The end of the Warriors' franchise-record winning streak, 16 games over 33 days, came Tuesday night and can be distilled to this: No welterweight, no matter how extraordinary, beats a great heavyweight.
And the Memphis Grizzlies have spent the first six weeks of the season as the NBA best heavyweight.
So the Warriors were nothing if not valiant in taking a 105-98 loss. They went into "the grindhouse" that is FedEx Forum and took the fight to the bigger team. And when their bench was lit up for a 20-0 run by the Grizzlies' second unit to open the second quarter – giving Memphis a 14-point lead – the Warriors punched their way back and made it a tense game until the final seconds.
“I thought we were going to win,'' coach Steve Kerr said. "I always think we’re going to win. It was just too much to overcome. That’s a great team over there. We had to fight really hard just to get back to where we were. We were close, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
The hump was created not so much by brawny big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, though they did plenty of damage, combining for 41 points and 17 rebounds. No, it was the Memphis reserves, led by Vince Carter and Jon Leuer and Beno Udrih, that shredded the Warriors' defense by making their first six shots in the second quarter and 10 of their first 13.
It was the Warriors' sorriest defensive stint of the season, much less the win streak.
"What I really remember more than anything is Vince going nuts," Kerr said. "Missed shots turned into transition layups, and they hit a couple of threes off of those misses. Leuer did a nice job for them. They executed very well.
"Memphis has gotten a lot better offensively this year. They’ve become a really good half-court team. They punched us in the mouth to start the second quarter and that was the difference in the game.”
The Warriors (21-3) went on a 16-4 run in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to two, 90-88, when Shaun Livingston dunked a lob from Andre Iguodala with 5:10 to play.
But the Grizzlies (20-4) recovered, with a Tayshaun Prince 3-pointer sparking a 7-0 run that was punctuated by two free throws awarded when Kerr and Iguodala, demonstratively protesting a non-call, were whistled for technical fouls.
Asked if he had any regrets about the technical fouls, Kerr said "no."
There were no regrets from anybody representing the Warriors. Nor should there be. They finally ran into a team with similar determination and depth but more size. That's tough to overcome.
“It’s what you play for, a big-time challenge,'' Stephen Curry said. "We stepped up and really fought hard all game. I enjoyed that atmosphere even though we didn’t win. It’s what kind of tests you as you go into the season.”
There was, to be sure, a playoff-type environment. Never in the history of the NBA had two teams with such gaudy records met so early in the season. On this night, the better team won, snapping a win streak.
“We won 16 games in a row, and that’s hard to come by," Draymond Green said. "It doesn’t happen every day. It was a great streak. Streaks are made to be broken.
"We can’t expect to win 60 games in a row, but at the end of the day we came in here for a battle. We got down. We clawed back. We got down 10, and we clawed back. We continued to fight, and that’s a great sign. It was a tough one. I hate to lose and hate for the streak to end, but let’s start a new one.”
The Warriors acquitted themselves well in the muscle categories, outrebounding the Grizzlies 49-48 and tying them for points in the paint, 50-50.
The Warriors played solid defense in the second half, limiting Memphis to 37 percent shooting.
Klay Thompson had a nice offensive game, shooting 8-of-16 (4-of-5 from deep) and finishing with a team-high 22 points.
Marreese Speights once again delivered big off the bench, with 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots in 26 minutes.
Draymond Green, never lacking fight, battled the Memphis behemoths for 10 rebounds and a career-high five blocks. The Warriors as a team finished with a season-high 11 blocks.
The sight of 7-foot Andrew Bogut and 6-9 David Lee in street clothes, unable to offset some of Memphis' size advantage.
[RELATED: Bogut's knee injury may be more serious]
Curry had his worst shooting night of the season: 9-of-25, including 1-of-10 beyond the arc. Of note: This was the first time this season he had played at least 37 minutes over four consecutive games.
On a night when the Warriors really needed Green to be a 3-point threat, he missed all four of his attempts from deep.
The Warriors played porous defense in the second quarter, allowing the Grizzlies to shoot 61.9 percent.
The Warriors cheated the reaper several times during their winning streak. They've come back to win games they easily could have lost. They've overcome poor shooting nights, defensive lapses and occasional sloppy play. There was some of that on Tuesday, just enough to prevent the upset. And, yes, a Warriors win under these circumstances would have been a major upset.
The Warriors shouldn't fret. They had a 16-game win streak. They still have the best record in the NBA, still own the best start in franchise history as well as the best season-opening road record in franchise history. They have just everything they could want at this stage – except good health from their primary big men.