Warriors fans reveled in James Harden's faults in 2015 Western finals

Warriors fans reveled in James Harden's faults in 2015 Western finals

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.

Michael Jordan secretly practiced with Warriors, targeted Latrell Sprewell

Michael Jordan secretly practiced with Warriors, targeted Latrell Sprewell

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, will shine a fresh light on the most unforgettable moments in sports. The first episode, “I’m Back,” tells never-before-heard stories about the two-word fax from Michael Jordan that changed the course of NBA history.

It was only two days in the Bay. A couple practices with the Warriors that, really, materialized from the thin air in the stratosphere of Michael Jordan’s aura.

There was some golf. Some catching up with friends. Some laughs. No, a lot of laughs.

There was a purpose, too. MJ had ulterior motives. When did he not? This was 1994 and he had been away from the NBA for nearly two years, devoting most of that time to playing minor-league baseball. He wondered if at age 31 he could recover the supernatural skills that had allowed him to conquer every challenge the league had to offer.

Jordan had connections with the Warriors. He was close with Rod Higgins, a former Bulls teammate who in 1994 was an assistant coach under Don Nelson. Jordan also was friends with Chris Mullin, a teammate on the Dream Team in 1992.

Jordan did not know the Warriors’ newest baller, 24 years old but already an All-Star. That made him a target. MJ figured the first onramp of his journey back to the NBA should be Latrell Sprewell.

“One morning when Michael was visiting, he calls me,” Higgins recalls. “I was on my way to practice, and he called and said, ‘Do you think it’s alright if I practice with you guys?’  And I said, ‘I don’t think so, but let me call Nellie.’”

Higgins phoned Nelson, who has a rich appreciation of history and a richer fondness for greatness. Nellie’s response: “Hell, yeah.”

Eric Housen, then the Warriors’ equipment manager and now director of team operations, outfitted Jordan with a jersey, shorts and wristbands. MJ borrowed shoes from Mullin. After everyone was dressed, the Warriors and their temporary teammate took the floor for a closed-door scrimmage at Oracle Arena, near the Oakland Coliseum Arena.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

“We had Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell at that point in time and they might have been popping off a little bit,” Mullin recalls.

Hardaway, a point guard with hubris beyond measure, was 28 and a three-time All-Star. At 6-5 and wiry strong, Sprewell had a Jordanesque physique and nearly as much athleticism. As a shooting guard, he was the matchup, if you will, for Jordan.

“MJ really wanted to play against Hardaway and Sprewell because Sprewell was kind of like the new ‘it’ so to speak in terms of the ‘2’ guards,” Higgins says.

Among Jordan’s teammates were center Rony Seikaly and Mullin, who was rehabbing a knee injury sustained in the preseason.  The others were reserves.

“And then Sprewell and Hardaway played with other players, which I don’t know how those groups fared out,” Higgins says. “But once Michael got warmed up, you could tell his objective was to basically kick Spree and Tim’s behind and talk trash to them.”

“He just took over our practice,” Hardaway says.

Jordan is a challenge hound. Always has been. If he sees an obstacle, real or imagined, clearing it becomes an obsession. He wanted to see what young Sprewell had. MJ also wanted to know where he stood in comparison to the greatness displayed 16 months earlier, as an eight-time member of the All-NBA first team.

“What I remember is him walking on the court after not playing, probably played 36 holes of golf the day before, and dominated,” Mullin says.

“How graceful he was  ... shooting step-back jump shots, faking, dunking on people,” Hardaway recalls. “He made that team, that wasn’t playing a lot, show the coach that they should be playing.

“So, we knew he was coming back. I knew, at that particular time, he was coming back.”

Jordan’s team won. Of course. As an assistant coach, Higgins hoped Hardaway and Sprewell, with friction diminishing their fabulous talent, would learn the importance of cohesion and commitment to the team.
It didn’t quite work out that way. After a 7-1 start, the Warriors went into an epic tailspin, losing 22 of their next 25 games. In early February, a couple months after Jordan’s cameo, Nelson resigned. The Warriors finished at 26-56.

[RELATED: Is Warriors landing Giannis worth losing Klay Thompson?]

In February 1996, Hardaway was traded to Miami. Sprewell made two more All-Star teams but was suspended after attacking coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997 and traded in January 1999.

As for Jordan, we know what he did a few months after working out with the Warriors.

He announced his return by fax: “I’m back.” And he led the Bulls to championships in 1996, ’97 and ’98.

Stephen Jackson reveals Baron Davis gave him best compliment of life

Stephen Jackson reveals Baron Davis gave him best compliment of life

Programming note: Watch all four of the "We Believe" Warriors' wins over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, May 30, beginning at 2 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

In Game 6 of the "We Believe" Warriors' series-clinching victory over the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, Stephen Jackson scored a playoff career-high 33 points.

"I remember BD (Baron Davis) coming to me before the game and telling me, 'Jack, I ain't got it. I ain't got it, Jack. My legs, my knees, my back. I just ain't got it,'" Jackson recently told Warriors broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald. "I'm like, 'Cool. I'll do what I gotta do.' I was locked in to play well."

Perhaps Davis just was trying to motivate his teammate, because BD recorded 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists that night. He clearly had some left in the tank.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

But that's beside the point. You're reading this because of something else Jackson revealed to Fitzgerald.

"Two days later, I'm watching the game and I'm seeing the TV feed. They're interviewing BD after the game on the court, and she (the sideline reporter) asked him something about my play," the 2003 NBA champion explained. "And BD said -- this probably is the best compliment I've ever got from a brother and also a basketball player in my life -- I'm getting kind of emotional saying it ... BD said, 'A lot of people say a lot of stuff about Stephen Jackson, but they'll never admit he's a great basketball player.'

"That meant the world to me. That moment, I felt like everything had completely lifted off my shoulders."

[RELATED: Barnes reveals 'We Believe' Warriors documentary in works]

Remember, Jackson's image had been tarnished because of his role in the brawl that took place a couple years prior between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons -- aka the "Malice at the Palace."

And while some NBA fans forever will think of that unfortunate fight first when Jackson's name is mentioned, that won't be the case for the majority of Warriors fans because Dub Nation immediately will point to Jackson's contributions in upsetting the No. 1 seed Mavs.

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