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Amick: NBA playoffs with Kings ties, ‘revenge tour’ for the Suns and Steph Curry’s Oracle tradition revised


SAN FRANCISCO — When the six-degrees-of-Sacramento evening got here to an end Saturday night at Chase Center, where Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé made a surprise appearance on the Golden State-Memphis game that included the 2 primary finalists for his vacant head coaching position, his team still didn’t have a recent coach. But that didn’t mean the surreal scene wasn’t fascinating to observe unfold.

At midcourt of the Warriors’ 142-112 Game 3 win, you had ESPN analyst and former Golden State coach Mark Jackson on the microphone — as at all times — alongside Jeff Van Gundy. On the Warriors’ sideline, associate head coach Mike Brown was playing the identical pivotal part he has these past six years for this Steve Kerr-led program. And never removed from the Grizzlies bench, Ranadivé enjoyed the sport on the baseline together with his daughter, Anjali.

The Kings connections, present and past, didn’t stop there, either. Former Kings coach Luke Walton was in attendance, as was Alvin Gentry, the coach who replaced him in an interim fashion when he was fired in late November. Each men are former Warriors assistants and, thus, a part of the identical Golden State tree that Ranadivé has been fixated on since his days as a minority owner with the organization. (That chapter ended for Ranadivé when he became the lead owner of the Kings in 2013.)

Sources say neither Jackson nor Brown was aware that Ranadivé was planning to be in attendance, so it was unclear if there was any substantive intending to the visit. What’s more, sources say neither Brown nor Jackson was offered the job as of late Saturday evening. As our Shams Charania reported on Friday, Jackson already has interviewed for the Lakers’ coaching job as well.

With the Kings’ decision between the 2 men expected soon, and with fellow finalist Steve Clifford appearing to be in a distant third within the race at this point, possibly the Ranadivé appearance was a case of him wanting to watch Brown and Jackson from up close as he crystallizes his own view of their respective candidacies. Or, after all, he can have been living vicariously while plotting for the day when the playoffs return to Sacramento.

In any case, it’s only been 16 years. And one other coaching decision awaits.

Phoenix’s ‘Revenge Tour’ continues

Full disclosure, I’ve at all times been intrigued by the mental aspect of a would-be championship run.

Beyond the plain desire to taste champagne at the top of all of it, you discover that players and coaches often have very unique motivations that compel them to maintain pushing in the course of the playoff run that may be so utterly exhausting. Within the case of the Suns, the inspiration that unites them is slightly obvious: their NBA Finals loss to Milwaukee last July.

It wasn’t just the incontrovertible fact that they fell to the Bucks, though. In case you’ll have forgotten, they were up 2-0 before getting obliterated by Giannis Antetokounmpo and losing 4 straight. When it comes to the emotional element of the Finals experience, the one thing worse — on this armchair psychologist’s opinion — could be losing in a Game 7.

From this vantage point, essentially the most memorable evidence of this truth was there for all to see within the 2013 Finals. A fast review: San Antonio was up 3-2 on Miami, only to see Ray Allen’s yellow-tape 3 rip the Spurs’ hearts out in Game 6 before the Heat won all of it in Game 7. From that moment until the Spurs avenged the loss against Miami in 2014, Gregg Popovich was brutally honest about how much the hurt had fueled them.

But in my experience, players aren’t nearly as willing to be honest in regards to the pain they might have felt in falling short. And who can blame them? Rehashing all of it, one can surmise, only reopens the wound.

So when Suns star Devin Booker referred to this season as a “revenge tour” after Phoenix’s win over Dallas in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinals series, I used to be struck by the statement that the 2021 Finals nerve, so to talk, was still raw.

“Yeah, I form of let that slip,” he said with a smile afterward as we chatted within the Footprint Center hallway.

Booker, whose Suns dropped Game 3 in Dallas and can look to take a 3-1 lead in Game 4 on Sunday, shared just a few more thoughts about his admission as he headed for the exits.

“That’s the best hurt in a whole lot of our careers, especially up 2-0 after which dropping it,” Booker, who’s averaging 23.3 points (48 percent shooting overall, 50 percent from 3-point range), five assists and 4.3 rebounds against the Mavs,  told The Athletic on Wednesday. “So, you channel it the correct way, and we understand that it happens, (but) it’s the deepest hurt of our careers. And now, we have now one other probability at it.

“We feel that hurt. It’s something that you simply’ll never recover from. Even when the day comes once I get one, you’re gonna look back and be like ‘I should’ve had two,’ you already know what I’m saying? It’s one in every of those situations.”

The natural next query got here next: Have you ever watched video of the Finals loss or avoided it entirely as a way of sidestepping the miserable memory?

“Yeah, I’ve watched it loads of times,” he said. “I’ve watched the highlights of it greater than the complete series, but I’ve watched it.”

A slice of Oracle at Chase

First things first, let’s make this clear: Chase Center isn’t Oracle Arena. Not even close.

It’s an architectural marvel, and the group is plenty enthusiastic about their Warriors in ways in which don’t require an oz of shame. But nothing will ever match the unadulterated chaos and elation that so often bounced off the partitions of that legendary Oakland, Calif., constructing for all those years before the move to San Francisco in 2019.

As Draymond Green recently made clear, the comparison is just not fair. Oracle was a one-of-a-kind place.

Yet for those Warriors fans craving for something — anything — from the Oracle days that could make all of it feel a little bit more familiar now that their team has crossed the Bay, there’s this: The delightful Curtis Jones, the famed Steph Curry assist man for his legendary tunnel shot and longtime usher, is as much as his old tricks again.

As Jones told me on his way out, he’s teaming up with Curry again today in the course of the pregame routine that has turn out to be the stuff of basketball lore. But as a substitute of the tunnel shot, which isn’t possible on this landscape, Curry is counting on the oldest Splash Brother of all of them to search out him in a wide range of places on and across the floor.

“(Saturday), Steph shot from one end (of the court) to the opposite, standing about possibly 10 feet outside of the top of the bleachers,” Jones said. “And he almost made it tonight. When he warms up on the opposite end, he comes back with the ball, tosses it to me, gets in position; I get in position and provides him an underhand pass, after which he goes from there.

“Earlier this season, he was shooting the ball over the glass within the back. So, when he finished his warm-ups, he ran back toward the tunnel going to the locker room, and he waved his hand, and I saw him and tossed it to him. After which, he went from there to the suites (near the deep corner of the court), and he shot it from the suite area to the basket, after which now, we’re going from one end to the opposite.”

Related reading

Thompson: Jordan Poole and Ja Morant are linked on this series
Kawakami: Otto Porter Jr. is a crucial presence for Warriors
Aldridge: Ugly basketball within the playoffs is one of the best basketball

(Photo of Devin Booker, Monty Williams and Mikal Bridges: Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)

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