OAKLAND, Calif. -- This wasn’t supposed to happen. No team could eclipse the Jordan Bulls’ hallowed benchmark of 72 wins, much less this one. In winning 125-104 over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors, again, jumped the line and seized something the league still struggles to believe. They, and not Michael Jordan, now boast the NBA’s best-ever regular season.
The season-capper featured more than just win No. 73. Going in, Curry needed eight 3-pointers to reach 400 on the season and 41 points for a 30-point average. Reaching those benchmarks seemed like a stretch, and yet Curry did it in 30 minutes. Yet again, he made the extraordinarily difficult look wonderfully easy. Again, records fell with the loose flick of his wrist.
Wednesday was planned far in advance, set up to be a highly honorific “Mamba Day” to commemorate Kobe Bryant’s last game. But Curry and the Warriors do not wait for history. Kobe’s game was moved from ESPN to ESPN2 because that’s what you do when a simultaneous event might feature a team’s 73rd victory. And so Golden State crashed yet another party and made it theirs -- that is, until Kobe reclaimed the zeitgeist with 50 shots, 60 points and a thrilling fourth-quarter flourish.
That’s fitting with how it has gone. Curry’s brash, imperious Warriors didn’t wait to disrupt LeBron James’ fairytale ending in Cleveland. They didn’t pause for Oklahoma City’s steady ascent to an inevitable title. They stepped up and took accomplishments few thought them entitled to.
First, there was the 2014-15 championship itself -- a feat almost nobody expected the summer before it happened. Last summer there were doubts, a pervasive sense that luck had informed this unexpected rise. Curry was tied for the fifth-most likely MVP in a poll of NBA GMs. In that poll, the Warriors fared worse in the predictions than any team coming off a title.
That was the setup for Curry delivering quite possibly the greatest individual season we’ve seen, combined with his team doing the same. From fall through winter and spring, the Warriors achieved a crushing validation.
All that receded into the background during the delirium of Curry’s 46-point, 24-shot game Wednesday, though. He made a carnival out of Oracle early in this one, sinking six 3-pointers and scoring 20 points in the first quarter.
One of these 3s, with 3:49 left in the first quarter, was especially deft. With Xavier Munford guarding, Curry set up his dribble as though going left, roped the ball behind his back going right while turning his body 180 degrees, then swung his body square to the hoop while flicking the ball at a steep arc. From there, it lightly floated to its target to the shimmering net. The swish was met with teammates Andre Iguodala throwing his arms up, Brandon Rush turning away in disbelief and Marreese Speights soaking up the crowd's adoration along the baseline.
The game was more party than competition, with a coronation thrown in. After 73 was in the books, the Warriors' Klay Thompson spoke to the moment’s sentiment, saying, “I’m going to look back at this and think of it as the best time of my life.” Rare is the NBA player who says this in April.
Thompson is relishing moments that conventional wisdom never came close to foretelling. Nobody could get 73. As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game, “I'd never in a million years would have guessed that that record would ever be broken. I thought it was like [Joe] DiMaggio's hit streak, really, and I was wrong.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen. Slight Steph Curry wasn’t supposed to become the NBA’s best player. Second-round tweener Draymond Green wasn’t supposed to become the All-Star human manifestation of winning basketball. It wasn’t supposed to be the Warriors. But theirs has been an impatient greatness that only grows more greedy.
After the game, Green was asked what 73 means. He was the most vocal in pursuit of this record, and he’d pushed incredibly in games that might have otherwise slipped away. This was not a night for equivocation: “It means I'm a part of the best team ever,” Green said. Gauntlet thrown. That’s a bold statement, and maybe even uncouth. It might evoke the “respect your elders” admonishment.
Green wishes to respect his elders, indicating on Twitter that he would never say anything negative about the 1996 Bulls. He is and has been through with waiting, though. Green and the Warriors want all the records, all of the accolades, as much history as they can grab before time interrupts the party.
Golden State still needs 16 victories for widespread consideration as the best team ever. If they fail, it’s not for lack of motivation. These Warriors burn to be the best, whether you’re ready or not, whether you admit it or not. History is happening in Oakland. It’s happening quickly, as men of considerable ambition dictate its shape.