Thursday April 14, 2015 – OAKLAND, Calif. — Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors had largely resisted acknowledging the importance of his team’s pursuit. For his players, the number 73 had sparkled for months like a diamond amid the confetti of so many lopsided wins. They wanted to make history. Kerr was more concerned with chasing another championship.
On Wednesday, though, as the Warriors prepared to wrap up their regular season against the Memphis Grizzlies, Kerr recognized the unique opportunity at hand — an opportunity his players had earned by winning 72 games, by refusing to take nights off, by possessing the work ethic of iron welders while performing with the deft hands of magicians.
“More than anything,” Kerr said before the game, “I’m proud of our guys for laying it all out there, all season long, for putting themselves out there and trying to achieve something that’s never been done before — but more important, something that is truly great. It’s amazing that our guys have been able to put themselves in this position.”
The Warriors went on to clobber the Grizzlies, 125-104, for their 73rd win, setting an N.B.A. record for the most victories in a single season. They eclipsed the mark that they had shared for three days with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
Another win for the Warriors (73-9) also meant another chance for Stephen Curry to do ridiculous things. He made 10 3-pointers, giving him 402 for the season. Having long ago obliterated the record he already held for 3-pointers in a single season, he had sought 400 as a nice round number. The crowd went ecstatic when he reached the target early in the third quarter. He finished with 46 points, shooting 15 of 24 from the field.
I’m amazed by Steph,” said Klay Thompson, who added 16 points. “To get 400 threes in a season? Man, that’s so hard to do. People don’t realize it. He makes it look so easy.”
The Warriors packed the regular season with firsts, becoming the first team in league history to open a season with 24 straight victories; the first to win 34 games on the road; the first to go an entire season without losing to the same team twice; the first to avoid losing consecutive games; and now the first to 73.
In the process, the Warriors took care of more menial tasks, like winning three of four games against the San Antonio Spurs while also handing them their only home loss of the season. As if the Warriors were not busy enough assembling their own catalog of achievements, they moonlighted by spoiling the potential feats of others.
“We just know we have a good thing here,” Curry said.
As their victory total grew, so did the number of reporters following the team. The Warriors issued roughly 350 credentials to the news media for Wednesday’s game. Fans at Oracle Arena found T-shirts draped over every seat back with the phrase, “Not on Our Ground.” The game itself was more celebration than competition.
Draymond Green secured the game ball after the final buzzer. He said the team planned to chop it up so everyone could have a piece.
“I just told our guys I never in a million years would have guessed that that record would ever be broken,” Kerr said, adding: “But I will say the same thing now that I said 20 years ago: I don’t think this one will ever be broken. Somebody’s got to go 74-8. I don’t see it, and I hope our fans aren’t expecting that next year.”
The Warriors will enter their first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets as the top seed in the Western Conference and as the prohibitive favorites to repeat as N.B.A. champions.
Amid all the chatter about records and history, winning another title has remained the team’s priority. Kerr has been adamant about it, and if it had been entirely up to him, he would have rested some of his stars down the stretch to help preserve them for the postseason.
But his players wanted 73. So he let them play, sticking with his regular rotations, entrusting them to tell him if they needed a break from the grind of a long season.
“The decision on resting or not, it was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said this week. “I’m not nursing any injuries. I don’t think I put myself in a position to be a step slow by the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may not come again?”
That was the team’s general attitude — that cracks at smashing records held by forever teams like the Michael Jordan-era Bulls are not casually bestowed by the basketball gods. And while there were nights when the Warriors made the game look easy, they had to scrap for wins in recent weeks. They even (gasp) lost a few.
“I was worried that maybe we were extending ourselves a little bit too much,” Kerr said.
In fact, during a five-day stretch at the start of the month, the Warriors dropped two of three games. Careless with the ball and lacking focus on defense, the Warriors looked as if Kerr’s concerns about late-season fatigue were materializing.
The result was that they needed to win their final four games to break the Bulls’ record, and they did so with style.
“Over these last two, three days, when we had the ability to see it in and it’s kind of right there for us, it re-energizes you and gives you something great to play for,” Thompson said, adding: “That’s why we were so resilient, because we realized this might not ever happen again.”