Amick: NBA playoffs with Kings ties, ‘revenge tour’ for the Suns and Steph Curry’s Oracle tradition revised

SAN FRANCISCO — When the six-degrees-of-Sacramento evening came to an end Saturday night at Chase Center, where kings Owner Vivek Ranadivé made a surprise appearance at the Golden State-Memphis game that included the two primary finalists for his vacant head coaching position, his team still didn’t have a new coach. But that didn’t mean the surreal scene wasn’t fascinating to watch unfold.

At midcourt of the warriors’ 142-112 Game 3 wins, you had ESPN analyst and former Golden State coach Mark Jackson on the microphone — as always — alongside Jeff Van Gundy. On the Warriors’ sideline, associate head coach Mike Brown was playing the same pivotal part he has these past six years for this Steve Kerr-led program. And not far from the grizzlies bench, Ranadivé enjoyed the game on the baseline with his daughter, Anjali.

The Kings connections, present and past, didn’t stop there, either. Former Kings coach Luke Walton was in attendance, as was Alvin Gentry, the coach who replaced him in an interim fashion when he was fired in late November. Both men are former warriors assistants and, thus, part of the same Golden State tree that Ranadivé has been fixed on since his days as a minority owner with the organization. (That chapter ended for Ranadivé when he became the lead owner of the Kings in 2013.)

Sources say neither Jackson nor Brown was aware that Ranadivé was planning to be in attendance, so it was unclear if there was any substantive meaning to the visit. What’s more, sources say neither Brown nor Jackson was offered the job as of late Saturday evening. As our Shams Charania reported on Friday, Jackson already has interviewed for the Lakers’ coaching job as well.

With the Kings’ decision between the two men expected soon, and with fellow finalist Steve Clifford appearing to be in a distant third in the race at this point, maybe the Ranadivé appearance was a case of him wanting to observe Brown and Jackson from up close as he crystallizes his own view of their respective candidacies. Or, of course, he may have been living vicariously while plotting for the day when the playoffs return to Sacramento.

After all, it’s only been 16 years. And another coaching decision awaits.

Phoenix’s ‘Revenge Tour’ continues

Full disclosure, I’ve always been intrigued by the mental aspect of a would-be championship run.

Beyond the obvious desire to taste champagne at the end of it all, you find that players and coaches often have very unique motivations that compel them to keep pushing during the playoff run that can be so utterly exhausting. In the case of the Sunsthe inspiration that unites them is rather obvious: their NBA Finals loss to Milwaukee last July.

It wasn’t just the fact that they fell to the bucks, though. In case you may have forgotten, they were up 2-0 before getting obliterated by Giannis Antetokounmpo and losing four straight. In terms of the emotional element of the Finals experience, the only thing worse — in this armchair psychologist’s opinion — would be losing in a Game 7.

From this vantage point, the most memorable evidence of this truth was there for all to see in the 2013 finals. A quick review: San Antonio was up 3-2 on Miami, only to see Ray Allen’s yellow-tape 3 rip the Spurs’ hearts out in Game 6 before the Heat won it all in Game 7. From that moment until the Spurs avenged the loss against Miami in 2014, Gregg Popovich was brutally honest about how much the hurt had fueled them.

But in my experience, players aren’t nearly as willing to be honest about the pain they may have felt in falling short. And who can blame them? Rehashing it all, one can surmise, only reopens the wound.

So when Sun’s star Devin Booker referred to this season as a “revenge tour” after Phoenix’s win over Dallas in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinals series, I was struck by the statement that the 2021 Finals nerve, so to speak, was still raw.

“Yeah, I kind of let that slip,” he said with a smile afterwards as we chatted in the Footprint Center hallway.

Booker, whose Suns dropped Game 3 in Dallas and will look to take a 3-1 lead in Game 4 on Sunday, shared a few more thoughts about his admission as he headed for the exits.

“That’s the greatest hurt in a lot of our careers, especially up 2-0 and then dropping it,” Booker, who is averaging 23.3 points (48 percent shooting overall, 50 percent from 3-point range), five assists and 4.3 rebounds against the Mavstold The Athletic on Wednesday. “So, you channel it the right way, and we understand that it happens, (but) it’s the deepest hurt of our careers. And now, we have another chance at it.

“We feel that hurt. It’s something that you’ll never get over. Even if the day comes when I get one, you’re gonna look back and be like ‘I should’ve had two,’ you know what I’m saying? It’s one of those situations.”

The natural next question came next: Have you watched video of the Finals loss or avoided it entirely as a way of sidestepping the miserable memory?

“Yeah, I’ve watched it plenty of times,” he said. “I’ve watched the highlights of it more than the full series, but I’ve watched it.”

A slice of Oracle at Chase

First things first, let’s make this clear: Chase Center isn’t Oracle Arena. Not even close.

It’s an architectural marvel, and the crowd is plenty passionate about their warriors in ways that don’t require an ounce of shame. But nothing will ever match the unadulterated chaos and elation that so often bounced off the walls of that legendary Oakland, Calif., building for all those years before the move to San Francisco in 2019.

ace Draymond Green recently made clear, the comparison is just not fair. Oracle was a one-of-a-kind place.

Yet for those Warriors fans yearning for something—anything—from the Oracle days that can make it all feel a little more familiar now that their team has crossed the Bay, there’s this: The delightful Curtis Jones, the famed Stephen Curry assist man for his legendary tunnel shot and long time usher, is up to his old tricks again.

As Jones told me on his way out, he’s teaming up with Curry again these days during the pregame routine that has become the stuff of basketball lore. But instead of the tunnel shot, which isn’t possible in this landscape, Curry is relying on the oldest Splash Brother of them all to find him in a variety of places on and around the floor.

“(Saturday), Steph shot from one end (of the court) to the other, standing about maybe 10 feet outside of the end of the bleachers,” Jones said. “And he almost made it tonight. When he warms up on the other end, he comes back with the ball, tosses it to me, gets in position; I get in position and give him an underhand pass, and then he goes from there.

“Earlier this season, he was shooting the ball over the glass in the back. So, when he finished his warm-ups, he ran back toward the tunnel going to the locker room, and he waved his hand, and I saw him and tossed it to him. And then, he went from there to the suites (near the deep corner of the court), and he shot it from the suite area to the basket, and then now, we’re going from one end to the other.”


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(Photo of Devin Booker, Monty Williams and Mikel Bridges: Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)

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