It was clear before the season started that the Golden State Warriors would participate in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. A team with four All-NBA players is virtually guaranteed of it barring an injury apocalypse — even the endlessly messy 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers made it — and the Warriors have certainly avoided that disappointment on their way to the best record in the league.
Nevertheless, it’s news when a team clinches a playoff berth in late February. And that’s especially true when it’s the earliest clinch in NBA history.
The Warriors beat the visiting Brooklyn Nets 112-95 on Saturday night at Oracle Arena, improving their record to 49-9. With the ninth-place Sacramento Kings at 25-34 and 24 1/2 games back, the Warriors are mathematically assured of a top-eight finish in the Western Conference. They have now bested their own one-year-old record:
The Warriors became the quickest team in NBA history tonight to clinch a playoff spot (Feb. 25). That beats last year's club (Feb. 27).
— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) February 26, 2017
It did not come as easily as you’d expect from the result, a 17-point win over the worst team in the NBA. The Nets have won a lot respect this season playing harder than any nine-win team reasonably should, and they frustrated the Warriors on a night when Kevin Durant sat out to rest his bruised left hand. Draymond Green was a relative non-factor, as well, playing only 23 minutes and shooting only 1-of-10 in a poor performance (which we’ll talk about more later).
In such scenarios, it helps to have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Splash Brothers combined for 51 points on 17-of-39 shooting, with Curry accounting for five of their seven three-pointers. It wasn’t a terrific offensive night for Golden State — no one else scored in double figures and only three others took more than six shot attempts — but those two players help to cover a lot of mistakes. This four-point play from Curry to end the first half certainly did the trick:
The Nets got it to within single digits several times in the final few minutes, but there was never much doubt which team would come away with the victory.
However, there wasn’t exactly a celebration in the aftermath. For one thing, Steve Kerr declared near the start of his press conference that the team would not sign point guard Briante Weber, who just finished his second 10-day contract, for the rest of the season:
Steve Kerr on the team's decision to release Briante Weber pic.twitter.com/zsKowSZKV9
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 26, 2017
Based on Kerr’s statement, the working assumption among many is that the Warriors will sign veteran Jose Calderon if and when he reaches a buyout agreement with the Los Angeles Lakers. The move would make sense — Calderon has a track record that Weber does not, even if he’s 35 years old — but it’s fair to say that parting ways with a young player who did everything asked of him does not sit well with everyone.
Plus, the Draymond situation created plenty of curiosity. Kerr explained it as an off-night for Green (and it definitely was) but that doesn’t mean everyone was in the best mood.
Asked why Draymond Green only played 23 minutes, Kerr said it just wasn't Draymond's night. In the locker room, Green declined comment.
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) February 26, 2017
In all, then, the Warriors won a grind-it-out game to reach a perfectly predictable milestone and had to deal with some uncomfortable moments in the locker room. If nothing else, Saturday night showed that not all NBA records are created equal.
– – – – – – –