The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors ended their season as victims of their own success.
By being the most exciting basketball team of the modern era — winning a record number of regular season games — the only acceptable outcome to their season was to repeat as NBA champions.
Why they fell short of that lofty goal will be debated for months. But at the most elemental level, it’s quite simple: They didn’t score for the final 4:39 of an NBA Finals Game 7, while Kyrie Irving got a step on Stephen Curry to hit a 3-pointer with less than a minute to play.
Was it a “failure” in the grand scheme? Absolutely not.
“We just failed at one goal we had, but this whole season isn’t a failure to me,” All Star forward Draymond Green said after the fateful defeat. “We accomplished some great things. We didn’t reach the end prize, but there will be more years for that.”
The Warriors rewrote the NBA record book this season: In addition to reaching the iconic number of 73 — a mark many, including Dubs head coach Steve Kerr, said would never be reached — they won the most overall games, the most on the road and at home, and the most to start the season. They also shattered the previous record for most 3-pointers made and didn’t lose twice in a row until the Western Conference Finals.
But they didn’t win the ring, and for that, they’ll forever be a punchline to NBA legends like Scottie Pippen and Oscar Robertson — both outspoken critics of the 73 Dubs.
Regardless, the core of Curry, Green and Klay Thompson puts the team into contention as long as they stay healthy.
“We’ll be there again. You’ve just got to realize how bad it hurts and why winning is so good,” Thompson said. “It was very disappointing just because we know how good we are. We feel like we’re still the best team in the world. We let that slide. It hurts right now. I can’t tell you when the disappointment is going to fade, but it will.”
In the meantime, they’ll have to endure all the shit talk from former players, ungrateful fans and hot-takers.
It’s going to be a long summer for a team that was prematurely dubbed the best ever weeks before being the only to lose a title after taking a 3-1 lead.
The biggest question that remains: What direction will the team head in the offseason?
The pressure for them to sign superstar forward Kevin Durant ratchets up after the loss, and as he exited Oracle Arena on Sunday owner Joe Lacob said, “All I can say is I will be very aggressive,” according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.
Bottom line: The Warriors remain the most fascinating story in sports on the West Coast, champions or not.
KEY DATES TO 73
Oct. 27, 2015: The then-defending Champs hosted the New Orleans Pelicans for the first game of the season. It was apparent from the opening tip that the Pels were overmatched as Stephen Curry hit seven of his first nine shots. He finished with 40 after raising the team’s fourth championship banner to the rafters pregame.
Dec. 11, 2015: The Dubs started the day 23-0 before playing the Boston Celtics’ band of upstarts in the second-to-last of a seven-game road trip. Many predicted this would be the game that would end the Warriors’ record for best start. Instead, Golden State forced two overtimes in an off night for Curry and won 124-119. Draymond Green played 50 minutes and stuffed the stat sheet with a 5-by-5: 24 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals and 5 blocks. (Their streak ended the next night at Milwaukee.)
Dec. 25, 2015: The Warriors hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers for their first matchup since the 2015 Finals. The game played like a Game 7 with both teams struggling with nerves — the Cavs shot 32 percent, the Warriors weren’t much better at 41 percent. Green was again the difference-maker, scoring 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds with 7 assists as the Warriors won 89-83.
Jan. 22, 2016: After missing the first 43 games recovering from an offseason back surgery, head coach Steve Kerr returned to the bench. “I was thinking of doing like MJ did and send a fax out that just says, ‘I’m back,’” he joked about emulating his former teammate. “I don’t think faxes, do they even exist at this point? I don’t know.” The Dubs went on to beat the Indiana Pacers 122-110 with Curry logging a triple-double: 39 points (8-for-15 from 3), 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Kerr would later be named Coach of the Year.
Feb. 27: Curry ripped the hearts out of the Warriors’ most formidable Western Conference foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, by finishing with 46 points, hitting 12-for-16 from beyond the 3-point line, including an impossible 30-plus-foot buzzer beater to win in overtime. Kerr would say that this was the game he realized his starting point guard was going to repeat as league MVP. It will also mark the date many children learned they love the game of basketball.
April 13: Golden State needed one win to set the mark for regular season excellence and they were hosting a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team. The game was never in doubt as the Dubs rolled to a 125-104 victory. Curry hit 10 3-pointers to total 402 for the year, 116 more than the previous record he set in 2015. The Warriors received congratulations from Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Adam Silver and countless others. “Who knows how far we can take this thing?” Curry asked afterward.
73 IN BAY AREA SPORTS LORE
The No. 73 now ties two of the greatest statistical accomplishments in sports: the most wins in NBA regular season history, and Barry Bonds’ single-season home run record.
Both seasons ended in disappointment in terms of team success and will forever elicit mixed responses despite being herculean accomplishments.
UPDATED ALL-TIME TOP 10:
- Michael Jordan
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- LeBron James
- Larry Bird
- Magic Johnson
- Bill Russell
- Tim Duncan
- Hakeem Olajuwon
- Shaquille O’Neal
- Kobe Bryant
ONE UNRESOLVED DILEMMA:
Will Anderson Varejao get a championship ring?
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Anderson VarejaoCleveland CavaliersDraymond GreenGolden State Warriorsjacob c. palmerJoe LacobKlay ThompsonKyrie IrvingLeBron JamesNBA FinalsNBA Playoffsoscar robertsonscottie pippenStephen CurrySteve Kerr