Programming note: Relive Game 5 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals when NBC Sports Bay Area re-airs the Warriors' win over the Rockets on Thursday, April 2 at 8 p.m. PT.
The roar of Dub Nation is a creature unto itself, and exponentially so when targeting those identified as true enemies of the Warriors. The list is relatively short, and James Harden ranks among the top three.
Which is why one of the most deliciously satisfying victories in Warriors history was the 104-90 triumph in Game 5 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets.
As wonderful as it was for fans to watch the Warriors advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years, it was the historic unraveling of Harden that had those inside Oracle Arena howling with delight and shaking with laughter.
Harden had strolled into the building five hours earlier in the afterglow of a fabulous Game 4 in Houston, scoring 45 points on 13-of-22, including 7-of-11 from deep, to force Game 5. Though the Rockets were down 3-1, he was onto something, he thought, hoping to send the series back to Texas for Game 6.
The Warriors weren’t having it. Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson spent the night shadowing Harden so snugly (14 points, 2-of-11 shooting from the field, 0-3 from distance) that his mounting frustrations led to a litany of mistakes that amounted to an NBA-record 13 turnovers.
“I thought the defensive performance was brilliant, was fantastic,” coach Steve Kerr, in his first season, said after the Warriors held Houston to 35.1-percent shooting, 20.8 percent from beyond the arc in Game 5. “This is what happens in the playoffs.”
Harden was placed on the enemy’s list after expressions of casual immodesty that Dub Nation perceived as slights of Steph Curry, which was and still is the surest route to the enemy list. Curry was leading the MVP race, with Harden a distant second.
So, yes, Harden’s misery was to be savored. The Oracle crowd showered the bearded guard with increasingly louder “approval” after each blunder. His pain was their joy.
"I tried to do a little bit too much and turned the ball over and gave them easy baskets in transition," Harden muttered.
Harden’s performance was welcome on a night when Curry, nursing bruises from a spill in Game 4, shot 7-of-21, including 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. Draymond Green was 3-of-15, 0-of-5 from deep. Harrison Barnes and Thompson, combining for 44 points on 18-of-34 shooting, rescued the offense.
"I always think of Pat Riley's great quote when you're coaching in the NBA, 'There's winning and there's misery.' And he's right," Kerr said. "It's more than relief. It's joy. Our players are feeling it. I know our fans are."
And with that, the Warriors, after a two-generation wait, were on to The Finals. After a 67-15 regular season, they’d gone through the Pelicans, the Grizzlies and the Rockets to go against the Cavaliers and LeBron James, who soon found his way the Dub Nation enemy list.
“This franchise was down for a while before most of us got here, and they all stuck with it,” Iguodala said. “That had to feel great for all the fans who sat through the bad times.”
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It felt great for the fans, clad in bright gold T-shirts, to emerge with victory. It was even greater to witness one of the threats to Curry’s place in the order of NBA elite slink out of Oakland facing nothing more than the offseason.
"This isn't where we wanted to end at,” said Harden, who finished second in the final MVP voting. “It’s a really good season for us. Next year we want to be better, and we will."
The Rockets were worse the following season, tumbling to the No. 8 seed, getting the Warriors in the first round and losing in five.
And, naturally, fans at Oracle Arena made sure to give Harden constant reminders of his epic meltdown 11 months earlier. Even now, nearly five years later, they revel in any despair that finds its way to The Beard.