The Golden State Warriors won their 72nd game on Sunday night, but the bigger accomplishment (73!) may come Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
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SAN ANTONIO — Steph Curry wasn’t letting go of the ball. Not after that game, and this season. He hugged it, pounded it, kept it close, even as he embraced Draymond Green and leapt to shoulder-bump Marreese Speights and dapped everyone in sight, down to the team’s social media coordinator. The Warriors hit the magic 72 on Sunday night but, really, it was Steph and Draymond who got them there. They were the two who pushed for this mark, who took turns spurring the team when it faltered—Draymond in text messages and timeout sermons and then in frenzied play against Memphis and in the first half at San Antonio. Then Curry had an all-you-can-do-is-shake-your-head second half and 37 points to close out a 92–86 win that Steve Kerr, in a private moment after the game, likened to, “a playoff war out there.”
Technically, of course, the game decided nothing—no playoff positioning changed—but it signified plenty. The end of the Spurs home mystique—their perfect home season, along with a staggering 33-game regular season home win streak against the Warriors. The cementing of Curry’s competitive legend. And, one got the feeling, the inevitability of a Golden State repeat.
From the start, the night felt momentous. Pop may have claimed not to care about the dual records on the line, but not so San Antonio fans. From the REP HARD SPURS T-shirts on sale at the airport to the GO SPURS GO sign swathing a downtown building to the vigorous rally fans held on the Riverwalk at 7 p.m. Saturday night—complete with chants and one gentleman dressed as some bizarre lucha version of Kawhi—the city was pumped. Not just for Sunday’s game, but Saturday’s. At one bar south of downtown, The Friendly Spot, fans gathered in metal chairs, clutching beers and watching the Grizzlies-Warriors game on a giant inflatable projection screen with the volume jacked up. The bar even pulled the Warriors CSN feed, with Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett, rather than ESPN.
Even so, come Sunday night, a sizeable number of fans arrived in Warriors gear. Well, Curry gear, really. Fathers and sons. Middle-aged women. Then there was the man waiting to enter the arena in a flannel shirt upon which he’d silkscreened: STEPH IS TIRED
And, for a moment, he looked it. After arriving at 2 a.m. from Memphis, the Warriors had an optional brunch and skipped shootaround but the mood was light in the pregame locker room, according to Curry—players watching film and cracking on each other. Still, the Warriors opened out of sync. Passes thrown off heels, balls lost out of bounds, mistimed leaps. It was not the beautiful game we’ve come to expect from them. When Curry and Green departed in the first, Golden State chose to go straight 90s Knicks ball, running a succession of post-ups for Shaun Livingston and Festus Ezeli. It was as ugly as it sounds. All the while, San Antonio swatted and swiped, making a point to contest the Warriors’ defensive rebounds once secured in hopes of steals or, at the least, slowing Golden State’s fast breaks.
The result: a season-low 14 points in the first quarter and 35 in the half for the Warriors. Adding to the atmosphere, both teams were ornery. Pop berated Danny Green. Draymond berated Monty McCutcheon, earning a T. A very loud fan behind our media section berated, well, everyone.
Then, in the second half, the deluge. Curry hit a three, then another, then a floater and then a bunch of other absurd shots, including one in which he dribbled around every Spurs player and traversed nearly the entire half of the court, as if engaged in a one-man Harlem Globetrotters routine, before flipping in a scoop shot. When, at the end of the third quarter, he launched a two-handed heave from 60-feet, no one was surprised to see it bank in. The basket was waved off but the lesson for defenders remains: Never don’t contest a Curry shot. Still, it was one drive, in the third quarter, that was the most telling: from the left wing, Curry attacked the basket, leapt off his right foot and finished with his left hand while absorbing a wallop from Green. Curry shot up from the floor. This was a man who wanted it. A man who was definitely not tired.
Meanwhile, whether it was subterfuge, experimentation or desperation, Pop appeared intent on rolling out unusual lineups, including Patty Mills and Tony Parker together, allowing Warriors guards to choose which one to shoot over. The Spurs began the fourth quarter with a group that included Kyle Anderson and Boban Marjanovic that, as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio News noted, may never have played together before. Kerr? He saw Pop his Boban and raised him Ian Clark, who ended up playing big crunchtime minutes (Kerr later lauded his stint).
In the end, strategic takeaways were few, as least with regards to a probable Western Conference finals matchup. Boris Diaw, crucial to the Spurs’ gameplan against the Warriors, didn’t play. The Warriors did little new. We were left instead with small insights: Marjanovic can have success against the Warriors using his size, Curry can find a way around Spurs bigs when they push out on him toward half court and Kevin Martin probably shouldn’t guard Klay Thompson.
Instead, attention turned to the record. Postgame, Bogut reflected on how he grew up watching Bulls center Luc Longley, a fellow countryman, and how the big man had been texting him in recent weeks, to which Bogut promised now to send him “a nice 24-pack of beer and a commiseration card.” Kerr also has heard from Longley, as well as from old friend Jud Buechler, but said none of the other ’95–96 Bulls have touched base, assuming they’re instead all, “muttering expletives.”
Thompson called the night “surreal.” Curry recalled tagging along with his father as a boy, hoping to cross paths with Jordan and Pippen in the locker room hallways. Indeed, of all the Warriors, Curry seemed the most impacted by what they’d accomplished, forehead still beaded with sweat, a smear of blood from a scratch just above the V of his uniform. He spoke of “an opportunity that may never come again,” of enjoying the moment.
Finally, Green spoke. He was happy, but he made one thing clear. Sunday was no reason to celebrate. “It’s an accomplishment,” he said, stressing the phrasing. “THE accomplishment is 73.”
That awaits, this Wednesday, at home against the Grizzlies.