Warriors got what they wanted: 16th straight win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — They wanted it, and they said as much. No false modesty, no “it doesn’t matter that much,” which in truth it doesn’t — but at the same time it does.

The record, 16 straight wins to open an NBA season, is just another notch on the gunslinger’s belt, another verification that the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are a very special team.

But we knew that already, didn’t we? They won the championship last season, and that’s the ultimate goal in any sport, and now they’re focused on trying to do it again. But the playoffs are months away, so what they’ve accomplished in the first 16 games of the 82 on the regular schedule is a guidepost to their greatness.

And the way it happened Tuesday night at the Oracle, with a 111-77 victory, similarly was a verification of the decline and fall of their once superior, once proud opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers, who along with the Celtics were one of two great franchises of the '70s, '80s, '90s and early 2000s. The Lakers of West and Baylor, Magic and Kareem, Shaq and Kobe. The Lakers, who once, during the 1971-72 season, set an even more impressive record, winning 33 in a row. The Lakers, who forever and a day owned the Warriors.

But it’s all different now. The Warriors have taken control of pro basketball, so much so that ESPN and TNT continue to revise their schedules to show the Warriors, to show Steph Curry, who scored a game-high 24 points, to show Draymond Green, who had 12 points the first quarter and 18 overall.

The Warriors, once the punching bag (they won only 17 games in 2000-01), once the laughing stock, now are the class of the league, must-see basketball, the “New Showtime,” while the Lakers, the old Showtime, have gone the other way, almost to oblivion.

They are 2-12, which would be awful even if it weren’t matched up against 16-0. And inevitably, sadly, Kobe Bryant, 39 and losing the battle both to the men guarding him and Father Time, is only a shadow of what we knew. In this historic game for the W’s, Kobe also made history of a sort, going 1-for-14 from the floor (it was a 3-pointer) and ending with just four points.

But this is supposed to be about the Warriors, the wonderful, enthralling Warriors, who at game’s end shared their delight with a sellout crowd (listed at 19,596, but there might have been dozens more) by staying on court while the fans, cheering, stayed in the stands. The guys on the floor loved it. The spectators in the building loved it.

“It feels great,” said Luke Walton of the record and the reaction. As you know he’s listed as the interim coach, temporarily replacing Steve Kerr, who is recovering from spinal leaks incurred during off-season back surgery. Walton — the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton — insists this is Kerr’s team, and that’s probably accurate, but Walton is pulling the strings in this record run.

For certain, Walton — the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton — has never lost a game while a head coach, whatever the designation. For sure he’s never backed away from the idea that the record is inconsequential. It’s like a 30-foot shot. If you’re going to go after it, then get it.

“You’ve got to celebrate it,” he said of the Warriors overtaking the 15-0 starts of the ’48-49 Washington Capitals and the ’93-94 Houston Rockets. “You’re obviously a piece of history now, and we want to continue the streak. We feel like we can. But you can’t be content because it’s only November.”

Whatever the month, 16 wins without a defeat is mark of distinction, a mark that others envy and of course will try to halt, which, sooner or later, someone will. But it’s like the “A” you learn in the classroom. It always will be there no matter what occurs in the future.

Before the game, Walton said that Kerr, who sits in the locker room as a matter of medical precaution and to show Walton is the boss courtside, reminds him of four core values: enjoyment, compassion, mindfulness and competition. In other words, have a great time and win. Which is what the Warriors have done since the season started.

“We went by and congratulated each player,” said Walton of what took place in the locker room immediately after the close of the game. “What they did, they now are in the history books. This turned into a mini-goal a couple of games ago, and we accomplished it and now we have to make sure we don’t drop off.

“I don’t think our guys play with any pressure, to be honest. I think challenges like this, in this streak, bring out the best in them. We saw that tonight with the way the guys played.”

Beautifully, brilliantly and successfully. What else is there?


‘Little miscues,’ McCaffrey decide the Big Game

By Art Spander

STANFORD, Calif. — One of the stars almost certainly is done. Jared Goff has one more year of eligibility, but the thinking is he’ll leave Cal, enter the NFL draft and be selected very high and thus become very rich. The other star, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, is not going anywhere, except through the other team’s defense.

As Saturday night he went through the Cal defense. For 389 yards, rushing, receiving and on kickoff returns.  Dashing, rumbling, bashing, bouncing, scoring. “He’s a physical runner,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, in affirmation. “That’s not hard to see.”

What Dykes and everyone else at Stanford Stadium for the 118th Big Game saw were bravura performances by Goff, the junior, who threw 54 times, completing 37 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, and McCaffrey, the sophomore, who leads the nation in all-purpose offense. What they also saw was another Stanford victory, defeating the Golden Bears, 35-22, the sixth in a row for the Cardinal in what loosely might be termed a rivalry.

