The reason I have been saying for a month or so now that I believe the Warriors will break the NBA record for wins rather easily was again exemplified at Oracle Arena Tuesday night.
The Warriors win games they shouldn’t win.
On Tuesday night they beat the Atlanta Hawks 109-105 in overtime. They accomplished this without not just one but two former MVP’s, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala. That means that their first AND second units were both missing their go-to scorer, and the team was down two pieces of their famous “death squad” lineup.
You would think that in the absence of those two players, Klay Thompson would have a big game? Well, he hit some big shots down the stretch, but he struggled being the focus of the Atlanta defense, shooting just 8-27 for the game. Thompson still managed 26 points, and the next leading scorer was…….
Andrew Bogut. Really? Yes, Andrew Bogut was 8-9 on a collection of tip-ins and lobs, and, in one of the most unusual sequences of the season, he hit both free throws after being hacked intentionally with three minutes to go in regulation and the score tied. Bogut is a career 55% throw shooter, but the last time he actually shot that well over a full season was the 2009-2010 season. Since joining the Warriors in 2010-2011, he is 82-of-187, a pretty putrid 43.8%.
So imagine the Hawks’ surprise when the big Aussie stepped to the line and knocked down both free throws. A minute later, he was fouled unintentionally, and he hit the first and missed the second but Draymond Green tipped the rebound out to Thompson, who drove to the bucket for a tough lay-in. So Bogut gets fouled twice, and the Warriors go from being tied to being up five points!
Earlier in the game, Bogut leaked out after a Hawks’ missed shot, and Green hit him in stride with a 50-foot pass for a breakaway dunk.
It was an unusual night.
Bogut’s heroics notwithstanding, the single player probably most responsible for the Warriors’ victory would have to be Green. He is struggling mightily with his shot these days, but he did everything else the Warriors needed, including run the offense all night. He finished with his typical “box score-filler” numbers: 15 points, 9 assists and 4 steals.
Three of those points came, like the Bogut free throws, in very improbable fashion. Leading by one point with a minute to go in overtime, the Hawks effectively shut down a Golden State possession. With the shot clock running down, Thompson looped a pass underneath to Bogut. The ball went off of Bogut’s hand and headed out-of-bounds. He was able to save it to Green on the wing, but the ball was headed toward Green’s feet. Somehow Draymond was able to grab the ball, get airborne, turn his shoulders square to the basket and fire, the ball hitting the net as the shot clock expired. Green was 1-for-5 on three-pointers before that shot, and had an 0-12 streak entering the game. I think most Warriors’ observers would agree that Curry’s 38-footer to beat Oklahoma City last week was a higher probability shot than the one Green himself called “a desperation heave.”
So that’s win #54 on the way to 73 and another championship. No Curry, no Iguodala, a rough night for Thompson, no problem. We’ve got Bogut, Draymond “and the rest.” and we can still knock off the 5th best team in the Eastern Conference.
Next up is Oklahoma City, a rematch that became a little more interesting (if that’s possible) when the Thunder rolled over and coughed up a 22-point lead to the LA Clippers on Wednesday night. Believe this: The Warriors will be very wary of this team that was already wounded and angry before that happened. In fact, you could make the case that they felt they had secured the win and their thoughts might have turned to their revenge opportunity a little early.
At stake for the Thunder? Relevance as a championship contender.
At stake for the Warriors? The NBA record for consecutive home wins is 44, set by the Bulls over the 94-95 and 95-96 seasons. They are also very interested in not losing a game at home this season, and there are 16 to go. Oh, and there’s that 73 thing happening, too.
Tuesday night was all about the Warriors winning a game they shouldn’t have won, in an unusual manner. That’s happened several times this season, but this is the first time they’ve done it without Curry. They’ve won without him, but it was one of those games against Houston when the Rockets showed no interest in playing defense, so it didn’t count. This was the first time they faced a challenge from a good team, and beat it back without Steph and Andre.
A good notch in a belt that’s getting pretty crowded.