iguodala is useless? He leads the team in Finals plus-minus.

Mike Brown is an idiot? He got to head coach a key playoff win against the team that fired him.

There were so many absurdly on-the-nose exorcisms of key events from 2016. 

  • 2016 LeBron James blocks Andre Iguodala? 2017 Iguodala gets the Game 3 saving block/strip on LeBron.

  • 2016 Kyrie Irving bombs in the go-ahead 3 for The Shot? 2017 Durant bombs in a series-stealing 3 for The Pull-up. 

  • 2016 Kyrie drops the step-back 3 series winner over Steph? Curry dropped the 2017 series-sealing step-back 3 in Kyrie’s face. 

  • 2016 Curry got shut down by Love and Thompson? Repeatedly 2017 Curry treated them as traffic cones.

  • 2016 LeBron blocks Curry and stares him down? 2017 Curry puts moves on LeBron and gets him disco dancing in multiple memes. 

  • 2016 LeBron provokes Draymond by standing over him and baiting a crotch shot? 2017 Iman Shumpert provokes Zaza Pachulia by standing over him and hooking a crotch shot. And it just looks pathetic. 

  • 2016 Curry throws and loses his mouthguard in outrage? 2017 Curry squats and loses his mouthguard in joy from Durant’s The Shot. 

  • 2016 Strength in Numbers young Festus Ezeli and old man Anderson Varejao blow the deciding game lead? 2017 Strength in Numbers young Patrick McCaw and old man David West keep the lead and rest the stars.

  • 2016 Andre Iguodala is broken down and injured by the end? 2017 Iguodala finishes with five massive dunks

  • 2016 Andrew Bogut gets injured and damages the Warriors chances? 2017 Bogut gets injured and doesn’t help the Cavs. 

  • 2016 Warriors blow a 3-1 lead? 2017 Warriors seal the deal with a 3-1 lead.

Bonus Thought: Steph Made It Old

Stephen Curry had publicly declared his 2017 redemption mission as a personal challenge with his remarkable “Make That Old” commercial to start the year. “73 and 9 and no ring? That’s fresh, that’s interesting… now make that old.”

Has there ever been another athlete who made his biggest failure the centerpiece of an ad, BEFORE he redeemed himself? I recall Jordan had an ad about his missed game-winners, but only after cementing his reputation. But this was Steph, who was in the middle of being roasted as the Biggest Loser, the Biggest Choker in History, making an ad saying, I am now going to shut you up. And he did.

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