Playoff Diaries: Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after a play against the Houston Rockets during Game Six of the Western Conference Finals in the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after a play against the Houston Rockets during Game Six of the Western Conference Finals in the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

You’ve heard of food diaries, money diaries and sex diaries. Allow us to introduce FanSided’s Playoff Diaries, a series that asks fans to record the experience of playoff series in their lives — the emotions, the rationalizations, the superstitions. In this installment, a Warriors fan (and FanSided editor) leaves nothing up to chance in the Western Conference Finals.

Monday, May 14: Game 1

I arrive at work and the first thing I’m asked is how many games I think it’s going to take for the Warriors to win.

I can’t answer that, especially not at 8:30 in the morning. They force me to answer and I say Warriors in six is the safe answer, but I refuse to tell them what I believe is possible (Warriors in 4!) or what I fear with equal confidence will happen (Rockets in 4!), but the series is over so I will share with you now that I held both those extremes in my heart.

I am a very anxious fan and my anxiety is at its highest when the matchup feels like a great unknown, yes, it’s still unreasonably high after they play their first game, but the not-knowing is worse and I’m deeply stressed at all times.

My plan for Game 1 is to go to a bar near my home that I discovered last year during the Finals when my Cavs friend and I had our yearly Finals hang out and the bar proved to be good luck. In other words, the Warriors won every time I watched there and lost the one time I didn’t. Now, I don’t believe superstitions carry over from series to series, let alone year to year, but it’s as good a place as any — convenient, incredible specials, above-average bar food — to start the series. I’m supposed to be joined by a friend, who, if we’re being honest, is a bit hit-or-miss as a good luck talisman, but he’s also a lawyer which means if I don’t see him when he’s free, I might not see him for six months.

Starting at 6 p.m., in the midst of what can accurately be described as torrential rain, I am entirely occupied with trying to decide whether it’s worth venturing out in the storm. Then, the rain stops, but I’m still torn: If I think the Warriors are going to lose Game 1, which I do, is it worth burning the local bar, to which I will never be able to go back during this series? But if I want a sweep, which I sneaky do, can that happen if I don’t go? I go back and forth and ultimately decide it will come down to whether it’s actively raining at 7:45.

It’s not, so I go.

The bartender remembers me, even though I have not been back since Game 5 last year, which hopefully says more about this bar than it does about me, but in any case, he puts the game and the sound on.

After an extremely stressful first quarter that was no doubt what everyone else hoped and dreamed from this series, the Warriors come away with it.

I run home in a thunderstorm — really, the relentless cracks of thunder is a little heavy handed, basketball gods, even if I don’t know what its supposed to mean — and remember the Arctic Monkeys have a new album, so I listen to that while I get my life together for the next day.

Wednesday, May 16: Game 2

I am tired. I have the social life stamina of an 100-year-old and having plans or errands every night this week makes me very tired, both from what’s happened and from what I know I have ahead of me. I also don’t sleep so well these days, which isn’t really pertinent to this story but contributed to my inability to get off my couch in time to arrive at the bar by tip-off.

I half-heartedly tell myself that I will go to the bar at half-time if the Warriors are losing but I also know it’s only Game 2 so I probably won’t do that.

The Rockets go on a 10-0 run at the end of the first quarter, but the Warriors are only back 5, so I think maybe it will still be okay. Things get much much worse in the second quarter. And then the third. And the fourth.

It is all deeply discouraging and I am resigned to having to go out on Sunday.

Sunday, May 20: Game 3

Today has been quite the day. Anyways, suddenly, it’s game time.

I walk into the bar from Game 1, because that’s where I’m at, mentally, emotionally, and physically, and the bartender says, “You’re back!” and promptly puts the game on all the TVs, which seems excessive, and turns on the sound. Excellent.

I sit in my seat. I drink my drink. The Warriors win by 41.

LMAO Game-1-bar better.

Tuesday, May 22: Game 4

Typically, I tutor on Tuesday evenings but I have tonight off on account of the students’ semi-annual testing. So, that’s a good sign, I think.

I am, without a doubt, sick at this point in the week, I almost fainted at my desk on Monday which was confusing because it was very unlike the other times I’ve fainted. I should, by all means, probably stay home and get in bed immediately, like, at 6:30 p.m., like I did the night before.

But, as my lawyer friend points out, if I stay in and they lose, then that just prolongs the series. Go out, Warriors win, only one more game until I can dedicate myself to my health.

So, I go out, back to the Game 1 and Game 3 bar.

First, everything goes to plan. It’s great. Warriors are up 12-0. Steph has a very Steph third quarter. But then. Goddamn. God. Damn. It just falls to pieces.