“I have not seen anybody like this kid,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of McCaffrey.

It was a bit better of a game than the last few of these. Cal only trailed 21-16 with some five minutes to go in the third quarter. Still, Stanford wasn’t going to lose, not the way it was tackling, or failing to tackle, or being penalized.

Stanford (9-2) is the better team, which meant if the Bears were going to win they had to be effective and alert. Which they weren’t. “Penalties killed us,” said Dykes of drives that got to to the two and the eight and the 11 and got nothing more than field goals. And that sloppy defense was no less critical.

That’s bully-ball played by Stanford, blockers crushing defenders so the running back or the returner — McCaffrey in most of the cases — often was unhindered. That 98-yard kickoff return for a TD by McCaffrey just before halftime, and just after a Cal field goal, was perfect. If anybody touched McCaffrey it was one of his teammates in the end zone, joyfully offering congratulations.

“I thought that was a momentum-breaker,” said McCaffrey. The Bears had moved to within 14-6 and, whoosh, it was 21-6. “We tried to tackle him,” said Dykes, in his third year as Cal coach. “We got guys in position. We just couldn’t tackle.”

This was the sort of game that would confuse those obsessed with statistics. Cal had 495 yards total offense to Stanford’s 356. Cal had the ball 31 minutes, 16 seconds to Stanford’s 28:44. But Stanford kept Cal from touchdowns — more on that later — and Cal couldn’t stop Stanford.

Maybe when the ball was inside the Stanford 10, or just outside, the Bears should have gone for the end zone on fourth down. Settling for three points when you’re behind is not very advantageous.

“If we had scored on third down,” said Goff, who just missed on a couple of those chances, “we wouldn’t have to ask about going for field goals.”

Or as Dykes glumly confirmed, after Cal dropped to 6-5, “Dropped the ball the first series, missed a pass when Kenny (Lawler) was open in the end zone. Just little miscues. That was kind of the difference for us.”

Little miscues in the Big Game, which because of a TV delay — the Arkansas game preceded it on ESPN — began at 7:41 p.m. PST, the latest ever for a Cal-Stanford meeting. It ended before 11, which isn’t bad, if you’re fortunate to live in the Pacific time zone.

Not that people in New York or Philly have much interest in anything west of the Sierra Nevada, other than the Warriors.

The Cal-Stanford series has been very streaky of late. Before the current stretch of six in a row by Stanford, it was Cal taking seven out of eight.

Before they left the pre-game locker room, the Bears heard Dykes tell them, “Do whatever it takes to make tonight a special night.” What it took was the kind of sharp play, especially on defense, that Cal still seems incapable of executing.

“When you have almost 500 yards of offense against a good defense,” said Dykes, “it’s a little bit frustrating when you score 22 points and don’t win the game. But as I said, penalties really, really hurt us.”

So did Christian McCaffrey, and he’ll be back, whether Jared Goff will or not.


Warriors still perfect after an imperfect game

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — They’re going to lose one of these nights. Maybe Thursday on the road against the Clippers. Maybe Friday at home against the Chicago Bulls. Nobody goes through an NBA schedule, 82 games, unbeaten.

But so far, the Warriors, with a lot of talent and a little luck, are without a loss through 12 games.

That ties the modern-era record for the fourth-best start in recent history — no, we’re not counting the 1948-49 Washington Capitals. The ’93-94 Houston Rockets began 15-0 (as did the Caps), the ’57-58 Celtics and ’02-03 Dallas Mavericks went 14-0, while the ’82-83 Seattle SuperSonics, now the OKC Thunder, won their first 12, as have the ’15-16 Warriors.

The W’s remained perfect with an imperfect 115-110 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, and as the very perceptive Luke Walton, the anointed interim coach, so astutely pointed out after it was time to exhale, sure, it was sloppier than usual. Who cared?

We’re spoiled. We’re so used to watching the Warriors get control in the second quarter or maybe the third — all right, the OT win over the Brooklyn was the exception — that when something happens like that against the Raptors we, media and fans, are not quite sure how to act. Not that we outliers are alone.

“We’re all spoiled,” Walton agreed in wonderful candor. “Not just you (meaning the demonic critics from the fourth estate). We keep winning. Our guys are so good. That’s our style. Our guys have a special gift to make big plays, and it’s not just one or two of them.

“We weren’t happy with the way the game was turning in the second half, but we were thrilled the way we stepped up to finish it to get another win.”

Walton, of course, has done nothing but win since he was designated as the temporary replacement for Steve Kerr, who since directing the Warriors to a championship last season has, because of back surgery and complications, been unable to coach a game.

