This is why these Warriors can, and will, win 73 games. Or 74. Or maybe even 75.
They’re not infallible. They’re not perfect. They’ll take bad shots, get outrebounded, throw silly passes that land out of bounds. They’ll make ghastly mistakes, the kind of mistakes that would seem beneath the best team in the NBA.
But no team in American sports has a tighter grip on what it takes to win a game than do the Warriors, and that absolute tenacity was on graphic display than Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.
The Warriors’ 103-96 shaving of the Jazz in overtime at Vivint Smart Home Arena was a triumph of the spirit for the defending champions and a crushing blow to Utah, the team and the state.
The Jazz, fighting to join the NBA’s postseason party, lost a game they had in their pocket. They were the superior team for all but the first nine minutes, the last six minutes of regulation and the five-minute OT.
The Warriors started fast, and slowed to a crawl in the second and third quarters and even early in the fourth. They arrived at their hotel around 3 a.m. and it showed. Didn’t matter, though, because they chose to ignore everything they did poorly or wrong before the clock struck winning time.
“We couldn’t get it going and it seemed like a lot of stuff was going right for them,” forward Draymond Green said. “But through it all, they never got up more than 10. As bad as we were playing, we were up two at halftime and down six after the third quarter.
"We knew that if they give us a chance to stick around, eventually we’ll find something. And we were able to do that.”
The Warriors found defensive stops when they needed them. They found crisp passes when anything less would have failed. They found big shots, none more crucial than Klay Thompson’s 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining in regulation, trying the game at 89-89 and forcing OT.
Once in the extra session, it was all Warriors, and predictably so. It was as if the Jazz crumbled under the weight of some unseen Warriors presence.
“They are amazing,” coach Steve Kerr said of his team. “Nothing really went our way for most of night and they kept fighting. That’s why we have this record. Our guys compete every night.”
Oh, yes. The record. The Warriors are now 68-7, best in NBA history through 75 games and two games ahead of the pace of the hallowed 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, whose 72-10 record is the best of all time. Only three teams in league history have won more than 68 games: the Bulls, who also won 69 games in 1996-97, and the 1971-72 Lakers, who were 69-13.
The Warriors’ magic number was reduced to three, meaning any combination of Warriors wins and San Antonio losses adding up to three gives the defending champs the No. 1 overall seed and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
With Utah among five teams vying for the final four postseason berths in the Western Conference, it’s conceivable the Warriors could see the Jazz when the first round begins the weekend of April 16-17.
“We know they are a potential matchup,” said Steph Curry, who scored a game-high 31 points. “With a back-to-back on the schedule, we just wanted to come out and play hard and see what happens.
“We came out with a good edge in the first half. They made a run like you can expect at home. We answered the bell in the fourth quarter, so we know if we come back here in a couple weeks in a playoff series, we know what the atmosphere will be like to win a series like that.”
Between now and the playoffs, the Warriors have little ahead of them except milestones and records and numbers. Seven games remain on the schedule and at this stage of this miraculous season it would surprise no one if they won all seven.
They want that. They could get that. Kerr simply wants to keep enjoying the show.
“No matter what our record ends up, it almost doesn’t matter,” Kerr said. “It’s just an incredible display of competition and fight, night after night.”