I consider the fact I should tell my new friend the bartender that the reason I won’t be returning to the bar is because of superstition and not poor service, but I am shaken so I just leave.

Thursday, May 24: Game 5

I believe it was Tolstoy who said, “Empty bars are all alike; every packed bar is weird in its own way.” Or something like that. Anyways, the neighborhood bar I watched Game 1, 3 and 4 at was constantly, always empty. There were periodically other people there — counterintuitively, the time I saw the most people there was on Sunday during Game 3. In any case, it was empty, the bartender and I were buds, the occasional other person or couple and I had a shared understanding that we were not in the bar to make friends.

But given that bar was now ruled out with a series loss, and I can’t/won’t watch at home on account of my own personal belief watching games at home makes for weak data points, I had to find somewhere new, and luckily I live in a city full of bars. Well, this other nearby bar is, apparently, a spot. It was full, and it was full of characters. I snag a spot at the bar and ask the bartender to put on the game. Once again, he puts it on all the TVs and once again that seems excessive. Coronas are on special, and I had been drinking Coronas during the series thus far, so that seems like a good omen. Things are going well.

I am also stranger-sitting, as it were, next to a date. (Stranger sitting is a term my friends and I came up with in college, maybe you have a similar term, it’s hardly an original concept, for when you sit one seat away from someone you don’t know in a lecture hall (or, I guess, bar) because, you know, you have to sit somewhere and that’s a good spot but you don’t know them so you leave a seat between you two. In full classes (bars), someone will eventually sit between you two, but you always know that you respectfully left that seat open in acknowledgment that you are strangers and there were many seat options. I would imagine this is not that different from urinal protocol, but I know nothing about that. Anyways: Don’t place yourself right next to a stranger when you have more options.)

Truthfully, I am very distracted by this date! For like, the entire first half! I won’t get into it, but at one point, one half of the date disappears to take a phone call — family emergency — and after she tells him her mom is sick, he asks her if she looks like her mom, which felt like a deeply odd follow-up question to me. And that isn’t even the strangest or most uncomfortable piece of conversation I heard. It is bad. Honestly, so is the first half and I am pleasantly relieved it was tied at halftime.

The second half is so much worse, both in terms of the game and my company. The date leaves and is replaced by a motley of coworkers of who are just, to put it politely, wrecked. There is a lot of aggressive flirting, a lot of shots, a conversation about, uh, mutual significant others I would love to transcribe for you — and did indeed text to a friend in real time — but it is NSFW.

The whole conversation is lightly horrifying and my new friend the bartender — befriending various bartenders and cluing them in on what’s going on in the NBA is a low-key playoff tradition for me — keeps giving me looks because he can see that I am actively trying to focus on the game while also being naturally distracted by the things coming out of these people’s mouths. I receive multiple sympathy looks and a sympathy shot too. Unfortunately, Quinn Cook took a sympathy shot as well and we all know how that went.

I leave the bar sad. Probably unreasonably sad, given I’m a person who tries not to take sports too seriously. It occurs to me that sports teams, even teams who are prohibitive favorites like the Warriors, are a dangerous thing to count on. That unpredictability that we love as fans — the anything can happen of it all, what makes the playoffs so fun and great (and susceptible to the silly superstitions that I love) — also makes them a poor choice to support your mental health.

I was counting on the Warriors to make me happy during a week when not a lot else did, when I was feeling down and discouraged and generally sad about pretty much everything. And they lost. It was a bad week.

Saturday, May 27: Game 6

I spend as many minutes as I can reasonably allow myself angsting over where to watch Game 6. My new friend the bartender at the Game 5 bar reminded me of another neighborhood spot, from which I could reasonable bounce to or from the Game 1 bar, if I wanted to revisit that. But I just don’t know. I don’t know what feels right, you know?

I think about all my superstitions I’ve had over the past three years of watching Warriors playoff games in Chicago. Where I’ve gone, what I’ve ordered, what I’ve worn. The bar that truly put my love of superstition into overdrive — where I watched Games 1, 5, 6 and 7 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, a story for another time — is out of business.

Ultimately, I decide to go to the bar I deeply believe (because I’m nuts, I know this, you should know this, by now) would have swung the 2016 Finals. Why I believe this, and all that, is again, a story for another time. But with nothing else to make my decision, it feels right. Like some kind of penance — either it will be proven right as a good place for Warriors games or I will feel absolved, like I would have miserably watched them lose there and then too.

Anyways, so I go to this bar. Which also has screens on the patio: Perks, right? No. It’s hot and sweaty and there is not technically a bartender working the bar I’m sitting at. There is a very kind server, though, but it’s not the same. And Lord have mercy, that first half.

