Leading into the postseason, Stephen Curry was asked what passed through his mind on the bench as the Warriors wrapped up their win over the Grizzlies and their record-breaking regular season. He explained how he remembered how he felt two years ago after they were eliminated from the playoffs.
“I was watching the game for about two minutes, just sitting, thinking about how far we’ve come and just the energy that was in the building was unbelievable,” Curry told reporters in Oakland after the game. “I just wanted to appreciate that.
“I had snapshots of moments in Oracle Arena, notably the playoff series against the Spurs where I was addressing the crowd after a Game Six loss, thanking the fans for all their loyal support and a great journey. But we were headed home after that. So thinking about that moment and kind of the difference to what tonight meant.”
The Warriors have come a long way over the past two seasons, longer yet since they selected Curry seventh overall in 2009. The finished product you see today was years in the making. He averaged 17.5 points per game over his first three seasons. He had chronic ankle problems. His talent produced average results.
Curry’s failure to launch made some wonder if he was durable enough to withstand the rigors of the NBA. Four years ago, his third season, injuries limited him to 26 games. Nobody expected him to become an NBA megastar and central figure for a team that would put together the best regular season in history.
Well, now the expectations are through the roof of Oracle Arena, where the Warriors are 88-6 over the past two seasons, including playoffs, after Saturday’s resounding victory over the Rockets.
Their success at home is among many staggering statistics that aren’t going to mean a darned thing if they lose in the playoffs.
Golden State won 73 games this season, one more than the 1995-96 Bulls did with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The Warriors opened the season with 24 victories. They had a 36-game winning streak at home and a 14-game winning streak on the road. They never lost back-to-back games, an NBA first.
The Warriors broke all kinds of records, but none will matter unless they win their second straight championship. The only number they care about now is 89, which is how many victories they’ll have in 2015-16 if they can win 16 playoff games.
It starts with Curry, the best pure shooter in NBA history. He should be a unanimous choice for his second Most Valuable Player award. Never before has an MVP improved his scoring as much as Curry did this year, going from 23.8 points per game last season to 30.1 points this year to lead the league.
The last player to average 30 points and shoot better than 50 percent from the field was none other than Jordan, in 1991-92.
Imagine how many more points Curry would have scored, and how many more three-pointers he would have made, if he played more. He sat out the entire fourth quarter 19 times this season while the Warriors held comfortable leads. He averaged 34.2 minutes, third-fewest of his career and fewer than his rookie season.
Curry became the seventh player in history to make 50 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his three-point attempts and 90 percent of his free throws in a season. He made 402 three-pointers, shattering his single-season record of 286, and converting 45 percent of his attempts.
Casual fans know Curry made more than 400 three-pointers, but many don’t realize that Splash Brother Klay Thompson this season made the third-most threes (276) in NBA history. The Warriors had 43 games this season in which they had 30 or more assists, more than twice the second-highest total.
The numbers are overwhelming.
It’s not all Curry.
Curry is the league MVP, but some would argue that he’s not even the most valuable player on his team. Draymond Green had 13 triple-doubles and led the Warriors with 598 assists, the most in the league by a forward. He more than anyone was the vocal leader of the charge toward the Bulls’ victory total. The Warriors are deep and play sound defense.
You wonder how a team that has won so much could lose four times in a best-of-seven series. It’s not going to happen against the Rockets. It might not happen at all, but it’s also not going to be easy, either. The Warriors looked mentally fried and vulnerable down the stretch while chasing the record.
It’s harder than it looks. Numerous teams in all sports had terrific regular seasons but were unable to validate them with a title. Ask anyone in Buffalo.
San Antonio, which was 40-1 at home, could beat Golden State. The one loss was a six-point defeat to the Warriors in which the Spurs rested Tim Duncan in Game 81. Oklahoma City caused problems. Boston played them tougher than anyone, losing one game in double overtime and winning the other.
It seems more likely the Warriors would win 16 straight than lose a series. Great teams lose their way when they become overconfident or selfish and run into an unsuspecting team that comes together. Golden State has shown signs of neither.
Curry is a better, more confident player on a much better team now that he’s in the prime of his career. He’s isn’t going to allow the Warriors to fall apart. On a night his team was celebrating its 73rd victory, he was thinking about how far they had come two years after losing to the Spurs.
He took a snapshot of his jersey, decorated with autographs after their 73rd win, resting on a chair at his locker with a pair of sneakers and a net. And the left a message for his 9.8 million followers on Instagram: “We did something thats never been done in the History of the league … now the real journey begins. Let’s get it.”