Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Los Angeles D-Fenders 114 at Santa Cruz Warriors 115 (OT, NBA D-League) - December 17, 2013

With no more Thursday Night Football, I had another week between games and not much to do. My wife was planning to join me this week, we just had to find the best flight option to get her to California. It turned out the easiest and most affordable option was for her to fly to SFO on Wednesday, which meant I got to spend another three nights in the Bay Area. I had no interest in seeing the Warriors again and the Sharks were out of town, so I seemed out of options. Fortunately, Stadium Journey came to the rescue, as we are starting to do more reviews of the NBA's D-League. The Warriors' affiliate is in Santa Cruz, a waterfront community about 60 miles south of San Francisco, and they had a game on Tuesday evening. So I drove the twisty canyon roads of CA-17 and spent a couple of days enjoying the seaside before heading over to the arena.

The Boardwalk

Santa Cruz must be a great place in the summer, but it essentially closes for the winter and becomes a bit like a ghost town. According to one local, it is usually raining at this time of year, but I was lucky to arrive during an unseasonable warm spell and enjoyed wearing shorts and sandals while walking along the beach. There are a few other tourists of course, so some attractions are open such as the Casino Arcade, which is not a gambling spot but a true arcade with dozens of pinball machines, old video games, and a miniature golf course among other attractions.

There is also a wharf with several seafood restaurants and a wine bar. Dozens of sea lions make their temporary home on the pilings below and are fun to watch for a while. Even without the basketball game, Santa Cruz is worth a short visit, if only to take a step into the past and imagine life along the boardwalk 100 years ago. Of course, I was there to see the basketball, so without further ado, let's move on.

Kaiser Permanente Arena

The NBDL started in 2001 with 8 franchises, and over time subsumed teams from other leagues. In 2006, the Bismarck-based Dakota Wizards, who had been members of the IBA and CBA since their inception in 1995, joined the D-League, becoming affiliated with Washington and Chicago. They won the championship that year and became one of the more stable franchises as the NBDL continued to grow. As the league gained recognition, NBA teams began to view it as a true minor league, and many clubs purchased a team to be their dedicated affiliate. The Golden State Warriors were the fourth to do so, purchasing the Wizards in 2011 but leaving them in the chilly North Dakota wilderness for another season while a suitable arena could be constructed in California.

The result of the wait was the Kaiser Permanente Arena, which opened in 2012 in time for the franchise to make the move to Santa Cruz. The arena took just 78 days to construct, and is built more like an old hockey rink on the Canadian prairie than a basketball court. If you look closely above, you can see the players warming up before the doors open to the public.

The arena is compact and there are no bad seats. There are four sections along each sideline and three behind one of the nets. As you can see, there are some rows with seat backs, known as "Preferred", while the rest are benches, which are called "Reserve".

The Warriors have created 9 different ticket options for just 2,505 fans, unnecessarily complicating the process. The cheapest option is called Reserve-Bleachers, which start start at row 13 in the sections that face the basket and cost $16 (plus a mysterious $1.80 tax at the box office). I sat here and found it perfectly acceptable. You can pay $25 to sit in the Reserve Select benches between rows 7 and 12 (or row 13 and up in the center court sections) while the Reserved Premier seats are rows 7-12 in the center sections and cost $32. In other words, somebody sitting 10 feet away from me paid double.

Preferred Seats are those that come with seat backs but they are not available online, but the advantage of sitting just a little bit closer cannot justify the increased prices. Just buy the cheapest available seat and enjoy high-quality basketball for the price of a couple of beers at an NBA arena.

Speaking of beer, there are three concession stands each with your typical offerings of hot dogs, pretzels, corn dogs, pizza slices, and nachos. Some concessions have a bit more variety and you can find taffy, kettle corn, and ice cream bars. Nothing special, but more than you would expect at this sort of venue and it all seemed fresh. A good selection of canned beer includes Blue Moon, Heineken, and Dos Equis. Glasses of wine are also available.

There is a D-League franchise map which is always interesting to me as I can plan future road trips. There are 17 teams in the league now and there has been talk that eventually all 30 NBA franchises will have their own dedicated affiliate, so expect lots of changes to the map below.