About halfway into the first quarter I tell myself if the Warriors manage to pull this together, if they’re up by 10 at halftime, I’ll stay. With about seven minutes left in the first half, the Warriors are mounting a comeback and it becomes apparent to me one of the folks in the group next to me at the bar is a Warriors fan. (We’ll have another discussion sometime about how the number of casual Warriors fans I encounter at bars in Chicago far contradicts how hated they are by online NBA fans.)  There is also a dog! His name is Diego, and he is adorable. All of which is to say, I begin to reconsider my terms for staying. Perhaps, if they are only down single digits, I will stay — for the fellow fan and the dog.

The Warriors go to halftime down 10. I feel…not great about it, so I follow that instinct and I get out there. I ask myself, where do I want to watch this team lose, and the obvious answer to that is home.

I get back a few minutes into the third quarter, it’s 61-59 and I question whether it’s better if I just don’t watch. I put it on, but tell myself if they fall behind again, I will turn it off. I pour myself a glass of wine — my favorite red blend, a wine I discovered at that 2016 WCF bar that I subsequently learned I could buy a bottle of for the same price that bar was selling glasses, but whatever. I change — put on my Andre shirt.

I also put on Julien Baker, whose albumTurn Out the Lights I played regularly during the early rounds, mostly because I was just really into it at the time, but now seems particularly fitting when I’m preparing myself to be Very Sad about the outcome of this game. (A side note: Listening to Baker also always reminds me of this lovely Hanif Abdurraqib essay. Abdurraqib, incidentally, has signed every one of my copies of his books with Golden State trolls. Most recently: “I hope the Warriors don’t lose to the Rockets in 5.” Well, at least that particular outcome is off the table.)

Together, it feels like piecemeal superstition. Not the fun “if X, then Y” superstition I thrive on. Both nothing meaningful, and everything I’ve got left to contribute.

It works. Damn, does it work. I am so relieved, so pleased, and so once again reminded that this probably isn’t healthy.

Also: The win gives me occasion, and the right mood, to press pause on dear sweet Julien and return to listening to a combination of the new J. Balvin and Shawn Mendes. Pop music and happy rhythms reign in my apartment once again.

Monday, May 28: Game 7

I plan to watch at home, again, the exact set up from the second half of Game 7. Home, Andre shirt, red wine, Julien Baker. I turn off Baker after the first quarter because it is too sad and I have to save that for the fourth quarter or a Rockets 20 point lead, whatever comes first.

Once again, I am rooting for a single digit deficit for halftime and the Warriors once again come up short — 11 points behind this time.

I like superstition because it makes watching playoff games more fun for me, especially because I am usually watching games alone. It’s low-stakes participation and I have fun — with the neuroticism, with the spreadsheets, with the amusing way my friends look at me when they ask where I’m watching the game. And I feel okay about being a person who will change locations at half-time, about being lightly unhealthy about it all, because I am otherwise very comfortable with my fan-life balance. I don’t have any issues missing a game (and not checking scores in a bathroom) for birthdays, or graduation dinners, or grabbing drinks to catch up, especially when coordinating my friends’ schedules is infinitely harder than the Warriors making the playoffs. 

Still, it’s just a lot of fun to be able to point to a swing in a series and say, yeah, that’s the power of superstition. Someday, I’ll tell you about my old roommates, Cat Stevens, UV Blue and the Cubs World Series. Or the time a friend drank Angry Orchard after Angry Orchard after Angry Orchard because/for LeBron James.

Of course, the flip side of superstition is that, when games go the way the first half of Game 7 goes, you just feel dumb. Like, why on earth would you ever think what you wore or where you watch had any influence on a professional sports game? And that’s fine — I mean, it’s true, the whole deal is incredibly silly. But feeling dumb for doing something you thought was fun adds insult to injury of watching your team suck.

Next: Playoff Diaries: Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals

Oh, but JFC, this team. I actively hate them in the third quarter — because what was that first half? Why put us through all of that? And then Houston starts missing and everything starts clicking. I am, more than anything, just relieved, and I’m happy, and I’m sitting up on my knees, but in an excited way — not a knot of nerves, hugging all my limbs kind of way.

None of the superstition feels relevant in the second half. It feels totally unrelated, totally transcended by the rudeness of the situation.

What does feel relevant is that my lawyer friend is rooting for the Rockets — really, all my friends were rooting for the Rockets, which, whatever, I get it. But this friend, this friend’s rooting interest is a rock-solid jinx. And, sure enough, the Rockets lost.