OAKLAND, Calif. -- The evening began with an official proclamation from David Stern, who announced to the assembled historians from the press that the Golden State Warriors indeed have the most loyal fans in the NBA.
Golden moments for underdogs
Yet that was merely the pregame warmup.
The game they've been waiting for in the Bay Area for nearly 13 years was only a 13-point game at that point, but you couldn't really fault the lack of restraint around here. Not when the Golden State Warriors, leaving the mighty Dallas Mavericks dazed and confused yet again, so thoroughly controlled their first home playoff date since 1994.
It was played before the largest basketball crowd in the history of California -- 20,629 -- and impartial observers were forced to agree with the frenzied locals, most of whom were sporting one of the 20,000 yellow "We Believe" t-shirts handed out by the home team.
Even at intermission, this one did have an air of finality.
That's because the Mavs have consistently looked as though they can't keep up with the Warriors' speed and athleticism. With the exception of maybe two quarters, Golden State has been the sharper team, leaving the 67-win favorites looking increasingly befuddled and dispirited with its array of fearless drivers and the stunning late-season discovery of roughhouse D.
How dispirited? Three technical fouls in the third quarter should give you an indication of the Mavs' frustration as the Warriors -- weren't they supposed to be the meltdown guys? -- just kept running them ragged and padding that halftime lead until they had a 109-91 Game 3 rout and a 2-1 series lead to take into Game 4.
"I do expect Dallas to play their best game next game," said Warriors coach Don Nelson, refusing to let up on the we're-schmoes routine that has been tweaking his old team since the playoff pairings were made.
Can't wait to see Sunday night if the Mavs can live up to Nellie's confidence.
A Game 4 victory would firmly snatch the momentum away from the eighth-seeded upstarts and reclaim home-court advantage for Dallas.
However . . .
A Game 4 loss would put Dirk Nowitzki in the same unsavory predicament as his dear friend Steve Nash faced a year ago: Dirk's powerhouse team trailing 3-1 in the first round and facing the prospect of trying to explain an early playoff exit at your MVP press conference.
Of course, Nash's team in that scenario was 54-28 and didn't have Amare Stoudemire. You can imagine the reception awaiting the Mavs -- and Nowitzki specifically -- if they don't respond quickly.
"The pressure is going to be on us," Nowitzki conceded. ". . . We said all season long that our goal is a championship and anything else would be a disappointment."
Which might explain why Mavs coach Avery Johnson is struggling to mask his concern. Even with the Warriors' Stephen Jackson clearly playing a more subdued game than usual after receiving a $50,000 fine from the league office earlier in the day, Golden State didn't suffer at all, with Jason Richardson and Baron Davis combining for 54 points and Nelson's lineup change -- restoring Andris Biedrins as his starting center in place of the struggling Al Harrington -- working out considerably better than Johnson's surprise decision to start Nowitzki at center in Game 1.
As for Nowitzki's offense, this was an improvement. He scored Dallas' first eight points and appeared to be assembling a breakout performance with 16 points and eight boards at the half. But Nowitzki finished with a muted 20 points and 12 boards, disrupted by foul trouble and the Warriors' varied reserve of smaller and quicker defensive pests.
Worse yet, Nowitzki was by far the best thing Dallas had going in a punchless performance, even in this state.
"We just didn't have the passion, fire, intensity and physicality to win this game," Johnson said. "We were just a step slow tonight. I just didn't see that look in our guys' eyes tonight."
The most loyal fan base on the NBA map, meanwhile, just continues to grow. Jessica Alba is still scheduled to be here for Game 4 and Game 3 was not without its own celebrity quotient.
Try Kate Hudson and Owen Wilson. They were at courtside and in the Warriors' victorious locker room, soaking it all in after 13 years of what Stern described as "a little more thin" than thick.
Hudson, like Alba, is one of Davis' longtime friends. But Wilson ranks as one of Big D's favorite sons . . . and guess who he's tight with?
Yup. You can mark Wilson's allegiance down as something else Nellie has swiped.
Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace and Chris Duhon gather and discuss plans that could lead to a sweep of the defending champs.
Chris Broussard on the scene in East Rutherford, N.J.
As good as Toronto was in the regular season, the Raptors are too inexperienced to beat the veteran Nets.
Cleveland will be a tough second-round opponent, but the Cavs aren't scaring anyone in NJ. In that series, the Nets will have three of the four best players on the floor. One EC playoff coach tells me the Nets will beat Cleveland if they keep LeBron from driving to the hoop.
The Heat's 104-96 home loss to the Bulls left Chicago with a commanding three-zip lead in the best-of-seven series. And it left Miami in a situation never before faced by a defending NBA champion: the Heat is the first team to lose its first three playoff games the year after winning the NBA title.
Warriors take 2-1 lead on Dallas
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks absorbed a decisive defeat before a rabid Warriors crowd in Game 3. Now it's their turn to get up and overcome major adversity.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Chris Sheridan on the Bulls' taking a 3-0 lead over the Heat ...
And when you saw thousands upon thousands of white-clad fans streaming toward the exits with under 30 seconds left, the picture got even clearer: May is going to be a month that has nothing to do with D-Wade, Shaq, South Beach or Riley.
So this thing should probably end on Sunday, and Riley will be left to wonder as he heads into the offseason whether it was worth it to keep his team intact and not make major changes for the defense of the title.
He said on opening night how he felt his team deserved at least that much, and look where it has gotten him: His team is on the verge of being swept. Or, to put it another way, the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of sweeping his team.
Whichever way you say it, the bottom line is the same: The better team is about to finish off this series, and the better team is the Chicago Bulls.
San Antonio allowed the fewest free-throw attempts in the NBA this season, and its success in keeping Allen Iverson off the line was a huge factor in its bounce-back win in Game 2. For a low-percentage shooter like Iverson, the free-throw attempts are an absolute necessity to make up for the poor field-goal shooting.
If he gets to the line eight times, like both he and Carmelo Anthony did in Game 1, then he can shoot in the low 40s and still make a positive impact. But if he takes 25 shots without getting to the stripe, as in Game 2, then he's doing more harm than good.
That, along with Nene's defense against Tim Duncan and the paltry contributions from the Denver bench thus far, are a couple of the game-within-the-game stories that makes this series so intriguing.
Defensively, the Wizards are terribly overmatched trying to control the entire Cavs team. Perhaps we'll see them simplify their game plans and try to simply control LeBron James.
Doubling him on every catch has its risks due to his court vision, but at least it would force someone other than James to carry the offensive load. And perhaps the crowd and the pressure on Cleveland to keep the Wizards down will cause the players, other than LeBron, to play subpar. It is a gamble that is worthwhile for Washington, seeing as any other style of defense has been ineffective thus far.
I like what I saw from the Cavs in the second half of Game 2. They are facing a wounded team that is likely going to play with tremendous energy early in Game 3, but their defense is the best medicine to quiet the crowd. If the Cavs slow the pace effectively, while sharing the ball and getting their bigs involved early, then they should have enough toughness to withstand whatever punches the Wizards deliver. Be ready for an onslaught from Antawn Jamison, and a solid game from Hayes, but look for the Cavs to come out on top.