SAN FRANCISCO -- On a night unlike any other the history of the NBA, the Warriors walked into an unfair fight.
They took the court Tuesday night to confront a Los Angeles Clippers team built to win a championship, and they did it while trying to suppress emotions and ignore mystery.
How does a predominantly young team composed of players from various parts of several countries, strangers not so long ago, come together in the face of looming danger and play its best basketball?
The Warriors did not, and they should not be blamed.
They took a profound beating, 131-107, and they earned every bit of it. The Warriors in their injury-ravaged state are vastly inferior and, under these circumstances, simply could not summon the level of focus and zeal required to make the Clippers at least break a sweat.
With the thinnest crowd of the season filing into Chase Center in the midst of a disease quickly spreading around the globe -- and already forcing mass cancellations of events large and small -- the Warriors trailed by 10 after four minutes, by 20 after 20 minutes and by 30 after 25.
“Well, I don’t think we gave our fans much of a reason to cheer,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We were down big right away.
“It looked like the crowd got bigger as the game went along. I thought early, as the game began, it didn’t look like there were many people here. Then, later in the game, it looked like it was much more filled in.”
There were late arrivals, to be sure, but thousands of seats remained unoccupied. It contributed to a low-energy environment, with several the Warriors operating under a thick cloud of what feels a lot like denial.
“The virus is obviously scaring a lot of people,” rookie forward Eric Paschall said. “The media is really doing a lot, just putting stuff out there and scaring a lot of people, with a lot of states of emergency. But at the same time, you’ve just got to live your life.”
Center/forward Marquese Chriss insisted that he didn’t notice vibe inside the arena.
“I’m so focused on the game that I don’t really think about anything else,” he said. “You can tell that there was a little (crowd) scarcity. At the end of the day, it’s a basketball game for us, and we are going to try to compete the best way that we can.”
Chriss clearly was speaking for himself. He competed well enough against two very different LA big men to finish with 10 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. He also conceded that he “doesn’t work for the CDC, so I don’t really have the inside scoop on what’s going on.”
Nobody really does. That’s what makes this disease so chilling, and why it is fostering such rampant anxiety.
“I feel like we’ve been educated well enough to know about it,” Paschall said.
Yet the way the Warriors opened the game was very much like a team preoccupied with other matters and it didn’t change much until the fourth quarter, when the game was well out of reach.
The Clippers? They went about their business like a veteran team with a sole purpose. They acknowledged concerns with the coronavirus but were able to compartmentalize the distraction.
“We are no different,” Paul George said. “Everyone is pretty much worried about the virus. It makes no difference. We have a job to do, just like everybody else has a job to do and they go out and do their job. If it’s fans or it isn’t fans, we play ball, we hoop, and we’ll go with it.”
The NBA has made no announcement regarding the possibility of holding games without fans. But it has been, and continues to be, discussed. If it comes to that, the magnitude of the matter will be impossible to ignore.
And it certainly would be, at least temporarily, the prudent thing to do.