Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 13, 2015

Streak Over, Warriors Turn To More Important Business

So the Golden State Warriors aren’t going to go 82-0. Fans knew that the Warriors were going to drop a game eventually of course, in the same way that we who live in New England know that sooner or later we will feel the icy bite of winter. But just as it’s fun to imagine otherwise when the thermometer hits sixty degrees on the second Saturday of December, so NBA fans could derive some enjoyment from dreaming of the impossible as Golden State ran off victory after victory.

The fantasy ended in Milwaukee Saturday night, where Bucks fans who arrived wearing tee shirts emblazoned with “24-1” proved prophetic. Nearly 19,000 Milwaukee boosters got to see their home squad take the lead on the first shot of the game and open up a double-digit margin less than ten minutes into the contest. Golden State rallied and even inched ahead briefly in the second period, but in what would become a pattern in the second half, the Bucks answered the visitors’ surge with a run of their own to lead by eleven at the half. Twice in the third quarter the Warriors came back to within a point, but anyone expecting the defending NBA champions to blow on past the Bucks was destined to be disappointed. In the end the fourth quarter belonged decisively to Milwaukee, which pulled away to win by thirteen, 108-95.

When a team has won twenty-eight consecutive regular season contests, including the last four of the previous campaign, a loss counts as a surprise. But in the context of the full NBA season the fact that the Warriors came up short on Saturday could be seen as almost inevitable. Golden State was playing the final game of a seven city road trip, as long a stretch away from home as the team will have all season. Had they kept their streak alive the Warriors would have been the first NBA franchise to achieve a perfect record on a seven game road trip.

On Friday night the winning streak was nearly halted in Boston. There in the TD Garden the Celtics gave the champions all they could handle in a game that went to double overtime. The Celtics and Warriors were tied sixteen times and there were twenty-two lead changes before Steph Curry and company finally willed themselves to a 124-119 victory.

Fatigue was surely a factor in a fatally cold shooting night for Golden State. As a team the Warriors failed to score 100 points for the first time this season, shooting barely forty percent from the floor. They also made just six three-pointers, less than half their average number from beyond the arc. Curry, who has been on a torrid shooting pace from the season’s first game, including making more than forty-five percent of threes, was coming off his worst shooting night of the year in the game against Boston. While better overall in Milwaukee, he made just 2 of 8 three-point attempts.

The no longer perfect Warriors flew home to northern California late Saturday night, where they have a few days to rest before welcoming the Phoenix Suns to Oracle Arena Wednesday night. After all the focus on the streak, including an incipient debate about whether the four wins from last year should be included if Golden State threatened the NBA record of 33 consecutive wins set by the Los Angeles Lakers over two months of the 1971-72 season, attention can now turn to the bigger picture of the NBA season as a whole.

Curry was among the first to stress that, saying that the team’s ultimate goal was to “be our best come April and chase another ring.” Forward Draymond Green echoed the sentiment, telling reporters that “Our goal was always to get better each and every time we get on the floor,” while suggesting that the singular focus on winning had started to detract from the drive for constant improvement. Interim head coach Luke Walton, who has been filling in while Steve Kerr recovers from back surgery, noted that it was hard to be critical of his team while they kept winning. But he suggested that there were “issues that got swept under the rug” during the streak that he and his assistants could now focus on.

One silly issue that shouldn’t be ignored is the NBA’s insistence on assigning Golden State’s wins to Kerr, since he remains the head coach of record for the franchise. That resulted in Walton being named the league’s Coach of the Month for November, despite having an official record of 0-0.

But the more important question, which can only be answered by the play on the court in the coming months, is whether the Warriors are the class of the league. Their 24-0 start is the best ever of course, and so by default their 24-1 mark is the best beginning with one loss. Now they are in position to chase a number of records.

Two teams have gone 38-3 in the first half on an NBA season, those 33 consecutive win Lakers and the 2012-13 Miami Heat. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls set the same mark in the second half, and finished at 72-10, still the best single season record in NBA history. When they tip off against the Suns Wednesday night in Oakland, the Warriors will have a shot at all of those marks.

But ultimately, as Steph Curry said, what they will really be chasing is another ring. The 1971-72 Lakers, 1995-96 Bulls, and 2012-13 Heat all finished as NBA champions. Just as it was for those teams, for this season’s Golden State Warriors the ultimate proof of greatness won’t be a winning streak or a record, but a championship.

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Responses

  1. Really good stuff. How you know all this is a mystery to me. But Who Votes?

    Don


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