SACRAMENTO — The Golden State Warriors prepared for the finale of their first-round playoff series with the Sacramento Kings by gathering for an off-day film session on Saturday on an upper floor of Chase Center, their home arena in San Francisco, where there is a panoramic view of the bay.
Coach Steve Kerr likes to stage his film sessions there when the space is available. Otherwise, he said, the team is stuck “in the dungeon down below,” outside its locker room. He was grateful for the open space, especially ahead of Sunday’s Game 7. It was a therapeutic experience.
“I do think there has to be a sense of perspective,” Kerr said, “even if it’s just a nice view and some sunshine and a chance to breathe and relax between games. That can make a difference.”
Something else can make a difference, too: Stephen Curry. No one seemed more Zen on Sunday than Curry, who led the Warriors to a series-clinching, 120-100 victory by skewering the Kings in every conceivable way on his way to 50 points — an NBA record for a Game 7. He sank parabolic 3-pointers. He drove for layups. He toyed with defenders.
Curry, who arrived at the Golden 1 Center in an all-black ensemble, as if dressed for a wake, outscored everyone and added eight rebounds and six assists. He shot 20 of 38 from the field and 7 of 18 from 3-point range .
“What an incredible all-time performance,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “It’s just a joy to share the backcourt with him, and he never ceases to amaze me.”
The Kings had a magical season — their best in years — but Curry is still Curry, and the Warriors are still the defending champions.
Golden State, the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, will face the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in a conference semifinal, starting in San Francisco on Tuesday. The Lakers eliminated the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round series on Friday.
Sacramento led, 58-56, at halftime, which is when Golden State — a team known for years for eviscerating teams in the third quarter — went about its usual business. After Thompson sank a 3-pointer, Curry sliced through a mix of defenders to scoop in a layup, absorbing contact for good measure. The Kings’ Domantas Sabonis missed a floater at the other end, then Curry scored again to push Golden State’s lead to 7.
The prevailing mood inside the arena was not necessarily panic, but there was certainly angst. Curry had already been in this sort of situation on so many occasions, and none of it — not the hostile environment, not the pressure of a Game 7 — appeared to bother him. In fact, he was feeding off it.
“This is one of the best players in the history of the game,” Kerr said, adding: “The resilience and the work that goes into that, the focus, it’s incredible to watch.”
In the closing moments of the third quarter, Curry found Thompson for an open 3-point attempt. Thompson made the shot and was fouled by the Kings’ Terence Davis. The Warriors led by 10. They grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in the quarter, and Kevon Looney, their starting center, had seven of them. He finished with 11 points and 21 rebounds.
“The guy is a flat-out winner and a machine,” Kerr said.
The Warriors and Kings franchises have long played less than 100 miles apart, but for much of the past decade they have produced very different brands of basketball — opposite brands of basketball, in fact.
As the Warriors busied themselves by winning championships (four), playing in NBA finals (six) and re-engineering the way basketball is played thanks to the Splash Brothers (Curry and Thompson), the Kings spent the past decade-plus scuffling through a desert of utility that had them bordering on irrelevance.
Sacramento went 30-52 last season, which was more of the same: a 16th straight losing campaign. But the Kings were at least showing signs that they wanted to improve, that they wanted to change their reputation.
It was an overhaul that began last season when they acquired Sabonis, an All-Star center, at the trading deadline in a deal with Indiana. It continued over the off-season when they signed the reserve guard Malik Monk in free agency, traded for Kevin Huerter and hired Mike Brown, one of Kerr’s assistants, as their coach. They also capitalized on their position in the draft by selecting Keegan Murray, a forward from Iowa, fourth overall.
Sure enough, led by De’Aaron Fox, their All-Star point guard, the Kings went 48-34 during the regular season, christening each victory by shooting a beam of purple light from the roof of their arena. “Light the Beam! ” became a rallying cry, helping to bury — if not completely erase — the dysfunction of years past.
On Saturday night, Brown dined at a Sacramento-area restaurant with his partner’s son. A small parade of young boys approached their table to ask Brown some incisive questions about the team’s players as their series with Golden State neared a conclusion.
They wanted to know about Sabonis’s right thumb, which he had fractured during the regular season. They wanted to know about Fox’s broken left index finger, an injury he sustained during the playoffs. They wanted to know if Murray would be ready to s shoot in game 7.
“And one of the kids was a Warriors fan, so they started ribbing him,” Brown said. “And he was like: ‘No, I’m not! No, I’m not!’ But he had a Golden State Warriors hat on.”
More than anything, Brown said, he could sense their excitement — a type of postseason anticipation that Sacramento had not experienced in years.
AS for the Warriors, Their Roster Seemed in a State of Constant Flux During the Regular Season. Arting Small Forward, Left The Team in Mid-FeBRUARY CITING PERSONAL Reason and Missed the Finalal 25 games of the regular season.
Kerr, meanwhile, struggled to strike a balance between securing a playoff berth (no sure thing) and developing young players like Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman, who was eventually traded midseason. Ultimately, Kerr kept leaning on the usual suspects — Curry , Thompson and the defensive stalwart Draymond Green — as the postseason came into sharper focus.
The Warriors welcomed Wiggins’ return for the start of the playoffs, then lost their first two games, which presented a new obstacle: Curry, Thompson and Green found themselves trailing in a playoff series, 2-0, for the first time in their careers. Perhaps they needed a fresh challenge.
“To do this for a decade, it’s incredible,” Kerr said of his core players. “The energy that it takes to fight off challengers year after year, and have to prepare and win games, and do it over and over — there’s a reason these guys are Hall of Famers and champions.”