BARNES RETURNS TO ORACLE IN PLAYOFFS FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 2007

OAKLAND – Matt Barnes walked into Oracle Arena more than two and a half hours before tipoff.

It’s a brief walk from the visitor’s tunnel to the locker room, about 50 steps, probably 40 for someone of Barnes’ stature. But Barnes made the walk a little slower than he has in the 10 games he’s returned to Oakland as a visitor since his days with the “We Believe” Warriors of 2007.

He stopped to fist bump a security guard as he turned the corner from the tunnel to the bowels of the arena. He greeted a man who works for Warriors television and the man’s son. And he paused to admire Dirk Nowitzki’s handiwork on the wall across from the Clippers’ locker room.

Seven years ago, when Barnes was a feisty reserve with the Warriors team that upset the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in six games, a crestfallen Nowitzki heaved a trashcan at the drywall after the deciding loss. The hole remains, covered in plexiglass, with a gold “We Believe” T-shirt affixed above it.

Seeing the shirt, Barnes set his tote bag down and snapped two photographs of it with his cell phone. He texted the photo to Baron Davis, Monta Ellis and a few other former teammates.

“I never thought of taking a picture of it [before],” Barnes said. “But it’s the Playoffs and it brought back a lot of memories so I shared it with those guys.”

It was a memory of the Playoffs before and perhaps a reminder of what the arena would be like once the Clippers and Warriors tipped off Game 3 on Thursday.

“I just loved the crowd, whether they are booing and cussing me out or cheering for me,” Barnes said. “They have a great fan base and it’s a blessing to be able to play in a situation like this.”

Barnes was soaking it in during his pregame shooting work as well. He was among the last group to shoot and was on the court as the crowd began filing into the arena and the yellow shirts draped over each seat began slowly disappearing.

It was like 2007 when similar shirts were distributed before each Playoff game, when Oracle was a safe haven for Barnes. Now, he relishes the alternative role.

“I like being the hated one,” he said.

But after hearing boos rain down on him during pregame introductions, going scoreless in 28:59, and jamming his left big toe, getting a victory in his old confines is likely a little sweeter than anywhere else even if that means he doesn’t came back until next season.

“A win is a win, especially coming here in a hostile environment and retake home-court advantage,” Barnes said after the Clippers’ 98-96 win to take a 2-1 series lead. “We’ve got to come back Sunday with the same focus and be ready and try not to have to come back to Oakland.”