But if the administration changed, the performance is mostly unchanged.

Against Toronto, Stephen Curry had 37 points in 39 minutes, and nine assists. Klay Thompson had 19 points (but only one in the second half). The W’s shot a competent 53 percent.

However, Toronto, which chooses to play what is known as deliberate basketball and thus draws fouls, took 39 free throws and made 30, while the W’s were a mere 18 of 27 from the line. The W’s, who prefer running, which they are able to do after the opponent misses a shot, were restricted to walking. Yes, they had an 18-point lead a few seconds before halftime, but they also were tied with under six minutes left. Unnerving.

“We’d love to keep pushing up the ball,” said Walton. “We started Steph in the fourth quarter and thought we could build up our lead. But you’re going to have sloppy games like this.”

The Warriors had Andrew Bogut at center for the first time since he incurred a concussion, but they didn’t have Shaun Livingston as sub at guard — he has hip problems — and that’s why Curry had to play so long. But great teams, and we’ll include the Warriors in that category after winning a title and their first 12 games the following season, manage to succeed.

“We didn’t feel like we played great tonight,” said Bogut, the designated interviewee. “We played good in spurts. It’s a positive sign for us.”

Not that the other 11 games have been very negative.

But Curry said the Warriors expect more of themselves, and even though they finished in the right place the trip was strenuous.

“They’re good,” he said of the Raptors. “There’s a lot of talent in this league. Tough games are good to experience. But we hold ourselves to a certain standard. We didn’t put any pressure on them defensively, and when we were sloppy on a couple of pressures, they came to life.”

Asked what went wrong — a bit strong when you’re undefeated — Walton shrugged and reminded, “The first half we were phenomenal. We had 21 assists at the half with only seven turnovers.

“We are putting together nice halves and finishing games nice, but we have gotten away from the overall great game of basketball.”


Tomsula wouldn’t tell us, but Gabbert showed us

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The head coach was hesitant to tell us, maybe even afraid to tell us, but the new quarterback certainly showed us. The position is Blaine Gabbert’s to lose because when finally given the chance to start he didn’t lose, and all the avoidance and equivocation by Jim Tomsula won’t make a difference,

Gabbert, a replacement for the beleaguered Colin Kaepernick, wasn’t the only reason the 49ers won a game, scoring a touchdown for the first time in nine quarters Sunday, then another, and stunning the Atlanta Falcons, 17-16, before some fans (70,799 announced) and a lot of empty seats at Levi’s Stadium.

The Niners' defense, reminiscent of the recent glory days circa 2012, and led by the resilient NaVorro Bowman, alternately stuffed the run and chased the passer, Matt Ryan, so a team averaging 414 yards a game was held to 302. And no less significantly was held to one touchdown and three field goals.

So if you want to contend as football people have for decades that defense was the difference — hey, if the other team doesn’t score, you can’t lose — you’ll get no argument here. But no less significant was the way the Niners (3-6) moved the ball when needed, and that certainly had to do with Gabbert.

When after their bye weekend the Niners resume the schedule November 22 at Seattle, Gabbert should once more be in the starting lineup. And will be. However, Tomsula, who is both uninformative and uninspiring, refused to make a commitment. His catch phrase is “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Of course. But the work has to be done by people on the field. And after throwing a couple of touchdown passes to Garrett Celek (and completing 15 of 25 for 185 yards, with two interceptions) and running for 32 yards, including a couple of bootlegs for first downs, Gabbert has to be one of those people.

This was a strange if rewarding day for the Niners, in a game that had a few spits of rain early on but mostly was played in dry, bleak weather — and so much for the complaints of fans on the east side of Levi’s having to flee downstairs to avoid sunburn.

The Niners had all sorts of backups, including running back Shaun Draughn (58 yards rushing, 38 receiving) and defensive back Marcus Cromartie, just activated, in their lineups. They also had a gift of sorts from Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, who went for a field goal from the San Francisco one on fourth and goal with three minutes remaining.

He went by the book, believing it’s sacrilegious to get that deep and fail to get on the scoreboard. “He was confident our defense would get the stop,” said Ryan, the Falcon QB. But the defense didn’t, and so the Falcons fell to 6-3. You need guys on the other side to make dumb decisions along with players on your side making smart ones.

Bowman was a major factor in the Niners success of 2012 and 2013 but had his knee ripped up in the 2013 NFC Championship loss at Seattle. Only now, almost two calendar years after the injury, does he feel like the line backer of yore — if 22 months can be considered yore.

“I’m getting there,” said Bowman, satisfied with much of his play, particularly a sack of Ryan on third and nine for a nine-yard loss early in the final quarter.

