When you’re chasing ghosts, there’s no time to rest.
Let all those star players on the NBA’s other elite teams go on spring break. The Golden State Warriors have legends to lasso.
That’s the reason Stephen Curry gets knocked flat on his back trying to take a charge in the final minutes of an otherwise meaningless game against the Wizards.
That’s the reason Curry logs 42 minutes and Draymond Green 43, at 4,200 feet elevation, on the second night of a dreaded back-to-back.
“I love the competitive spirit and fire,” coach Steve Kerr said following Wednesday’s come-from-behind 103-96 overtime victory over the Jazz in Salt Lake City. “It’d be easy to say, ‘Nah, we’re tired’ and call it a night. But they wanted it.”
When it’s immortality you’re chasing, there’s no time for the chaise lounge. The Warriors can kick up their feet in late June, after the NBA Finals – and not a moment before.
Is that a wise strategy? We’ll find out in 2½ months.
There’s a reason we’re still talking about that (72-10) Bulls team.
Stephen Curry on chasing the 1995-96 Chicago team’s record
LeBron James sat out Cleveland’s loss to the Rockets the other night and may do so again Friday in Atlanta. To the Cavaliers, ensuring their franchise player is well rested before the playoffs is even worth risking home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.
Kevin Durant got the night off recently for Oklahoma City. The superstar small forward wasn’t thrilled about it, but where’s the harm? The Thunder is virtually locked into the West’s No. 3 seed.
And then there’s San Antonio, whose coach, Gregg Popovich, is the inventor of Operation Rest.
Popovich has been resting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili all season. Monday, he held back all-star Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Duncan and Ginobili from a road game against Memphis, which the Spurs won anyway.
San Antonio brought back its full deck Wednesday, but Popovich made it clear more R&R was on the agenda. Even if that comes at the expense of an undefeated home record.
And his players are perfectly OK with that.
“I don’t really think about having a good regular season, how many games we won,” Parker told ESPN.com. “It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, the only thing you remember is how many championships you won.”
For the record, he’s won four (of the Spurs’ five).
The Warriors, in their quest for back-to-back titles, aren’t affording themselves that luxury. While the rest of the NBA takes a seat, they’re compelled to chase ghosts.
It’d be easy to say, ‘Nah, we’re tired’ and call it a night. But they wanted it.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, on Wednesday’s overtime win at Utah
With seven games left in the interminable regular season, Golden State arrives 68-7.
Say that aloud for emphasis but quietly enough so as not to frighten the guy slurping coffee at the next table:
Sixty-eight and seven.
Once the Warriors tally another win – Friday night at home against Boston seems at least a 90.7 percent certainty – they’ll stand elbow to elbow with the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers and 1996-97 Chicago Bulls. Both those teams went 69-13.
After that, the only remaining target are those 72-10 Bulls of 1995-96, the high-water mark of Michael Jordan’s championship sextet.
Sports legend doesn’t get more hallowed.
“There’s a reason we’re still talking about that Bulls team,” Curry has said more than once.
By now, it should be clear winning a second title isn’t enough for these Warriors. They want us to still be talking about them in 2036.
By now, it should be clear winning a second title isn’t enough for these Warriors. They want us to still be talking about them in 2036. They want to be immortalized.
Golden State must go 5-2 to reach 73 wins. I’m thinking 6-1 (and 74-8) is a distinct possibility, with the lone loss coming April 10 to the Spurs in San Antonio, the last of the 20 back-to-backs on the schedule. (They’re an astounding 17-2 in those games so far.)
It would be easy to suggest the Warriors should be resting, that they should follow the Popovich model and ease off the gas pedal. The competition is doing it.
Except none of those teams have a chance to go down as The Greatest Ever. Golden State does. There’s risk in that approach, certainly, but it’s also what makes them so compelling.
Man, seeing you and doing what you’re doing, we got no excuses (about being tired). You’re an inspiration for us.
Stephen Curry to TNT’s Craig Sager, who is battling leukemia
The greatest is putting unnecessary wear and tear on Curry, who to me looks a little fatigued and has let his defense slip as a result.
In a perfect world, the Warriors would be putting away teams early so Curry didn’t have to play the fourth quarter, which has happened 17 times this season. Except that trend has slowed. During Golden State’s first 50 games, Curry sat out 14 fourth quarters. In the 25 since, only three.
Kerr has done a good job of not overextending his stars. Green leads the Warriors in minutes (2,565), which ranks 15th in the league. Curry (2,451) and Klay Thompson (2,420) are 21st and 28th.
In case you’re wondering, Jordan played 3,090 minutes for the 1995-96 Bulls and Scottie Pippen 2,825. But remember, Jordan was 32 years old that season, his first following a two-year dalliance with baseball, and Pippen 30.
By contrast, Curry turned 28 in March. Green and Thompson are 26. So the Warriors have the advantage of young legs.
Still, those young legs need to be fresh enough to carry Golden State to another championship. Because if the Warriors win 73 games (or 74) and fall short of that, their legend goes poof.