How 'naysayers' helped push Warriors to 70

Michael Lee of The Vertical
Yahoo Sports

OAKLAND, Calif. – The most disrespected great team in NBA history never had the chance to get satisfied. The Golden State Warriors went from their Champagne showers in Cleveland to that championship parade along Lake Merritt, right into a cynical volcano that spewed molten Haterade over all they accomplished. At every turn, what the Warriors achieved got discredited and diminished: They got lucky. The league was watered down. If so-and-so had been healthy ...

“Blah, blah, blah. We just kept having people put bulletin-board material out there for us,” Andrew Bogut told The Vertical. “What we heard in the offseason was we didn’t deserve to be champions – and it pissed guys off. Every other week, someone made a comment. We heard all the naysayers. I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing.”

Bogut repeated himself and cracked a smile because he knows it was a good thing. With Thursday’s 112-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors became the second NBA team in history win 70 games, and that’s largely because they never had to search for motivation during their title defense. Of course, the Warriors had the Spurs – also in the midst of their best season in franchise history – to push them so hard that 70 wins actually became a requirement to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

But more than anything, the Warriors had the hate. Of the 10 previous teams to win at least 67 games, the Warriors are the first to record more victories the following season. Their regular-season dominance has been the result of defiance – the kind that might finally be satiated by reaching some rarefied air.

Golden State (70-9) still needs to win its last three games to jump over Jumpman and break the 72-win record set in 1995-96 by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. But no matter the final win tally, the Warriors – at least, in their minds – have done enough to distinguish themselves as one of the best regular-season teams ever and prove that last season’s success didn’t come by accident.

“Should be enough. It’s only one [other] team who’s done it in NBA history, and it’s considered ‘the greatest team ever,’ ” an air-quoting Klay Thompson told The Vertical. “So I mean, we still got to take care of business in the playoffs. I think that will be the cap on everything. But this is a steppingstone for that.”

Coach Steve Kerr, the only link between those unforgettable Bulls and these immortality-seeking Warriors, likes to joke that he wins regardless of the outcome. But after clinching the No. 1 overall seed throughout the playoffs on Thursday, Kerr admitted to being "a little uneasy" about pushing his players to chase history. Kerr made a pact with his players to let them go for what he has deemed “a monumental task,” so long as they aren't banged up, and plans to devise a plan on Friday before they head to play in Memphis.

One Warriors veteran expressed concern to The Vertical about the need for the team’s stars to rest in anticipation of a far more important championship chase. But most of the players – namely All-Stars Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green – want to seize 73 wins while the record remains within reach. The leave-no-doubt mentality has permeated throughout the locker room.

"To get this far and kind of just tank it and say, 'Aw, never mind,' " Green said. "Let's face it, we probably will never get to this point again. That's why it's only been done one time. I think most guys in the locker room are all in, and we'll figure that out this weekend."

In the past few weeks, the Warriors got distracted by 73, succumbing to the scrutiny that led to a mini-slump in which they lost two of three games at home. A troubling overtime loss to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday forced the Warriors to recalibrate. "As Dean Wormer said in ‘Animal House,’ 'Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.' We were kind of fat, drunk and stupid the other night," Kerr said before the Spurs game.

Aside from that momentary malaise, the Warriors have mostly avoided complacency this season. Perhaps more impressive than 70 wins is the fact the Warriors have yet to lose two games in a row. Harrison Barnes shared how a few teammates spent Thursday morning nitpicking their nine losses, wondering what they could’ve done differently to change the outcome. Only two years ago, Barnes said, the Warriors doused each other with water after claiming 51 wins.

“We thought that was the mountain top,” Barnes said. “Then, last year, we won 67. Like, wow. I wonder what would’ve happened if we had tweaked a few games. Could we have gotten to 70? Could we have gotten to 72? And here we are having an opportunity to do it. It’s been just a special journey, and I’m just trying to enjoy every moment. … You look at how last year went, you get that feeling of just winning. It’s just addicting.”

Silencing critics and making get-off-my-lawn old fogies – and their misguided attempts to devalue this era of basketball – look silly has also provided a special kind of inspiration for the Warriors. Going from 67 wins to 70 is significant, considering how most teams that experience the kind of success Golden State tasted last season have much fewer detractors and tend to go backward for an encore.

“Last year, people think it probably was a fluke. And it was a lot of speculation, as far as, were we really this good? Could we do it again? Could we be this good again? Proof is in the pudding,” Shaun Livingston told The Vertical. “Seventy. Two teams to ever do that. Ever. If we get the record, that’s obviously a bigger accomplishment, but with what we’ve done, it’s something we should be proud of. Numbers don’t lie. Whether we get the record or not, it’s still an amazing season. It’s not a failure if we don’t get the record. We’ll see what happens in the playoffs, but we’re going for the c’hip [title] now.”

 

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