The biggest story of the NBA's regular season has reached its resolution. It ends with the Golden State Warriors holding a 73-9 record, a new league record for wins in a single season.
The Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 125-104 at Oracle Arena on Wednesday to end the season on a four-game winning streak that puts them one win ahead of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the new mark. If the Warriors can repeat as champions, they will certainly be remembered as one of the greatest teams in NBA history and will be considered a budding dynasty.
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This final win concludes a thrilling regular season for Golden State in which they dominated the NBA landscape. They started the season with a record 24 victories in a row, continued a home winning streak that ended with an all-time high 54 straight at Oracle Arena, became the second team to win 70 games in one season and 65 games in consecutive seasons (and the only one to improve on a 65-win season), and avoided losing two straight games for the first time in league history. They also did it with a style that won fans all over the basketball world, thanks in large part to the dominance of presumptive back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry.
Despite all those accomplishments, Golden State encountered more adversity than it did in its 2014-15 title-winning campaign, previously the best season in franchise history. Head coach Steve Kerr spent the first 43 games off the bench due to complications from offseason back surgery, key players such as Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes missed weeks due to injury, and most opponents gave the Warriors their best effort every night. The Warriors answered any questions about their resolve or will to win all season long.
They needed that commitment late in the year to reach the record. The pressure of chasing the Bulls appeared to wear on them late in the season, especially when they lost their only two home games of the season over a span of three contests in early April. Yet the Warriors beat the Grizzlies and 66-win San Antonio Spurs twice each (including the Spurs' only home loss of the season this Sunday) to make history.
Golden State seized control of the game early vs. Memphis thanks in large part to Curry's excellence. Entering the game just eight three-pointers away from 400 for the season — he also became the first to reach 300 this campaign — Curry scored 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from deep in the first to help the Warriors to a 37-23 lead. It was Curry's 10th 20-point quarter of the season, a tremendous total given that the rest of the league accounted for 25 such periods.
The Grizzlies avoided an outright rout from there on out, but the structure of the game did not change. Curry dominated proceedings, shooting 15-of-24 from the field and 10-of-19 from deep (somehow not the most three-pointers a player attempted on the night) for 46 points. That figure pushed his league-high scoring average over 30 to 30.1 points per game, besting his previous career-best of 24.0 by more than 25 percent.
The scoring bonanza also included his 400th three in the third quarter:
Curry dominated enough that he earned himself a rest in the fourth quarter with the Warriors in control, up 102-81. He finished the night with 30 minutes, one fewer than Harrison Barnes's team-high 31.
While Curry was the obvious star on Wednesday, the Warriors showed the depth that has given so many teams trouble this season. Only four other players scored in double figures, but Golden State shot 52.9 percent from the field with 35 assists on 46 field goals. The defense also limited the Grizzlies to a mere 42.9 percent shooting, but that's perhaps less a reflection of the Warriors' strengths than their opponents' injury-ravaged rotation.
The aftermath of the win brought some time for reflection and praise. Star forward Draymond Green took a moment to salute the fans who watched history made at Oracle:
The NBA issued a statement from commissioner Adam Silver on the new record shortly after the final buzzer:
“Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors on their 73rd win and the best regular-season record in NBA history. The team held itself to a high standard throughout the season, playing with purpose every night and captivating fans around the world with its free-flowing style, spectacular shooting and flair for the dramatic. Kudos to the entire Warriors organization.”
Legendary 1995-96 Bulls leader and current Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan followed with his own praise later in the night:
Statement from Michael Jordan on Warriors breaking Bulls record: pic.twitter.com/kqtkBEJMth— Estee Portnoy (@esteep) April 14, 2016
We appreciate the subtle dig at needing to prove it in the playoffs, Michael. To be fair to MJ, the Warriors have said that a second straight title remains far and away the most important goal of their season. The pressure is on to prove they can reach it, especially with the 67-win San Antonio Spurs looming as a potential opponent in the conference finals. The journey will begin Saturday afternoon when the Warriors host the inconsistent Houston Rockets for Game 1 at Oracle Arena.
Before we set their record to 0-0, though, let's congratulate the Warriors on one of the most incredible regular seasons ever seen in American sports. The pressure was on from the earliest weeks of the season, and they responded at all times with poise and incredible play after incredible play. Whatever happens this spring, these 82 games were a thrill to watch.
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