The Golden State Warriors are going to become the second team in NBA history to win 70 games and there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, there’s nothing anyone can do about it—not Gregg Popovich, not Doc Rivers, and yes, not even Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
In case you spent your weekend hiding under a rock, you missed the Warriors pull off an improbable 121-118 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night. And although we don’t typically get wrapped up in a single game, the Warriors pulling off what was such an improbable win in Oklahoma City epitomizes the spirit and resolve of the team that could crack 73 wins.
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From what I hear, Kevin Durant is undecided about his future. With free agency upcoming on July 1, Durant is focused on doing all that he can to help the Thunder win the championship this year.
“Everyone that knows Kevin knows how much he loves that city and that franchise,” one source told Basketball Insiders. “But if they don’t at least prove that they are capable of getting back to the Finals, then there’s a real possibility that he could leave.”
That, of course, is the elephant in the room. For the Thunder, there is no tomorrow. This season may very well be the determining factor in whether Durant—like Chris Paul did back in July 2013—opts to remain, or whether, like LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge, he opts to seek greener pastures.
The Thunder seem destined to face the Warriors in the playoffs, and there would have been no better feeling than putting a blemish on the record of the reigning champions prior to that probable rendezvous. The teams that one would have expected to get a win over the Warriors—the Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Raptors or Bulls—have all failed. Instead, the losses have come to the likes of the Bucks, Nuggets, Pistons, Trail Blazers and Mavericks.
On Saturday night, the Thunder played like they wanted to join that club. They played like they needed to join that club. Like gangbusters, through the game’s first half, they made the Warriors look as though they were playing in quicksand. The Thunder carried an 11-point lead into the half after not trailing the game for a single second.
Then, all hell broke loose.
After the game’s first 24 minutes were in the books, Stephen Curry scored 31 of his 46 points, making eight death-defying three-pointers, and finishing with 12 for the game.
In the grand scheme of things, the Thunder needed this win much more than the Warriors did.
The Thunder entered the contest having lost three out of their last four games and with a comparatively shabby 25-7 home record. After being dominant at Chesapeake Energy Arena over the balance of the last few years, reasserting that dominance at the expense of the defending champs was imperative.
Durant turned in 37 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out five assists. Russell Westbrook dropped 26 points, dished out 13 assists and grabbed seven rebounds.
Meanwhile, for the Warriors, the starters not named Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shot 5-for-20 from the field.
That was understandable, of course, as the Warriors were not only playing the final game of what was a six-game road trip, they also happened to be playing their third game in four nights and burned quite a bit of fuel snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against the HEAT just a few nights prior.
With about 10:40 to go in the game’s third quarter, mind you, Westbrook inadvertently rolled on Curry’s left ankle and caused the league’s reigning MVP to exit the game for about five minutes.
Upon his reentry, obviously, everything changed.
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After having gone 53-5 over their first 58 games of the regular season, the Warriors need to finish their season by winning 20 of their final 24 games. That’s no easy endeavor, but mind you, finishing the season 20-4 would be a drastic decline in win percentage. Winning 53 of 58 games yields a win percentage of 91, while winning 20 of 24 is “only” an 83 percent win rate.
What’s most important to understand about these Warriors, though, is the simple fact that they care.
They care about winning every single game, they care about winning every single possession and they care about silencing the critics who have rained on them.
James Harden should have been MVP. They didn’t have to beat the Spurs. Kevin Love got hurt.
Draymond Green cares about the fact that you didn’t think that he was “worth” a maximum salary and Stephen Curry cares about the fact that you think that his failure to win the 2015 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award is an indictment of his greatness.
And now, to a man, the Warriors care about shutting you (and me) up.
They have been motivated since the season began, and what we learned about them on Saturday night is not that they are a great team—we already knew that. It’s that there is no game that they are incapable of winning. Even more so, there is no game that they don’t want to win, and if it were up to them, they would probably finish the season without losing again.
I clearly remember Rasheed Wallace coming under fire for comments he made during his playing days. Wallace, as authentic a man as you’ll ever meet, told the truth. NBA players don’t care about winning every game, he said. Over the course of a six-month long regular season, with the late nights, early mornings and frequent flying, players inevitably need to take games and days off, whether they suit up or not.
That’s another thing that makes these Warriors unique. They’re out for blood, and Stephen Curry is Jaws.
He is showing us things we have never seen before and taking us places we have never been. In all likelihood, he will become the league’s first ever unanimous Most Valuable Player and, without question, can safely be branded as the greatest shooter ever. As he continues to extend his range and chuckle at the thought of a 23-foot three-point shot, his other gifts go largely unnoticed. His ball handling is supreme, his ability to change directions is superb. Although he can be a little careless with the basketball, he not only sees everything going around him on the court, he willingly makes the right basketball play and only seems to take over and dominate games when it is necessary for his team.
Of course, over the course of a long season—and particularly, as we reach the end of it—those instances may occur a bit more frequently. Curry seems up for the challenge, though.
Yes, the Warriors’ season, and their great pursuit is bigger than one game. But on Saturday night, against the Thunder, we did once again see the heart and character of one of the finest teams in NBA history.
What we witnessed there epitomizes the spirit of these Warriors, and best believe, with 17 of their final 24 games being played at Oracle Arena, they are on their way to overthrowing Michael Jordan’s 1996 Chicago Bulls as owners of the NBA’s single season wins record.
At this point, the only question that remains is what their final regular season win number ends up being—73? 74? 75? If the Warriors are 70-6, does Steve Kerr reduce his starter’s minutes? Or does he play through the 82nd game the way he has to this point?
These are questions that he has no doubt pondered for the past few weeks, but now, it is time for him to begin making these decisions. Because if there is one thing we have learned from the Warriors over the course of February—and much of their season—is that they are coming for everything.
They’re hungry. They want the entire meal, and unfortunately, for the rest of the league, there’s nothing that can be done about it.
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