OAKLAND, Calif. -- On Tuesday night against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors finally closed the gap between speculation and history by crushing the visiting Lakers 111-77. Now, with 16 straight wins to open the season, the Warriors own the NBA’s best ever start.
For some big-picture perspective, Golden State is the third team in major American pro sports to win this many games from the jump. As if a 67-win season and championship wasn’t enough, the Warriors keep reaching new heights.
“It feels great, especially the way we did it,” interim coach Luke Walton said after the win. Tuesday night showcased the Warriors as they aspire to be: sharing the ball and racking up 25 assists before fourth-quarter garbage time. On one illustrative play, Andre Iguodala caused a Kobe Bryant turnover, leading to an open fast-break layup for Stephen Curry -- with nobody around him. Rather than collect his free two points, the NBA’s leading scorer slowed down to find Iguodala for a dunk.
That’s Golden State when they’re clicking: a team that lives up to sports clichés that are supposed to be myths.
The fact that they have won 16 straight might be less impressive than how they’ve done it. During this span, the Warriors have outscored opponents by an average of 15.6 points. They’ve spent greater time leading by more than 15 (167 minutes) than they’ve spent trailing by any margin (149 minutes). They refrain from playing their best lineup all that often -- the “death lineup” composed of Curry, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green -- because they don’t really need to. We’ve only seen 62 minutes of that look this season, and during that rationed time the five have outscored foes by a whopping 87 points.
Usually that lineup is the closer, that requested burst of separation in the fourth quarter. With history so tantalizingly close, the Warriors elected to use it in the first quarter, so as to deliver an early blow to the listless Lakers. As Curry said of the game, “The opportunity's in front of us, so why not go after it?”
On Tuesday, the Lakers were more observers to history than participants. Golden State’s 16th win was a romp, a casual stomping of a once-great power. The Warriors breezily jogged them off the floor with defense leading to transition plays. Green was in All-Star form, scoring 18 points to go along with seven boards and five assists. Curry was hardly pressured and had no turnovers while racking up 24 points and 9 assists. Green and Curry each were an absurd +36 on the game.
In years past the Lakers typically would bring their faithful with them to Oracle Arena. This was where L.A. fans enjoyed home games on the road. On Tuesday, purple was scarce in the stands, and Bryant was booed mercilessly in introductions. During a timeout from the inevitable slaughter, a Warriors fan hit a jumper for a prize. He bounded around the arena, staring down Lakers players while making a throat slash gesture. That wasn't the Lakers' low point, however. Their low point was Bryant hitting exactly as many shots as that ecstatic fan.
As one West Coast empire crumbles, another one tries to rise. It’s difficult to gauge where this all is heading for the Warriors, and they certainly won’t help us figure it out. Questions about matching an NBA-best 72 wins were deflected and rejected. Curry said simply, “We don't think about it. I think there's an appreciation of how hard that is.” When asked about such a possibility, Golden State owner Joe Lacob chanted, “17, 17,” before vanishing through a corridor. When asked about 72 wins, the normally loquacious Green responded, “That's for y'all to discuss, not us."
This team did not reach 16 straight wins by attempting to win 16 straight. Beyond the tangible goal of a championship and the vague goal of “getting better,” there are no goals. Walton breaks the schedule down by weeks, attempting to “have a good week,” rather than focus on what looms further down the line. The attention is on process, with the trust that results will follow.
Before the game, Steve Kerr took a break with his surgery-complicated respite and addressed his team. He reminded them of their “four core principles”: joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition. Mindfulness means focusing on the task at hand and not getting distracted by the surrounding noise. That noise gets louder as the wins stack up. The Warriors respond by focusing on their particular week.
“Mindfulness for us is Game 17,” Green explained.
It’s fair to speculate on what all that mindfulness will add up to in the end, though. The approach that favors focusing on win No. 17 just might lead to win No. 72. In the meantime, there’s a streak to uphold.