Warriors

Warriors

OAKLAND -- There was a noise in Oracle Arena Saturday night that almost never manifests itself in a Warriors-Kings game – an explosion of relief and joy that comes only when a Warrior makes a dramatic play to turn a game in danger.
 
It happened when Quinn Cook broke a 108-108 tie with 5:06 to play with an open 3-pointer. It happened when Kevin Durant blocked Willie Cauley-Stein's soft jumper to preserve a 115-113 lead with 1:27 left. It happened when Klay Thompson followed his own miss with a putback and flex with 5.8 seconds left that won the game.

A playoff-quality outburst for a team that doesn't make the playoffs.
 
And that's the most noteworthy thing -- it happened with the Sacra-damn-mento Kings. The Kings don’t get that kind of respect from this customer base. The Kings and Warriors represent the worst “rivalry” in North American professional sports because other than geography the Kings and Warriors have nothing competitively in common.
 
Thus, Saturday’s 117-116 Warrior win was noteworthy not just because Durant rose repeatedly to the moment and finished with a season-high 44 points (plus 13 rebounds and seven assists) in 40:05, or because Thompson (31 on 26 shots) is excavating himself from the shooting slump that seemed amazingly to erode his will at times.
 
It was because the Kings seem real, at long last.

 

Their history in Sacramento has been largely dreadful, and their history with the Warriors essentially does not exist. The two teams have never met in a playoff series even when the Warriors were in Philadelphia and the Kings in Rochester or Cincinnati, a span of 70 years. They haven't even been in the playoffs in the same year since 1975. They have had only one season since the Kings moved to California when they were even mildly engaged in a battle for a playoff spot (1995-96, when the Kings got in as an eight-seed and the Warriors finished three games back).
 
But these Kings are new and young and precocious and energetic. They are not yet free of their historical demons – hell, a week ago, the rumor mill was churning about coach Dave Joerger being on the verge of being fired for the crime of not playing rookie big man Marvin Bagley III enough – but they are difficult to play, and the Warriors, still down Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, were given all they could eat before winning.
 
What is more, the often jaded crowd recognized it, and came away with a fresh appreciation for the Kings that matched that of the Warriors themselves. They made a point of hugging the Kings players after the game in the international sign of, “We may have to learn to hate you guys sooner than we thought, but well done to you tonight.”
 
The standings explain it all – the fact that both teams are above the playoff line, and the twin truth that only one quarter of the season has been played. In other words, the Kings could still King their way out of this because there is always going to be a sense that the Kings will always revert to their Kingly ways until they stop doing so. After all, they have never been a .500 team at any time when Rick Adelman wasn’t their coach (1998-2006), and the front office often seems like a cruise ship to Crazytown.
 
But at this moment, the Warriors and Kings are separated only by two games. This can only be a good thing for the idea of making this a pairing that finally matters, if not a full-fledged rivalry.