When the topic is shooting, it turns out the Warriors do miss on occasion. And rather wildly, at that. Andre Iguodala sure did when he was asked, in front of a New York media audience, how opponents should approach beating the team now known throughout sports as The Perfect Storm.
“Going to the gun range and learning how to shoot. Kill us all,” he said.
A reporter reminded Iguodala that the context was basketball. “No, that’s the only way you gonna beat us: If you shoot us and kill us and we can’t play,” he carried on regretfully, like someone ignorant to world events, before adding, “That’s a joke.”
Actually, it’s a social-conscience airball, especially when Iguodala reversed course again and said, “No, that’s for real. I’m serious.” Really, Andre? Days after San Bernardino, weeks after Paris, these were ill-advised, brazenly insensitive comments from the reigning Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals. He would like to have the words back, I’m certain, but if we can pause and take a breath and not view his statements as literal, Iguodala was trying to convey a plain reality: The competition is as hapless as it is helpless. We keep waiting for someone to stop the Warriors by finally answering their three-point sprees, or delivering a mid-air hip check to a prone Stephen Curry, or taking advantage of a rookie coaching mistake by Luke Walton, or seizing a lousy call that sets off Draymond Green and prompts his ejection from a game.
Yet absolutely nothing penetrates their cocoon of invincibility. Twenty-two times, they’ve played games in a league of arduous travel, unpredictable officiating, unforeseen injuries and motivational lapses. And 22 times, they’ve won those games, in a streak that has become a nationwide phenomenon wrapped around the soaring global popularity of Curry.
“I think teams just try to throw different looks at us, and we just have a very versatile group of guys, we mix up our matchups,” Iguodala said after giving up on his bad comedic attempt. “For every action, I think we have a reaction for it, and [that] will help us win.”
An action leads to a reaction. Now that is a much better explanation for this rare joyride, an ongoing thrill with no apparent end in sight. What staggers me is how the Warriors are embracing the streak so joyfully, with no interest in relinquishing their neon-bathed spot in the mass consciousness. They do understand they’ll lose at some point, but in a league that offers only three or four teams capable of challenging them right now — with the first of those not arriving until Christmas Day — they realize they could enter that Finals rematch against LeBron James looking at their 33rd consecutive victory. The NBA lists two records that apply here, most consecutive wins within a regular season and most consecutive regular-season wins overall, so in the latter category, four victories last April will count as part of the bigger streak. It means the Warriors could match the record of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers that day against the Cleveland Cavaliers, in what would be the most highly awaited regular-season game ever, the basketball version of the New England Patriots going for 16-0 in 2007.
They’ve come this far, right? They haven’t lost since June, right? So why the hell not try to bust the record and, as Curry has suggested, stay unbeaten through the Super Bowl, when he expects his Carolina Panthers to be 18-0 heading into Santa Clara? What once sounded preposterous is melting into a perceptional mode that almost anything is possible.
“It is what it is at this point. It’s not going away,” said Green, as if warning the competition about this team’s staying power. “It is what it is, and we rock out how we rock out.”
“Would we be winning all these games if we already had a loss? I don’t know, because there’s such a natural letdown in the NBA,” said Walton, the undefeated winless coach whose victories oddly don’t count on the official ledger as a league-orphanized interim. “But our guys don’t want this first loss, so we constantly keep bringing it.”
They bring it because they are “addicted to the feeling of winning,” as Klay Thompson said. They also bring it because the Warriors are shaming those who said their championship was a fluke rooted in the luck of extraordinary good health, who said Curry was a fabulous shooter but not a transcendent player. Every victory makes Doc Rivers look more bitter, Charles Barkley look more misinformed, James Harden look more Kardashian-dizzy. And every Curry Flurry feeds the delightful truth that no player his size, 6-3 and 180, ever has revolutionized the sport in his manner. Allen Iverson was a bad-ass scorer, but it never translated to a title because he was selfish and problematic. Isiah Thomas was part of a bigger entity, the Bad Boy Pistons. Steve Nash, who now is imparting his wisdom to Curry, won two MVPs as a dazzling point guard. But Curry, as the best shooter the sport has seen, buries all rivals with his magical handle, brilliant mind and unparalleled work ethic. His pregame routine has become the hoops version of batting practice, and while fans are flocking to it in enemy arenas like an amusement-park attraction — “It’s like he’s a zoo animal,” Walton said — they’re forgetting that he’s not showing off.
He’s working out, knowing that the repetition of jumpshooting mechanics leads to unconscionable shotmaking later in the night. Curry is toying with the world as a babyfaced monster, like E.T. on PEDs. Except no chemicals are involved. It’s all natural, all genius. Even when opponents return from deficits to make runs, as we’ve seen lately during the two-week road trip, Curry isn’t shaken in the least.
“Some nights you might not shoot the ball well for 34, 36 minutes, what have you, but if you just stick with the process of how we play, and how we’re going to get our shots, and not deviate from that, eventually we’re all going to click,” Curry said after the latest win, Sunday night in Brooklyn.
No one will be going to gun ranges, but the Warriors’ performance level does inspire offbeat strategic thoughts. “When he comes out of the locker room, you might want to shake his hand, escort him out to the court and just stay with him, because his range is off the charts,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey, twice a victim in the streak. “There are different things you can do to slow him down and be physical with him, but that has a cost with the officials. I’ve seen nobody stop him.”
But they do rave about him and his team. “They are among the top two or three teams that I’ve seen,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott, who played on an all-time team himself, the Showtime Lakers. “I love watching great basketball. I love watching team basketball. And that team is the ultimate team.”
“They’ve taken chemistry to a whole new level,” said Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore, the former Warrior, who left town at the wrong time. “They’ve really shown the game of basketball is a feel-good game.”
And this from Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, when asked how to beat the Warriors: “Pray to God.”
It should be noted, of course, that the NBA Finals don’t start for six months. Eight years ago, the Boston Celtics started 27-2 before Kevin Garnett’s knee blew out, costing them a repeat championship. Has Walton, with Steve Kerr on the phone, thought about preserving and protecting Curry and his mates during the trip?
“Our overall picture is always: ‘Don’t overplay players for the sake of one game,’” Walton said. “If guys are playing big minutes because all of the games are close, there’s a great possibility that we will sit guys at the end of the trip. [But] If we get to that final game [Saturday night in Milwaukee], and guys look and feel healthy, then that will come into account.”
They want this, you see.
Want it so bad, some of them even talk crazy.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.