OAKLAND, Calif. -- On Thursday, Warriors practice was a sanguine scene. The team had just pulled out a thrilling overtime victory in Utah on the back-to-back. The gym was packed with media. Steve Nash was there to consult; Tom Thibodeau was there to observe. Though the gym was crowded, the atmosphere was relaxed. There was a consensus about the cheerful vibe: They’d finally secured 73. What happened?
Five days later, in the aftermath of Golden State’s shocking 124-117 overtime loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, the Warriors agreed on one thing in particular: The team has to improve its play soon. On that, they were united.
On the subject of “73,” it gets murkier. It’s easy to say “the Warriors” are going for it, but teams are comprised of individuals with differing motives. There isn’t as much unity on whether the number matters at all, or on whether it’s become a problem.
"I think they want the [wins] record. But I think what they probably realize is maybe all the talk and all the focus on the record has gotten us away from the process of who we are." Warriors head coach Steve Kerr
When pressed about if he cares about the record, Warriors coach Steve Kerr will say he does. He just cares more about the longer view. He’s also been girding himself for its distraction potential, speaking to a discomfiting déjà vu on Saturday, a day after a home loss to Boston.
"I think they want the [wins] record," Kerr said of his team. "But I think what they probably realize is maybe all the talk and all the focus on the record has gotten us away from the process of who we are." He later referenced how, as few remember, the 1995-96 Bulls played so poorly down the stretch. “We were, I think, I want to say 37-0 or something that season at home, and we lost two of our last four," said Kerr, who averaged 8.4 points and played in all 82 games that season for the Bulls. "When we did break the record, in Milwaukee, I still remember it. It was a horrendous basketball game.”
After 23 turnovers and a home loss, it looks like history is repeating itself, as Golden State sputters down the stretch. Immense credit should be given to Minnesota, particularly Karl-Anthony Towns, a rookie the Warriors struggle to defend. Still, this was a game in which Golden State kept throwing the ball directly to defenders, as though counting on passes to whistle through bodies. Perhaps it speaks to the difficulty of sprinting toward a technically meaningless, yet historically significant record while preparing to win the “82 games, plus four playoff rounds” marathon.
For months, “73” was an asset, necessary fuel for the long season. That’s how Draymond Green repeatedly presented the issue. The Warriors were trying to win anyway. What’s the harm in a little extra motivation?
After Tuesday’s loss, Green expressed a dearth of motivation. Wearing a shirt emblazoned with Marilyn Monroe’s face, he offered a theory on why the Warriors have been self-destructive of late. “It’s human nature to where, all right, kind of ready for the regular season to end,” he said. Green continued: “Talking 82 games, we get bored with that after a while. And that’s no excuse, just, I’m always give it to y’all real and that’s about as real as I can be. It’s kind of at a point now where you’re ready for the regular season to be over.”
After the game, Kerr seemed uncommonly annoyed. Or commonly, considering how much he despises turnovers. “I told them I thought we lost the game in the last six minutes of the first quarter,” he said. Kerr added, “We came out and played a phenomenal first six minutes, locked in on both ends. Then we decided to turn it into a show and we started turning the ball over like crazy.”
The Warriors were loose throughout the game, playing as though a loss was impossible. Many observers likely shared that sentiment, right up until a few minutes remained in overtime.
Stephen Curry, who played one of his worst games of the season, stood in contrast to Kerr’s dyspepsia. That’s not too unexpected, as the reigning MVP is usually calm and measured after defeats. (It’s easy to forget that he had a lot of practice in his early years here.) Though he intoned, “tough, tough, tough,” before taking questions, Curry was his usual smiling, relaxed self. He and Green are the most notable proponents of this push for 73. Based on Curry’s track record of immense optimism, he likely assumes his team will win out and secure the record despite this bump in the road. He also flatly rejected the downside of “73.” “It can’t be an excuse that we put ourselves in this situation and now it’s draining us to finish,” he said.
Andre Iguodala, who made his return from an ankle sprain, remains steadfast in his apathy toward the endangered record. “I don’t really care,” he said. Iguodala, a process-obsessive player whose basketball awards aren’t displayed in his home (“My trophies are still in bags,” Iguodala has said), questioned the very meaning of “73,” a feat his teammates and attending media obsess about.
“What does it mean?” Iguodala said. “New England Patriots go whatever-and-0, then they don’t win a Super Bowl and y’all don’t talk about them anymore. So, what difference does it make?” He continued with his personal ethos, and, what should be Golden State’s ethos moving forward: “I just want us to play at a high level.”
It’s been a while since that happened.