Hard to fathom NBA record Warriors just set

Hard to fathom NBA record Warriors just set

Overview

Marc Stein /ESPN Senior Writer

 

 

OAKLAND, Calif. –‎ The absolute peak of absurdity for the luckiest correspondent in professional sports had to be last week, when I found myself locked in a televised conversation with one of my boyhood heroes, co-narrating Steph Curry’s pregame shooting session alongside a certain batting practice king named Reggie Jackson.

Or maybe it was that crisp February afternoon in the nation’s capital, weeks before the Mr. October encounter that 9-year-old me would never have believed, scurrying about the North Lawn at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to box out the crowd and get in position to ask Curry what it was like to commandeer the White House‎ for a few hours.

Or maybe craziest of all, when all the probabilities are computed, was the time Warriors vet Leandro Barbosa motioned to me from across the practice floor, cupped his hand to his ear to signal a telephone conversation, and shouted: “Neymar called me!”

That’s right.

Turns out that the Brazilian third of the greatest modern triangle offense going — Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar — needs his Steph updates just like the rest of us.

“He calls me a lot,” Barbosa said.

These are the sorts of things that happen in the Warriors’ world, even when you’re just an outsider trying to chronicle it all. ‎You see and hear things that, even in this wacky NBA, you simply never thought possible.

You see the Warriors make it all the way to the 25th game of the season before they lose. You see Steph zoom right past your seat at the scorer’s table to plant a few steps past midcourt and launch an audacious, unforgettable 40-foot dagger at the buzzer in Oklahoma City without a twitch of hesitation. And you ultimately see them trump the Chicago Bulls’ supposedly untouchable 72 wins from 1995-96, but only after the Warriors ratcheted up the drama to 11 by unexpectedly losing a couple of home games, then beating the winningest team that the mighty San Antonio Spurs have ever fielded twice in a span of four days as part of a 4-0 flourish that dragged them to a magical 73.

“It’s his league,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said, naturally referring to You-Know-Who and offering up that declaration more than an hour before any of the 10 3-pointers Curry drained in a 46-point virtuoso performance that ultimately took him to 402 for the season.

Which prompted Warriors play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald to christen him the “Ted Williams of the 3-point line.”

“The last two years,” Joerger continued, “it’s Steph Curry’s league.”

That the takeover happened so fast, with so little advance warning, undoubtedly helps fuel resistance to the idea that the Golden State gate-crashers belong in the same sentence as Michael Jordan’s ’95-96 Bulls. They most certainly will belong there if they can take the “next step,” in the words of Aussie center Andrew Bogut, and hike “that number to 89” with the 16 additional playoff wins it will take to secure a second successive championship. But getting into deep debates about how these two monoliths from different eras match up isn’t our interest.

As Bogut rightly notes about that impossible hypothetical, irresistible as it is to so many: “Unfortunately you can’t push a button and the Bulls are healthy and young and playing us right now.”

The preference here, then, is to save our proclamations for positions we can sanely defend. Starting with these three:

1. The Warriors made the regular season matter better than any team we’ve ever seen. One reason soccer wonks like me dream of promotion and relegation in top-shelf American team sports is because it helps spare us from some of the many regular-season games every year, across all the major leagues, that don’t matter. Yet in 2015-16, from its Ring Night dismantling of undermanned New Orleans to a virtual rerun of that occasion in its Game No. 82 rout of Joerger’s helpless Grizzlies, Golden State made you stay tuned. Bless the Dubs for that.

2. We’ll never know whether they could have beaten the ’95-96 Bulls, but these Warriors did have it tougher. Faced with far greater scrutiny and pressure from the media and the public in the social media age, chased by the true equal in San Antonio that Chicago never had and needing 73 wins to break the record as opposed to the 70 that MJ & Co. needed — while having Jordan’s greatness thrown in their faces constantly, Golden State endured the tougher 82-game ride.

3. No one really knows whether all the gas guzzled to break a record widely believed to be unbeatable will lead to a fatal fuel shortage for the Warriors in the postseason. No one. Not yet. We won’t know until we know — if you know what I mean.

If rest automatically made you better in the playoffs, Warriors coach Steve Kerr — who has suffered more healthwise this season than anyone in the organization — would have punted on 73 long ago. Yet Kerr, as openly worried as he has been in recent days about the mental toll this quest was taking, ultimately had to concede that rest, in reality, guarantees nothing.

The Ultimate Resting Champions from San Antonio proved that as recently as last spring, when they went out in the first round of the West playoffs to the Los Angeles Clippers despite the meticulous management of minutes practiced by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Kerr, mind you, wasn’t the only one openly fretting. Not far from the Oakland Coliseum he once owned, Reggie Jackson spent a good bit of our aforementioned SportsCenter visit warning the Warriors not to prioritize 73 too much, pointing to the 116-win Seattle Mariners of 2001 as the ultimate cautionary tale and saying: “Get ’em on the way to winning the trophy … as long as it’s in the path of winning the gold. The 73 victories is an engagement ring. The [championship] trophy is getting married.”

Yet you should know by now that the Warriors don’t do much listening to the naysayers, unless spiritual compass Draymond Green ‎or tell-it-like-it-is Bogut is on the hunt for bulletin-board material to disseminate via group text and rile up the locker room.

‎They’ve been doing it their way since that preposterous 24-0 start that’s still as hard to believe, to this day, as anything this team did over the past 170 days. In my 23rd successive season of NBA coverage, I attended 30 of the Warriors’ 82 games and watched them win a tidy 27 of them, all the while morphing into a road show that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle likened to the Rolling Stones on Golden State’s last visit to Dallas last month.

No matter what happens in the playoffs, Warriors players, coaches and staffers won’t soon forget the night in Philadelphia when a fan used some long strings — fishing-style — to lower memorabilia to Curry at street level for him to sign autographs. Or the night in Detroit that the team bus, through a series of errant turns on one-way streets, had to circle the team hotel, prompting the pack of adult autograph seekers waiting for the bus to do a full lap around the hotel, in the cold, chasing the bus. Or the story we told in December about how Drake had to wait 45 minutes, alongside the lowly press corps, for a few quick seconds of Steph’s time.

They won’t soon forget how consistently surreal these past six months have been, when so many other teams see it as such a slog.

“I think where it got surreal for me was one morning when I woke up on the road, turned on ESPN and saw that the Warriors had their own category on the [Bottom Line] ticker,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “We didn’t even have a game that day, but there was a whole section on us.”

Said Curry: “Obviously there’s going to be ups and downs and emotions and things that come with a long 82-game schedule. But what we do is enjoy the process.

“It’s been fun.”

We’ll soon find out whether Curry’s contention that the ultra-serious, rather un-fun nature of the past two weeks, when Golden State appeared to have squandered its chance to win 73 games, has actually “made us better,” based on the premise that the Dubs continuously got the opposition’s best shot. That, though, can wait until the weekend.

You are urged, in the meantime, to go out and buy a newspaper — remember those? — and turn to the sports pages to claim your own low-cost piece of historic NBA memorabilia.

Flip to the standings page in the paper and you’ll see the most outlandish, Jordan-trumping thing: 73-9.

“I just told our guys I never in a million years would have guessed that that record would ever be broken,” Kerr said. “I thought it was like [Joe] DiMaggio’s hit streak, really, and I was wrong.

“But I will say the same thing now that I said 20 years ago [as a Bulls player]. I don’t think this one will ever be broken. Somebody’s got to go 74-8. I don’t see it.”

Totally, wonderfully absurd.