Clifford Ray and the 1975 NBA champion Warriors understand the challenge facing Golden State in a playoff elimination game Thursday night. And they believe these Warriors can overcome it, just as they did.
Thirty-eight seasons ago, the Warriors were headed to Chicago for Game 6, down 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.
"Nobody thought we could go to Chicago and win that game," recalled Ray, the team's starting center in '75. "First thing we did is we tried to take the crowd out of the game. Then, every time something happens, you don't have that energy flowing through the whole arena."
Rick Barry scored 36 points and the Warriors won 86-72, giving them the chance to clinch the Western Conference crown with an 83-79 win at home.
The energy will be with the Warriors in Game 6 at Oracle Arena.
"It's hard to win at Golden State because of that crowd," said Ray, an assistant coach last season for the Sacramento Kings. "I don't think (home court) is going to matter in that seventh game."
Charles Dudley, a second-year reserve guard in '75, agrees.
"They've already proven they can win," he said. "With their speed and their youth, if they focus on this game they have a very good chance."
And Game 7 in San Antonio?
"When you already know you gave one game away on their home court, they're going to go in with all the confidence in the world."
Game 1 of the Spurs series, where the Warriors squandered a huge lead late before losing in overtime, is a sore point with Barry.
"They should be up 3-2," Barry said, "but they showed their inexperience, had terrible shot selection, and they broke down defensively."
No one was convinced the Warriors could recover from that collapse, just as few expected much from the 1974-75 club that had been dismantled the previous offseason. Gone were Cazzie Russell (free agency), Clyde Lee (as a player to be named later), Joe Ellis (retired), Jim Barnett (expansion draft) and Nate Thurmond (traded) -- and the combined 47 points per game they provided.
"We were picked to be last in the conference," said Al Attles, who coached the team.
"That's why it was the biggest upset in the history of the NBA," Barry said.
Attles said he opposed owner Franklin Mieuli's decision, for financial reasons, to trade the immensely popular Thurmond, the club anchor at center.
But the trade brought Ray to the Warriors, and he became a key piece of the puzzle. At 26, he was seven years younger than Thurmond, less of a scorer but a strong rebounder and defensive player.
Barry credits him with helping create team chemistry. Ray called a team meeting with all the players -- except Barry -- and asked them a simple question: "Is there anybody in this room who can score 30 to 40 points every night? If so, raise your hand. Nobody did."
Ray convinced the others that Barry could lead them to a special place, and that there wasn't room for jealousy if he was given an occasional day off from practice.
His teammates voted Barry team captain -- the first time he'd ever been given that role. "He really took it to heart," Attles said.
Attles also brought in Bud Presley, a renowned defensive coach from Menlo College, who spent a week with the team during preseason workouts.
Barry called Presley's brief involvement "absolutely critical," and the Warriors were on their way to becoming a selfless, defensive-oriented team. When the playoffs arrived, they allowed just 94.9 points per game and held 11 of 17 opponents under 100.
Attles gives coach Mark Jackson credit for creating a similar atmosphere.
"You don't see guys shaking their heads because they're coming out of the game," he said. "That's what has impressed me about the team. And it all starts with the coach."
Both then and now, the Warriors utilized deep benches and relied on rookies to play significant roles. Jamaal Wilkes and Phil Smith combined to average nearly 22 points in '75, and Wilkes was named Rookie of the Year.
If the consensus is the Warriors need more seasoning, Ray believes there is no time like the present. He can envision the Warriors winning the Western Conference title.
"If they can get by San Antonio, I give them a good chance," Ray said. "Zach Randolph doesn't like to be fronted, and Carl Landry is active enough to front him. I think they match up OK with Memphis."