How Pacers game night is different with the Warriors in town, a chance to witness Steph Curry and history
The Pacers led most of the game, but were outscored 7-0 over the final 93 seconds. And Curry was two 3s short of the record.
It was obvious that something different, something special was going on at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Monday. More than three hours before the Warriors tipped off agains the Pacers for their annual visit, downtown Indianapolis was buzzing.
Head down Pennsylvania Street and there was a dad with three young boys. All three wore a Steph Curry jersey.
Turn the corner onto Maryland Street and a young family of three, with the dad wearing a royal blue Curry jersey, were very clearly off to a pre-game dinner.
Make your way towards the entry pavilion and dozens of fans are waiting for the doors to open, for their chance to race to the south basket to get close to Curry and simply watch him shoot.
The Warriors, for almost a decade, have been a traveling road show and the hottest ticket of the season. The place was electric as fans, young and old, hurried to their seats for a glimpse of Curry and the possibility of seeing him break Ray Allen’s record for the most 3-pointers all-time (2,973). Reggie Miller is third on the list with 2,560.
Tip-off was at 7:00 p.m. and at 5:15 p.m., Pacers acting head Coach Lloyd Pierce, who filled in for Rick Carlisle for the second consecutive game, entered the interview room through the door at the back of the room rather than the one connected to their locker room. NBA TV picked up the game and so Pierce first completed an interview with them.
Nothing is status quo when the Warriors are the opponent.
Inside the interview room, which before this season had almost exclusively been used for the postgame interview with the Pacers head coach until the playoffs, there were 28 individuals — reporters, camera operators, a sound operator and more. There are five full-time reporters on the Warriors beat and that’s only slightly less than the average attendance for a typical pre-game interview with Carlisle.
By the time both head coaches had talked, the buzz inside the fieldhouse had picked up. Out on the court, hundreds were standing around and waiting for Curry to arrive for his thorough pre-game routine with assistant coach Bruce Fraser. Layups, 3s and shots from half-court. He does it all as countless number of kids watch. Some likely seeing him in person for the first time.
At the other end, Pacers players stuck to their routine and tried to block it out, though they could see and hear the excitement like the rest of us.
“He’s just a remarkably confident guy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry. “To feel that confidence and at the same time, the way he conducts himself with such humility off the court is a beautiful combination. It’s why I think he’s so appealing to so many people. Not only does he kind of look like a normal guy, he just acts like one too. And yet, he has these incredible superpowers and he does things nobody’s ever done before.”
Added Pierce: “One of the most humble and arrogant players that you’ll see; he’s got the perfect blend and balance of it.”
One person who was noticeably missing from the Pacers’ end was assistant coach Jenny Boucek. She’s always out on the court for warmups and had worked with T.J. McConnell, who is out indefinitely after surgery on his right hand. It turns out she has entered the league’s Health & Safety Protocols, like Carlisle, and was away from the team. So Calbert Cheaney replaced her at the front of the bench. Zach Chu is also away from the team.
As the teams finished warmups, I noticed how there were only two officials getting loose at center court. There should be three. Crew chief Courtney Kirkland entered the Health & Safety Protocols so they had just two for the game, Michael Smith and Jenna Reneau. More NBA personnel are testing positive for COVID-19 — it’s a significant concern for the league and its teams — and earlier in the day, the Bulls had two games postponed after having 10 players and several more individuals around the team enter the protocols.
Reneau, by the way, is one of nine part-time officials. She was up in Fort Wayne to officiate a pair of G League games over the weekend between the Mad Ants and Iowa Wolves.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was scheduled to be in attendance for the game, his annual visit around Christmas. But he had to cancel last week.
So even before the game started, there was much to digest.
Seats were filled up like they hadn’t before at the previous 15 home games. In the section to my left on club level, every single one was occupied from the start. (Last game, there weren’t 10 people in this section of probably 75 seats.)
NBA TV led off their broadcast with several interviews, then introduced a special counter atop the score bug at the lower-right corner of the screen. To begin the game it read “Curry: 7 to 3-pt record.”
The Pacers were determined to stay out of the record books.
Pierce coached Curry for one season while an assistant with the Warriors. It was the 2010-11 season, Curry’s second in the league and before he had arrived. Asked about his memory from that time, Pierce joked, “He still turns the ball over a lot. (laughs)
“There’s literally nothing I can say to him about his skill development or his shooting.”
But they do have an inside joke. Curry liked to shoot after practice with The Gun, a large device that attaches to the basket and eliminates the need for a rebounder. Pierce laughed at that, though, telling him “You’re just coming into the league, you need bodies on you.”
During the Pacers’ game prep at practice on Sunday, assistant coach Ronald Nored had some fun with the guys. As a freshman at Butler, he played Curry at Davidson. So he went back in the archives and got the video.
How long ago was it? There’s not even highlights from the game on YouTube, which has videos of almost everything.