Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Warrior’s predilection for king-sized upsets

IT is perhaps the greatest upset in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. The manner in which the Golden State Warriors finished off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks was shocking and mesmerizing. There they were, save for Jason Richardson, cast-offs and journeymen players—Baron Davis via Charlotte/New Orleans, Stephen Jackson late of San Antonio and Indiana, and Matt Barnes by way of Sacramento, New York, and Philadelphia—dunking, three-point-shooting, and jawing their way with reckless abandon.

By all rights, it should have been over in five games were it not for four bad calls that sent the Warriors back to Oakland for a sixth match. Maybe it was for the best, to win it right before the 20,000 faithful who have not savored a playoff appearance since 1994 and a second season win since 1992 (against Seattle to whom they fell 3-1).

And now in 2007, they’ll be playing in the second round for the first time since 1991 when they got bounced in five by the edition of the LA Magic Show (with rookie Vlade Divac and vets James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Byron Scott, and (ex-Warrior) Terry Teagle.

As incredible as it seems, Golden State thrives on its underdog image and has made a career out of beating higher seeds.

Warrior King returns

IN 1989, Chris Mullin (now the Warriors’ general manager), finally beat his demons in the bottle and checked out of rehab to be one of the league’s best players. With Mullin’s 26.5 ppg and steady support from Mitch Richmond, Winston Garland, Rod Higgins, Otis Smith, and Ralph Sampson (his last pro team), G-State finished fourth in the West with a 43-39 record. In the playoffs, they met Midwest Division champs Utah Jazz (51-31) behind John Stockon, Karl Malone, Thurl Bailey, and Darrell Griffith.

The Warriors displayed nerves of steel in the last three minutes as they outlasted the Jazz 123-119 in Game One. They repeated their feat with another masterful 99-91 win in Salt Lake City before sending the deflated Jazz home for the summer with a 120-106 demolition in front of a raucous home crowd. Mullin was incandescent in the post-season, upping his scoring to 29.4ppg while adding 5.9rpg and 4.5apg.

Crossover heroes

AFTER falling short of the playoffs the previous year, the Warriors unveiled one of the highest-scoring acts behind “Run-TMC” as the trio of Mr. U-tep two-step Tim Haradway, steady Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin collectively scored 72.5 ppg. They finished 44-38; their best record in nine years. Back again in the post-season, the Warriors took on Midwest Division champs San Antonio Spurs (55-27) who were led by the Admiral David Robinson (then in his second year in the league), Sean Elliot, Terry Cummings, Willie Anderson, and a young point guard named Avery Johnson.

The Spurs held serve in the first game 130-121 with a monster game by Robinson. But Golden State stole one in the Alamo Dome with a 111-98 win that shifted the momentum. When the series moved over to Oakland, the Warriors took the pivotal third game 109-106 that knocked the wind out of San Antonio’s sails. The speedy Warriors ended the Spurs’ misery in Game Four with a series-clinching 110-97 win.

Freefall

AS much as Golden State put their faithful on an emotional high, they would invariably get knocked out of the succeeding second round that would be followed by a disappointing freefall the following season.

After eliminating the Jazz in 1989, the Warriors scintillating run ended as they got bounced by the Phoenix Suns of Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Eddie Johnson, Armon Gilliam, Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, and Steve Kerr (who called the Warriors’ history-making Game Six win against Dallas with Marv Albert) in five games. The following season was a hugely disappointing one as they missed the playoffs tumbling to 37-45.

In 1991, Golden State once more fell in the second round this time to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. In the off-season, Warriors brass felt that they were mercilessly pounded inside by the Laker’s half-court game and a decision was made to break up Run-TMC. Mitch Richmond was traded to the Sacramento Kings for top draft choice Billy Owens. The defense did improve and the Warriors finished third in the 1992 Western standings. But they were upset in the first round by the young and exciting Seattle Supersonics with Ricky Pierce, Derrick McKey, Michael Cage and young studs Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. In 1993, the team would lose a combined 312 player-games to injury and they missed the post-season bus.

Full Nelson

THERE aren’t many coaches who have created lasting imprints with several franchises. There’s Phil Jackson who made the NBA All-Rookie team with the New York Knicks and played on their two championship teams of the 1970s. He coached the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s and guided another with the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-peat from 2000-’02.

Pat Riley won a title with the Lakers as a player and mentored them to four titles in the 80s. He masterminded the Knicks renaissance of the 90s as well as the Miami Heat’s ascent that culminated with a title in 2006.

But for Don Nelson… his championships may have all come with his time with the Boston Celtics, but he’s turned around the fortunes of many a franchise. He turned Milwaukee into a steady contender in the early 80s before employing his creativity with the Golden State Warriors during his first go-around with them. After an aborted stint with New York, he turned the Mavericks (with terrific support from Mark Cuban) into a power before he turned the reins over to his assistant and former point guard Avery Johnson. And now Nelson is reunited with Mullin in Golden State where both are once more weaving their mojo with the same type of game that they once ran.

No matter what happens in this second round, the Warriors will have put their imprint in this seemingly tepid season. The excitement is back in the Bay Area where they momentarily overshadowed the controversial chase by Barry Bonds of Hank Aaron’s home-run record. It’s been a great spring for them. Now they just have to build on the gains or let history repeat itself.

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