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?