Seventy-three wins is unfathomable. Seventy-two wins is barely fathomable, and that’s only because the record books say the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls actually achieved it.
The Warriors have sleepwalked through the last third of the season, getting up to play the good teams and waiting until six minutes left in the fourth quarter to try and beat the bad ones. And as 73 wins attests to, they almost always succeeded. They never lost back-to-back games, never lost to a team more than once, almost never lost, period.
Against the Grizzlies Wednesday night, the Warriors immediately began the game in a gear that only they possess. Soon-to-be league MVP Stephen Curry ruthlessly hunted for his shot every time down the court, and his teammates ruthlessly hunted for Curry when he didn’t have the ball. He ended the quarter with six threes and 20 points, and the Warriors ended the quarter with a 14-point lead.
Whenever athletes are asked about any sort of record or milestone, they downplay it with a “one game at a time” or “all we care about is getting the win,” but not the Warriors. Once it became apparent some 60 games ago that they could achieve 73 wins, the Warriors spoke about how much the record meant to them. Steve Kerr preferred to rest his players down the stretch, but they—and especially Draymond Green—preferred the record.
Steph Curry wasn’t immune from the chase for records. He passed his own NBA record of 286 three-pointers in a season a month ago, but wanted to reach the arbitrary milestone of 400. That’s why he shot 19 three-pointers against Memphis—three off the NBA record—making 10 to end the season with a mind-boggling 402. His 46 points means he ends the season averaging a nice round 30 points per game.
The assault on the record book wasn’t incidental to the Warriors’ success; it was integral to it. “If Steph is greedy, it helps us” said Steve Kerr after the game, a shrewd observation that exemplifies his light touch coaching style. Kerr doesn’t tolerate Curry hunting for his own shot and putting up 33-foot heat checks; he actively recognizes that it is beneficial for the team. The Warriors didn’t let the pursuit of records distract them or put them on a path that diverged from success, but rather used it to motivate them when the simple allure of winning a game wasn’t enough to overcome the grueling NBA schedule. The simple, vain desire to be the best ever is what let them achieve it.
The Warriors have a peculiar sort of arrogance, or maybe a justified arrogance tinged with enough humility. Draymond Green is a loud, brash, in-your-face shit-talker who takes on centers and wins, who also owns up to his mistakes and does anything and everything for his teammates. Stephen Curry takes contested jumpers from 40 feet and always attempts the highlight reel pass, but is startlingly efficient and otherwise mild-mannered. Klay Thompson celebrates threes before they go in, but would rather go to the dog park than demand the credit he deserves. Somehow, a locker room teeming with self-belief never spills over into internecine squabbling.
It’s a throwaway statement to say we will never see a team like this Warriors one again, because of course we won’t. The Herculean effort it took to secure just one more measly win than the 1995-96 Bulls means that, even if the NBA lasts another century, the 2015-16 Warriors will remain one of the best teams in basketball history. But in two months, if there is no parade down Broadway, no Sports Illustrated special edition blaring “BACK-TO-BACK” from the cover, it will all be for naught, and instead they’ll be remembered for what they failed to achieve.
To paraphrase Ron Harper, 73-9 don’t mean a thing without the ring.