OAKLAND – When this extraordinary Warriors season ends, no matter the playoffs outcome, the contributors will reminisce about the snapshots and highlights along the way, such as that which occurred Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
Gripping a stepladder to history, chasing a 70th win essential to their quest to reach a record 73 as well as securing the best record in the NBA, the Warriors were confronted by the San Antonio Spurs, imposing as ever, with all horses in formation.
And the Warriors ran right past them. Walked through them. Jumped over them. Left them in pieces, and strutted away with a 112-101 victory that answered nearly every relevant question.
Can the Warriors beat the Spurs when the stakes are high? Yes.
Can they rout the Spurs when they play all their stars, old ones and new ones? Yes.
And, of course, can the Warriors win 73?
Well, yes, especially now that they want it, badly, and realize that even one disengaged game over the final three will leave them denied.
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“We’re going to talk about it (Friday),” coach Steve Kerr said of the approach to the final three games. “We’ve been putting it off for as long as we were able to, which was until we got the 1-seed.
“Now that we have that, I’m inclined to give some guys some rest if they need it. But I’ve sort of made a pact with the guys that if they’re not banged up and they’re not tired, and if they want to go for this record or whatever then. So we’ve got to talk.”
Take a breather before the playoffs, or continue the quest for 73?
Unless the Warriors change their minds sometime between 11 p.m. Thursday and the time their plane lands in Memphis on Friday, the players welcome the challenge of pursuing the record that has been a hot topic for two months.
“I think most of the guys are all in,” said Draymond Green, who recovered from an early foul and ensuing technical foul to submit a terrific game.
“You all know what we’re chasing,” said Steph Curry, who posted 27 points and nine assists to lead the offense.
“I’m 23; I’ve got no problems playing the rest of these games,” said Harrison Barnes, whose 21 points thwarted much of San Antonio’s defensive strategy to contain Klay Thompson and Curry.
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Getting to 73 is all that is left to conquer of this regular season. The Warriors (70-9) once again avoided back-to-back losses, rebounding with the kind of effort that left Spurs coach Gregg Popovich throwing out superlatives.
“You can’t make mistakes against the best team on the planet,” Popovich said. “If you lose your concentration defensively or you shoot ill-advised shots, or you don’t move the ball and you give it back to them quickly, you’re in big trouble.”
With the exception of some uncharacteristic defensive lapses, the Spurs (65-13) weren’t awful. They shot 48.8 percent. They committed fewer turnovers, 12, to 16 for the Warriors, and scored 26 points off the giveaways while the Warriors managed 13 off Spurs turnovers.
The Warriors, however, torched the nets from deep, going 12-of-25 from 3-point distance and shooting 54.2 percent overall. Those numbers stand in stark contrast to those put up in San Antonio on March 19, when the Warriors shot 37.8 percent, including 25 percent beyond the arc.
Yes, adjustments were made by the Warriors. With the playoffs a little more than a week away, there will be more tinkering.
Meanwhile, there are three more games, including one on Sunday in San Antonio, where the nightmare matchup that is Boris Diaw, sidelined Thursday, is expected to be available.
Three games, and the Warriors seem to want them all.
“When you’re talking about rest or not, that’s kind of like we’re looking ahead and planning for something down the road,” Green said. “I’ve always lived like you’ve got to live every day like it’s your last. You don’t know what’s coming down the road.”
The Warriors played with that mentality. There was urgency and efficiency amidst the imperfection. But getting to 70 wins is special, and getting the 70th against the Spurs makes it all the more satisfying.