You could sense it. The road trip had begun to take its toll on Golden State. Players were tired, dragging on rotations. The turnovers mounted. 50/50 balls were going the other direction. The green monster of the hostile crowd was sustaining its noise level at a hungry roar. This is it, the streak ends here.
If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because it happened twice in the last two nights–only in this case the Warriors actually escaped Boston with a miraculous double overtime win against the Celtics. Out of all their first 24 wins, they really had no business winning that one. Despite the gritty Boston defense, the parade of turnovers, the countless miscues, they summoned up just enough magic to leave an enemy crowd incredulous once again.
And that’s why, even down double digits with about a minute left to the excitable ‘young Bucks’ last night, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were a little bit surprised when interim coach Luke Walton finally pulled them and waved the white flag. Even though it would have made no sense, the young champs were still holding out hope for another Boston miracle. When you live in a touring circus, you come to expect the impossible–take it for granted, even.
Last night, we saw something we hadn’t all season: a Golden State Warriors loss. Mildly shocking, yes! We started to assume weeks ago that this team was allergic to the loss column. Casting for straws, we even began making superstitious speculations, like how Curry must have made a deal with the devil, or that Steve Kerr had cast a protection spell on the whole team with the help of Dumbledore. Could they go undefeated? (Are we trapped inside a basketball Disney movie?) Suddenly, it didn’t seem so outrageous.
But as with all things in this imperfect world, entropy set in. Harrison Barnes went down with a sprained ankle, and
Jon B Klay Thompson followed soon after. Reaching deeper into their bench, the Warriors struggled finding their premium A-grade spacing, which made it slightly easier to contain the dribbling form of mercury known as Stephen Curry. If Milwaukee demolished the streak, it was the Celtics who chipped away at it first. The sunny streak died in the gears of a twofold Green Machine. The record start of 24 straight wins was finally put to rest.
But this isn’t meant in the way of eulogy. If anything, the first blemish on Golden State’s record means that their season is just beginning. Championships never happen without a little adversity on the way, and the real milestone of 70 wins is still very attainable; only Jordan’s Bulls have ever reached such altitude. The 1971-72 Lakers’ streak of 33 straight regular season wins still stands, however, and we have to ask ourselves whether this is one of those unbreakable records.
Maybe a comparison between the two teams would be appropriate. For one, that Lakers run happened a full seven years before superstar Magic Johnson was drafted. Indeed, the 1971-72 season lands us in a bygone Laker era with such names as Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor, Happy Hairston. Yes, we’re going that far back. Nevertheless, there are some similarities with today’s Warriors (who Wilt also played for, incidentally).
The 71-72 Lakers played at a blistering pace, averaging about 116 possessions a game. The Warriors are currently averaging around 99 a game, good for third in the league. Both teams are also defined by their knack for moving the ball. The Lakers averaged a league-leading 27 assists a game, while the Warriors are averaging one better at 28. The Warriors are tops in the league in offensive rating at 114.7, compared with the Lakers’ top mark of 103. Incredibly, those Lakers averaged an even 121 points a game without three-point shooting, as the three-point shot wasn’t instituted until 1979. The Warriors, with all their threes, are at 115 a game. That’s just crazy!
(A pass-happy offense, or a pass-to-Happy offense? I’m not sure which.)
We should also size up Stephen Curry and Jerry West. If you’re not familiar with Jerry West, you should know that he’s considered to be among the best scoring guards ever–some even put him right behind Jordan and ahead of Kobe and Dwyane Wade on that list. Known as The Logo, he wasn’t one-dimensional, either. West was also noted for his crafty passing and his ability to interfere with passing lanes, resulting in loads of steals. Sound familiar? I’m sure he would have been an excellent three-point shooter just like Curry, too, if that had come along in his era. Remarkably, Jerry West made nine trips to the NBA Finals, but the 1971-72 team was the only one he got a championship with!
For that year, West averaged a neat 25.8 points, 9.7 assists, and 4.2 rebounds a game on around 48% shooting and 81% from the free throw line. That’s just one hell of a season from a multi-skilled, excellent player in his prime. Interestingly, his partner in the backcourt, Gail Goodrich, averaged 25.9 points a game on slightly better shooting. The two were horrifyingly lights-out all season. Now let’s look at what Curry has done through these first 25 superb games of the Warrior season. 32.3 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 2.2 steals a game on 51% shooting, almost 46% three-point shooting, and around 91% free shooting! It will be interesting to see where his numbers are at the end of the season, but it’s safe to say that Curry is on pace to have one of the greatest seasons by a guard of all time.
Some intriguing tidbits should be noted here. The 2012-2013 Miami Heat are still second on the streak list behind Jerry West’s Lakers at 27 wins. What’s funny is that their GM is the decorated and crafty Pat Riley, who was also on that 1971-72 Laker roster as a 6-4 guard! I know, let’s not think about what he looked like in short shorts. Awkward. OK, moving on–last night wasn’t the first time that the Milwaukee Bucks have stopped an historical win streak in their arena. Where did the Lakers have theirs halted? That’s right, in Milwaukee against the Bucks. That team was led by Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (who became the next legendary Laker big man after Wilt) and Hall of Fame guard Oscar Robertson, but the Lakers would get their revenge on the Bucks in that year’s Western Conference Finals in six games. Who did the Bucks beat in the round before that? The Golden State Warriors. Weird.
Another record melted away with last night’s loss, too, and that’s a perfect 7-0 road trip. The Warriors finished 6-1 for the second year in a row–somehow, no NBA team has ever accomplished a 7-0 road trip. Obviously, there’s a lot of immediate history behind the Milwaukee Bucks’ conquest last night. Kudos to all-time point guard and second-year head coach Jason Kidd, sharpshooting OJ Mayo, lumbering Greg Monroe and the mind-boggling gifts of the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo (say it three times fast, you’ll have a good time). Coming in with high hopes for the season, the Bucks have struggled to start the season, and there’s a big chance that a victory of this magnitude could really turn the season around. That other green team has to be a little green with envy.
But all credit deservedly goes to the high-energy, dash-and-dish Bucks, who were the first team to break the seal on the Oaktown juggernaut’s loss column this year and thus break a leaguewide spell, which you’ll have to ask Luke Walton about some time. Somewhere, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich are smiling.
I’ll just go ahead and say it…
Milwaukee, the city where streaks go to die.