Last Night, the Warriors Exerted Their Will… And Ended an Amazing Stretch

Posted: 01/26/2016 by levcohen in Basketball

Last night’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs was certainly hyped-up beforehand, but I don’t think it got its due in the days leading up to the game. According to Fivethirtyeight, this was the best game of all time (the game with the best combined Elo, Fivethirtyeight’s rating system). I’m skeptical of Elo and probably wouldn’t take it that far, since it was just a regular season game, but it was the first meeting between the two best teams in the league and two teams that are on track to rank among basketball’s all-time best by the end of the season. By now, you probably know what happened in the game. It wasn’t an instant classic. Heck, it was never even in doubt. The champs made a statement at home, beating the Spurs by 30. The weirdest thing about this game was how normal it was for the Warriors. Stephen Curry scored 37 points in 28 minutes before sitting out yet another fourth quarter. I would say that he made some ridiculous shots, but at this point that’s a given. Draymond Green posted another good all-around game, with 11 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, a block, and great defense on LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored just five points. And the bench scored 53. Against what is by far the best defense in the NBA, the Warriors shot 52% from the field, 42% from three, and 84% from the line. They outrebounded the bigger Spurs (although San Antonio was playing without Tim Duncan) and more importantly sped the game up to a pace that the Spurs clearly weren’t comfortable with. Sure, they turned the ball over 21 times, but that’s something that always comes with their style, as they rank fifth in the league in turnovers per game. But the Spurs turned it over 25 times, nearly double their 13.1 average. The game was a scrimmage by the fourth quarter, but that was only because the Warriors absolutely obliterated the Spurs in the first three quarters, taking a 95-66 lead into the fourth quarter. Given that the teams entered the game with a combined 78-10 record, you would figure that a streak would have been broken one way or another. That is in fact true, but we’ll get to the Spurs in a second. First, I think it’s important to highlight the way the Warriors, who are now 41-4 and on pace to break the Bulls’ record, bounced back from their loss in Detroit. To some extent, Golden State could write off each of their first three losses. The first came on the second night of a back-to-back after they had to go to double overtime on the first night to go to 24-0. The second came without Steph Curry, while the third was without Draymond Green. But the loss to the Pistons? They had no such excuse in that one. They were two days removed from an easy win against the Lakers and had their team healthy, and they lost by 18. Sure, Curry got his 38 and Klay Thompson his 24, but Green shot just 1-7 from the field while the bench combined for 17 points. They shot 36% from the field, while the Pistons shot 47%, turned the ball over just nine times, and, thanks to Andre Drummond, destroyed them on the glass. Basically, they got their butts kicked. Since that loss, their second in three games, the Warriors have played the Cavs, Bulls, Pacers, and Spurs, four teams that have won a combined two-thirds of their games. They beat Cleveland by 34 (in Cleveland), Chicago by 31 (in Chicago), Indiana by 12, and San Antonio by 30. Who says the record is unattainable? Sure, the losses to Denver and Detroit hurt, but the Warriors still have some losses to spare, and, starting March 1st, they’ll play 17 of their final 24 games at home, where they still haven’t lost. Yes, they have two games in San Antonio, a place where the Spurs haven’t lost, but, again, they can lose those two and still break the record. With the wizardry of Curry and the depth around him, I wouldn’t underestimate this team under any circumstances.

Despite Golden State’s 40-4 record heading into the game, San Antonio was the team ranked atop most power rankings, and for good reason. The Warriors just ended one of the best stretches a team has ever had. I mean, I was trying to find an interval over which the Spurs played their very best, but I just kept going back and back and back, because they blew out teams time after time after time.

Visual representation of Spurs' average margin of victory/defeat this season

Visual representation of Spurs’ average margin of victory/defeat this season

There it is visually, but I’ll give some numbers. First of all, they were carrying a 13 game winning streak heading into the game last night. But for a team that was 38-6 before the shellacking, that’s not all that surprising. At the end of November, the Spurs were 14-4 with a +9 point differential. They were clearly a very good team, but they were being totally ignored, both because the Warriors were undefeated and because they weren’t that good (or any better than any previous Spurs team). Between December first and last night, the Spurs were 24-2. Here’s a little graph summarizing the differences between the two stretches of time I’ve split this Spurs half-season into.

  Pts per gm Pts allowed Differential FG% FG% against 3P% 3P% against
Before Dec. 1 98.8 89.8 9 46.8% 42.3% 36.1% 32.3%
After Dec. 1 108 89.7 18.3 50.6% 42.9% 40.2% 31.2%

The defensive stats are almost identical across the board. But, almost out of nowhere, the Spurs went from being an average offense to the second-best in the league. As a result, their point differential in those 26 games was a mind-blowing +18.3. I don’t know where to look up whether that’s a record for a 20-30 game stretch, but it has to be, right? I mean, the 1971-72 Lakers had a 33 game winning streak, and in those games they outscored the average opponent by 16 points. That’s incredible, but the Spurs have them beat despite the fact that they lost two games in their stretch. They’ve gotten so much better both because LaMarcus Aldridge has adjusted to his new teammates and is now probably the team’s most efficient offensive option and because the bench has become a complete juggernaut, outscoring opponents by huge margins while their stars rest. For example, in November David West averaged five points per game, Jonathon Simmons averaged 4.2, and Boban Marjanovic put up 1.5; this year, the three are at 9.7, 7.5, and 7.3. The problem is that all of the depth in the world won’t win the Spurs (maybe the best in the Duncan era) a championship if they can’t stop Curry. They have the rest of the season to figure that out; for now, let’s just enjoy the final 30-odd games for both of these historically-great teams.

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