The pressure of perfection may be over for Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, but they still have the chance to be one of the NBA’s all-time great teams.
The Warriors’ perfect start ended Saturday thanks to a perfect storm of adverse circumstances.
A young, active and athletic opponent playing free of expectations. The final game of a seven-game road trip. The second game of a back-to-back after a thrilling double-overtime win on Friday. Harrison Barnes out injured. The worst perimeter shooting and worst overall scoring performance of the season.
Milwaukee upset Golden State 108–95 to end the Warriors’ 24-0 start and to snap a 28-game winning streak dating back to last season. Greg Monroe pummeled Golden State’s interior defense to the tune of 28 points and 11 rebounds and Giannis Antetokounmpo chipped in a triple double of 11 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a contest that Milwaukee controlled throughout.
Stephen Curry scored 28 points, but he hit just two of his eight three-pointers after logging 47 minutes in Friday’s win over the Celtics. Draymond Green added 24 points and 11 rebounds, but he committed six turnovers on a night when the Warriors occasionally appeared disorganized. Klay Thompson returned after sitting one game due to an ankle injury, but he managed just 12 points on 14 shots as Golden State tallied a season-low 95 points (the first time it has been held under 100 all season) and a season-low six three-pointers.
The shots stopped falling, the typically crisp ball movement was replaced by too many unforced errors, the momentum-swinging energy bursts gave way to tired legs, the defense was often a step-slow to react, and thus the streak ended in a whimper against a 10–15 Bucks team with the third-worst record in the East.
How the streak ended, though, matters far less than what it represented: the best start to a season in NBA history and the strongest threat yet to the 1996 Bulls’ record-setting 72–10 season.
Golden State’s 24–0 start shattered the previous record for most wins to start a season: 15 by the 1994 Rockets. Those 24 wins represented the third-longest single-season winning streak in NBA history, behind the 1972 Lakers (33 wins) and the 2013 Heat (27 wins). Throw in Golden State’s four straight wins to close the ’14–15 season, and the Warriors’ 28-game winning streak trailed only the Lakers’ 33 wins for longest ever.
Although the Warriors twice needed overtime to keep this year’s streak alive, they were regularly dominant. During their streak, the Warriors posted the best point differential through 24 games of any team in the three-point era.
Best Point Differential (through 24 games)
|New York Knicks||1970||23–1||+355|
|Golden State Warriors||2016||24–0||+340|
An explosive, fast-paced and pass-happy offense keyed the one-sided nature of so many of Golden State’s wins. The Warriors’ offense posted a 116.3 offensive rating through 24 games, a mark only topped in the last 30 years by the 2015 Mavericks and the 1996 Jazz. Individually, Curry scored more points in his team’s first 24 games (779) than anyone since Allen Iverson in ’06 (816) and he’s on pace to shatter his own record for most three-pointers in a season.
So while the streak might be over, the fun surely isn’t. Indeed, the chase to match or surpass Michael Jordan and company’s 72-win campaign is just beginning, and there are reasons for optimism in every direction.
For starters, Golden State’s seven-game, 13-day road trip is over. The Warriors will enjoy three days off before they next take the court. Their next five games are at Oracle Arena, and seven of their next nine games are at home. Other than the Cavaliers, who will visit Oakland for a much-anticipated Christmas Day tilt, the quality of competition facing the Warriors over the next three weeks is largely mediocre.
What’s more, Golden State’s next back-to-back won’t come until Dec. 30–31 against the Rockets. That’s a nice break, considering the defending champions have already endured seven back-to-backs to date. Barnes, who hasn’t played since Nov. 27 due to an ankle injury, should be back soon too.
Here are some notable record targets for the Warriors.
Best record through X games …
|30||Seven (2009 Celtics most recent)||27–3|
|35||Three (1996 Bulls most recent)||32–3|
|41||Two (1996 Bulls most recent)||38–3|
In other words, the Warriors now need to go 15–1 to set a record for the best first-half to a season and 49–8 to reach a record-setting 73 wins. Unseating Jordan will require Golden State to post a .860 winning percentage the rest of the way, which amounts to a 70-win pace over a full season. For comparison’s sake, Golden State posted a .817 winning percentage by going 67–15 last season.Even if there isn’t much margin for error here, the Warriors have given themselves a real shot at making the leap from “best start ever” to “best record ever.” The key question to watch between now and Christmas: How will they respond after the pressure that comes with perfection has been lifted?