“After going through adversity at times you feel like you’re still going backward even when you’re making progress,” said Bowman. “At times we’re playing like we did in the past.”

Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, leading the NFL in rushing with an average of 88 yards a game, was limited to 12 yards in 12 carries. That’s defense. “The coaches did a great job,” said Bowman about the game plan. “They said we had to get in his face.”

Gabbert hadn’t played in a league game since 2013 when he was with Jacksonville. He was prepared to make a return, physically — he had a broken thumb at Jacksonville — and mentally, treating the start with the calmness required.

“The biggest thing,” said Gabbert, echoing the appropriate comments of others in his situation, “is we got the victory. It wasn’t pretty at times, but our defense played well.”

It takes an honest man to sing an honest song.

“I felt great,” he said. Until in the fourth quarter when he was smacked, had to undergo a concussion check and was replaced for three plays by Kaepernick. “I was a little fired up,” said Gabbert about being replaced, even for so brief a time, “but that’s the protocol.”

Another type of protocol is to declare the quarterback who comes off the bench to get points and a victory your starter. Come on, Coach Tomsula. Your team and Blaine Gabbert deserve no less.


Warriors 'not a surprise' in crushing the Grizz

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — About the only thing that didn’t happen Monday was Dusty Baker taking over as the Niners' starting quarterback. But Blaine Gabbert is. And Dusty is about to become manager of the Washington Nationals. And, of course, Stephen Curry had another huge game — as did the unbeaten Warriors.

Down Santa Clara way, the 49ers, in either a fit of panic or of desperation, benched their QB, Colin Kaepernick, which, yes, was man-bite-dog news. Up here at the Oracle, where Curry finished with 30 despite not playing a single second in the fourth quarter and the W’s built up a 52-point lead in the third quarter, it was dog-bite-man stuff.

In other words, tell us when something remarkable happens, which these days doesn’t really describe any Warriors performance, even when they crush the Memphis Grizzlies, 119-69.

The Dubs are 4-0 now, every win against a playoff team, and their next game, Wednesday, is against the Los Angeles Clippers, who have a history with the Warriors. Meaning rough play. But Golden State didn’t take the NBA championship last season by backing away from anyone, rough or not so.

There’s a tradition of teams coming out the year after they win the title and playing better than ever — the Portland Trail Blazers of Bill Walton, father of W’s interim coach, Luke, did that — and wow, are the Warriors on a roll.

“We can’t wait to start in March or April,” said Draymond Green. “We got to start now.” They’ve started, and there’s no indication they’ll ever stop, and one of the reasons is they know how to stop the other team.

For the third time the in four games, Curry had a quarter of 20 points or more, getting 21 in the third. But it was at the other end of the court the Warriors grabbed the game, holding the Grizz to 12 points in the second quarter and 15 in the third. When a team scores only 27 points in 24 minutes, it has no chance. Memphis had no chance.

“It’s not a surprise we’re playing this well,” said Walton, who has replaced the ailing Steve Kerr for as long as needed. “This is what these guys do.” That sounds like one of those commercials. If you’re on the Warriors, who play to near perfection, that’s what you do.

“Our defense was fine in the first quarter,” Walton said, referring to a 22-21 deficit. “The message at the start of the second quarter was more that we needed to play with a faster pace. Twenty one points in a quarter is not points for us. The second unit was great again tonight. They came in with a smaller lineup and got some stops and we started pushing it, and they got some energy.”

They defended (Memphis shot 27 percent for the game), they rebounded (65 to Memphis’ 44) and they swept down the floor in waves as the sellout crowd of 19,596 joined in with roars and screeches. “Get Loud,” orders the matrix board over center court. As if the advice as necessary.

Walton was comparatively quiet in the postgame interview, but his words were meaningful. He gave high praise to Green — “Draymond has been awesome; that’s why we pay him $82 million” — and to Festus Ezeli, starting at center in place of Andrew Bogut, who has a concussion.

Green had 11 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and three blocked shots. Ezeli had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

“This is a championship team,” Memphis forward Zach Randolph said of the Warriors, who held him to four points, “but they’re not 40, 50 points better than us. We know that.”

They were Monday night, and Walton who played on the champion Lakers in their glory days, said it’s not a surprise the Warriors have come out of the gate like, well, American Pharoah.

“When we play at a level like this,” said Walton, “we are very, very hard to beat.”

So far they’ve been impossible to beat.

“I’m impressed that we’ve started this well, and hopefully we just continue to do it," Walton said. "Confidence has always been something that our guys have, but it’s a fine line because you are also getting everybody’s best shot. But there’s also a little bit of an intimidation factor. When we start making shots and locking up on defense, it can cause some teams to fold.”