The mascot is a sea turtle named Mav'Riks who keeps kids entertained and performs a dance routine during one timeout.

If you are staying in Santa Cruz, you can walk to the arena, but if you are just driving through, street parking is plentiful. Meters are enforced until 8 pm, so put in a couple of quarters when you arrive and you should be fine.

Overall, I was very impressed with how quickly the team has built a solid fan following and enjoyable game day experience. Again the ticket pricing is too complex for me but that didn't stop 2,000 fans from showing up and watching a wild finish.

The Game

The L.A. D-Fenders were in town, featuring Manny Harris who had just joined the team on the weekend. He spent a couple of seasons with Cleveland, and played in the game against Toronto that I attended in 2011. That's him below practicing his dribble before the game.

Seth Curry (shooting below) is the star for the Warriors. Younger brother of Steph, Seth graduated from Duke this year but was not drafted. He plays a very similar game to his brother, and I would expect him to make his NBA debut sometime in the next year, although probably not with the Warriors as they don't need another outside shooter.

The Warriors wore special Salvation Army uniforms which were auctioned off during the game. Somebody purchased Curry's jersey for $500 using the "buy it now", while the others were going for $60-75 before the game. All proceeds went to the Salvation Army, which had kettles outside the arena and a band to perform the national anthem.

The Warriors started hot, making their first 3 three-point attempts on their way to a 17-4 lead midway through the first on their way to a 32-16 advantage. The second quarter was a foulfest as the referees called a total of 16 infractions, which slowed the game down and allowed the D-Fenders to get back within 13, down 59-46 at the half.

The third quarter saw the Warriors take control, outscoring L.A. 28-19 to take a commanding 22-point advantage into the final frame. A few fans started leaving, but any basketball fan knows that no lead is safe. The Warriors looked a bit complacent early on, but L.A. could not take advantage and were still down 101-85 with four minutes to go after Dwayne Dedmon drained a jumper (below).

The Warriors continued to lead by 15 with under 3 minutes left when the D-Fenders finally got hot and hit 3 consecutive three-pointers around a Dedmon jumper to narrow the score to 106-98. After Curry missed a three, Gideon Gamble made an easy layup and suddenly this was a 6-point game. Then the Warriors Cameron Jones missed a layup and C.J Williams hit a three to make it 106-103 with exactly one minute to go.

The Warriors called a timeout and coming out of it, the D-Fenders began to foul, a strategy that allows teams trailing to get back into the game. The Warriors went to the line on their next three possessions, making five of six free throws while L.A. missed all of their jumpshots. At 111-103 with just 20 seconds left, the comeback looked over, but Gamble made a three and then Jones missed one of his two shots after being fouled, leaving the score 112-106. Andre Ingram (#19 above with a rebound) sank a three to make it exciting, but there was no way the Warriors could lose. Unless Curry decided to inbound the ball to a D-Fender. Which he did, passing the ball straight to Matt Bouldin, who found Williams open. Amazingly Williams hit the three and the game was tied at 112 as the buzzer sounded. Truly an unbelievable choke job by the home team, which left the remaining fans stunned.

After a short break to allow everyone to collect their breath, the 3-minute overtime started. Jones sunk a 3 early and then the Warriors went into lockdown mode. The D-Fenders, who went 7 of 9 from beyond the arc down the stretch suddenly couldn't make a shot, going 0 for 3 in the extra period. A shooting foul netted them a couple of free throws, which they made, but that was it as Ingram missed a shot with one second left and Santa Cruz held on 115-114.

Truly a bizarre game. If this was in the NBA it would be talked about for days, but down in the D-League, no one even noticed. As fans streamed out into the night, confetti fell into the stands (below). A win is a win no doubt, but this is one that should not be celebrated, instead it will provide a lot of lessons for the young Warriors about protecting a lead regardless of how much time remains.

Next Up

Raiders at Chargers on Sunday for Game 30, then all the way back to San Francisco for the final game at Candlestick on Monday night. Those tickets are very expensive and will be the biggest challenge on the trip. If you happen to have an extra, please let me know, and if not, check back next week to see if I made it in.



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