SACRAMENTO — The Golden State Warriors gathered for an off-day film session Saturday in the upper deck of their home arena, the Chase Center in San Francisco, ahead of their first-round playoff series with the Sacramento Kings. Panoramic view of the bay.
Coach Steve Kerr likes to stage his film sessions there when space is available. Otherwise, he said, the team is stuck in the “dungeon below” outside of its locker room. He was grateful for the open field, especially ahead of Sunday’s Game 7. It was a therapeutic experience.
Kerr said, “I think there has to be a sense of perspective, even if it’s just a nice sight and some sunshine and a chance to breathe and relax between games. That makes a difference.
Something else might make a difference: Stephen Curry. No one looked more zen on Sunday than Curry, who led the Warriors to a 120-100 series victory by skating the Kings en route to 50 points — NBA record for Game 7. He sank parabolic 3-pointers. He drove for layups. He played with defenders.
Curry arrived at the Golden 1 Center in an all-black ensemble, dressed for a wake, and outplayed everyone, adding eight rebounds and six assists. He shot 20 of 38 from the field and 7 of 18 from 3-point range.
“What an incredible all-time performance,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “It’s a joy to share the backcourt with him, and he never ceases to amaze me.”
The Kings had a magical season — their best in years — but Curry is still Curry, and the Warriors are still the defending champions.
Golden State, the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, will face the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals starting Tuesday in San Francisco. The Lakers swept the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round series on Friday.
With Sacramento trailing 58-56 at halftime, Golden State — a team known for years for blowing teams away in the third quarter — went about its usual business. After Thompson sank a 3-pointer, Curry scooped up a layup through a mix of defenders and soaked up contact for good measure. The Kings’ Domantas Sabonis missed a floater on the other end, and then Curry extended Golden State’s lead to 7.
The mood inside the arena wasn’t necessarily one of panic, but there was certainly tension. Curry has been in this type of situation on several occasions before, and none of it — not the hostile environment, not the pressure of Game 7 — fazed him. In fact, he was feeding it.
“This is one of the best players in the history of the game,” Kerr added: “The resilience and the work that goes into it, the focus, it’s incredible to see.”
In the closing moments of the third quarter, Curry found Thompson on an open 3-point attempt. Thompson made the shot and was fouled by Terrence Davis of the Kings. The Warriors were led by 10. They grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in the quarter, and their starting center Kevon Looney had seven of them. He finished with 11 points and 21 rebounds.
“The guy is a flat-out winner and a machine,” Kerr said.
The Warriors and Kings franchises have long played less than 100 miles apart, but over the past decade they’ve produced very different brands of basketball — actually opposite brands of basketball.
As the Warriors busied themselves with winning championships (four), playing in the NBA Finals (six) and reshaping the way basketball was played by the Splash Brothers (Curry and Thompson), the Kings struggled for more than a decade. The barren desert was an incongruous frontier for them.
Sacramento went 30-52 last season, which was the most: 16th straight losing campaign. But the Kings at least showed that they want to improve and that they want to change their reputation.
It’s a rebuild that began last season when they acquired All-Star center Sabonis at the trade deadline in a deal with Indiana. That continued into the offseason when they signed reserve guard Malik Monk in free agency, traded for Kevin Huerter and hired one of Kerr’s assistants, Mike Brown, as their coach. They used their position in the draft by selecting Keegan Murray, a forward out of Iowa, fourth overall.
Led by their All-Star point guard, De’Aaron Fox, the Kings went 48-34 in the regular season. “Beam Light!” Turned out to be a rallying point, helping to bury — if not completely erase — the dysfunction of past years.
On Saturday night, Brown dined with his partner’s son at a Sacramento-area restaurant. With their series against Golden State winding down, a small parade of young boys approached Brown at their desk to ask some tough questions about the team’s players.
They wanted to know about Sabonis’ right thumb, which he fractured during the regular season. They wanted to know about Fox’s broken left index finger, an injury he suffered during the playoffs. They wanted to know if Murray would be ready to fire in Game 7.
“And one of the kids was a Warriors fan, so they started ribbing him,” Brown said. “He was like: ‘No, I’m not! I’m not!’ But he was wearing a Golden State Warriors hat.
Most of all, Brown said, he could feel their excitement — a kind of postseason anticipation that Sacramento hasn’t experienced in years.
As for the Warriors, their roster was in a constant state of flux during the regular season. Curry injured his shoulder and sprained his ankle. Andrew Wiggins, their starting small forward, left the team in mid-February citing personal reasons and missed the final 25 games of the regular season.
Kerr, meanwhile, struggled to strike a balance between securing a playoff spot (of course none) and developing young players like Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman. In the end, Kerr leaned on the usual suspects — Curry, Thompson and defensive stalwart Draymond Green — the postseason that came into sharp focus.
The Warriors welcomed Wiggins back at the start of the playoffs, then lost their first two games, which presented a new obstacle: Curry, Thompson and Green trailed in a playoff series, 2-0, for the first time in their careers. Maybe they need a new challenge.
“To do this for a decade is unbelievable,” Kerr said of his core players. “The energy it takes year in and year out to fight through challenges, to prepare and win games, and to do it again and again — there’s a reason these guys are Hall of Famers and champions.”