The Golden State Warriors pulled off a fantastic triple tonight with their 92-86 win over the Spurs. They won straight-up as the greatest 3.5-point underdogs the league may ever see. They handed their fiercest rival the only home loss of the season, denying San Antonio a chance to top the ’85-’86 Celtics (40-1 at home) for the league record. And they tied Chicago’s 72-win record from ’95-’96. If the Warriors can beat the Memphis Grizzlies in Oakland on Wednesday, they’ll secure the best record in the history of the NBA.
Fortunately for fans of scrappy last-night-of-the-season hoops, the Grizz are the perfect team for this assignment. Golden State beat them on Saturday 100-99, the only 1-point win for the Warriors in a season when they’ve thumped teams by more than 10 a game on average. Also, the Grizzlies always tend to present themselves as about 40 percent batshit, like they defer all their important decisions to whatever their shoulders and elbows think, and are trying to make the Mike Conley-style, one-more-broken-orbital-and-you-may-literally-die-in-the-paint masks an accessory league-wide. Everyone, wear a cup.
The Spurs game, though—this felt like the mountain for the Warriors. Like Golden State, San Antonio is having its best season ever, both in wins/losses and advanced metrics. The first half was a raw battle, tied at 35 at the break. Then, somehow, after a half of intramural Wisconsin Badgers basketball, a real game broke out in the third quarter. Stephen Curry didn’t hit any WTFers tonight (until a shade after the third-quarter buzzer, anyway) but he moved like frickin’ smoke all night, running Kawhi Leonard through screen after screen to find open spaces that didn’t exist until he got there. In the third, he sparked a pivotal 25-12 run with a casual 25-footer, a defensive rebound, and then a Steph-against-the-world pull-up 24-footer on the resulting break.
Like that, an eight-point Spurs lead in a slog of a game was down to two points in a space of 32 seconds. The next time he had the option of a breakaway trey, in the fourth, the defense closed on Curry at the three-point line, and he calmly passed to a streaking trailer (Klay Thompson, was it? Shit, I watched this gem via a sketchy YouTube feed over iffy WiFi, so your guess is as good as any) on the break. Protecting a late lead, he pulled this playground ho-hum ballet; he finished with 37 points in a game, remember, that only had 70 total in the first half.
Golden State looked very in-control late in this game. The Spurs have presented a real foil to the Ws this year, but watching the Warriors in a game with this much pride on the line, watching how they operate, it’s really a thing to behold. I’ve never seen a team in which so many players, up and down the lineup, looked so comfortable passing and shooting the ball. And yet, this year’s may be the best San Antonio Spurs team Gregg Popovich (five titles since ’99) has put on the court.
The Western Conference finals are going to be an epic, Project X-ian rager of a series. Then the NBA Finals are going to be four games long.