For Warriors, the surreal ends and the season begins

MILWAUKEE -- The Golden State Warriors are no longer perfect, having finally lost a game, 108-95, in damp Milwaukee on Saturday night. The Warriors cared about the streak, basked in the attention it brought and wanted to push it further. So were Golden State's players crestfallen when a young, hungry Bucks team wrenched it from them before an elated crowd? Shaken? Sad, even?

Not exactly. There was some disappointment, some catharsis, and even some laughter.

“I bet you thought we were going to be sad, huh?” a smiling Draymond Green rhetorically asked reporters in the locker room. He proceeded to wistfully sing a bit of Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind.” After he finished his verse, Green was asked when he knew the streak was finished, and a laughing Stephen Curry interjected, “When coach subbed us out.” This caused Green to burst out laughing, too.

“When Coach subbed us out.” Curry was referring to the moment when the Warriors were trailing by 11 with 1:02 left in the game and Michael Carter-Williams was setting up to take free throws. Yet at the time, Curry and Green, after all they had persevered against, still assumed that the Warriors would somehow win, despite math and logic. The absurdity of the streak had conditioned them to. Only now, in defeat, could they take stock of how bizarre that assumption really was.

The Warriors wanted to win, but all this winning has warped everything around them. Winning was the path to history, but losing at least restores a sense of normalcy.

“I told the guys postgame, 'Now we can have a regular season,'” Green said. "It’s been kind of a playoff feel to this, just with the streak and all the media around, all the attention around.”

The feel of these games wasn’t the only issue, either. The Warriors had been slipping. Chalk it up to the media attention, chalk it up to a taxing two-week road trip, chalk it up to recent injuries. Whatever the reason, Golden State had been playing worse as the accolades grew.

“I think probably the last seven or eight games, I think we’ve stopped getting better," Green explained. "We just know how to win, and so our playing and knowing how to win has just gotten us through. But our playing and knowing how to win won’t get us another NBA championship.”

Interim coach Luke Walton touched on the same theme. Minutes after he conceded that “losing sucks,” he spoke of the defeat's silver lining: “Winning covers up a lot of mistakes. Our guys, they know how to win. But by doing that, you don’t get that same focus and growth on the little things.”

This team is talented and confident, capable of stealing games when pressed. The Warriors “know how to win,” but knowing how to win is different from executing at a championship level. And when your continued victory results in so much national acclaim, it’s easy to ignore what needs improvement.

The Warriors can focus on all of that as they let go of this glorious run. When asked how hard letting go was, Curry, who is known to care about history, chuckled, saying, “You got no choice, obviously. It’s tough because nobody wanted to see it come to an end. Thirty-three [consecutive wins, the NBA record] was within our grasp, but 24-and-1, going home, hopefully handle business and get back to playing our best basketball.”

Credit should be given to the Bucks for giving the Warriors no choice but to let go of the streak. Michael Carter-Williams played well defensively, and Greg Monroe was monstrously good -- especially against a Golden State small-ball look that usually throws other bigs. Milwaukee was prepared, staying glued to assignments through the confusion of Golden State’s ball movement, back screens and baseline screens. This young Bucks squad wasn’t expected to be the streak-breaker, but it certainly earned the honor.

At times during the Warriors' magical run, you could delude yourself into thinking there would be no streak-breaker. Curry and Green talked of the day they “probably” would lose, tacitly acknowledging the possibility of impossible success. That belief is why economist Herbert Stein penned a fairly blunt law: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Simple and obvious, and yet, once something keeps happening, it seems like perhaps it can be sustained in perpetuity. When a team wins, it feels as if it will never lose, and when it loses, it feels as though it will never win.

Saturday was a reminder that, yes, even the defending-champion, much-lauded Warriors can lose. They can lose to the Bucks, who flat outplayed them. Such is the regular season in this league. This streak was a feat, but also a departure from NBA reality. Now the Warriors can return to the grind. They can have a regular season after weeks of giving fans something highly, wonderfully irregular.