Here’s a link to my column about the Warriors 16th straight win. The full text runs below.
OAKLAND — The Warriors are the best.
Tuesday night, they won their sixteenth game in a row to start this new season. Sixteen without a loss. Best start in National Basketball Association history. The game itself was nothing, an easy 111-77 blowout of the Lakers.
When the Warriors walked to their locker room, they didn’t whoop and holler. “We said, ‘Congratulations,’ ” Festus Ezeli said. “That’s it. We realize we have accomplished something great, but there’s still a lot of journey left, so we just said congratulations and we get back to work.”
Certainly 16-0 is a big story. It’s only part of a bigger story. The crux of the issue is Steve Kerr who isn’t coaching because of a serious back condition. I’ll get back to Kerr in a moment, but first the historic details.
The record for the best start in a season — 15-0 — belonged to the 1948 Washington Capitols and the 1993 Houston Rockets. Which means the record was very old and very good and very hard to beat. These Warriors could be one of the greatest teams ever.
They spit in the league’s eye to prove it. After they won their championship last season, players and coaches on other teams complained. Something about the Warriors championship not being legit — they didn’t face the Spurs or Clippers in the playoffs.
Forget that the Warriors went through the playoffs never facing a seventh game, never being in trouble. Forget that they had a league-best 67 wins. The historic start to this season puts the lie to the whiny complaints. The Warriors are saying, “We are defending our title like no one ever defended a title. No complaining accepted.”
The Warriors lead the league in scoring. Every guy on floor can score. Most can bury 3-pointers. They are so fast, so accurate, so unselfish. They overcome big deficits in a single bound.
And they are tough defenders. They fight opponents muscle for muscle, sinew for sinew. A few years ago, the league saw them as a soft team. Push the Warriors around. Intimidate them. Now, they are the intimidators, the predators. The universe flipped on its axis.
It’s all about Kerr. You can see him at Warriors practices. Well, maybe you can’t see him. You have to look hard. He is a visual afterthought. Most of the time, he’s on the side of the court — out of bounds — doing his rehab. He is a man trying to get well. In his absence he is a presence.
What does that mean?
It means he installed a system and instilled a mindset. And it took hold with his coaches and players. Kerr is talking to them even when he’s not talking to them. It’s unclear anyone else could have done this — walked away from a championship team, and the team got better. Because of him.
What’s his system?
On offense, the Warriors pass the ball so quickly you can lose sight of it. They take advantage of new basketball, sinking 3-pointers galore. So many teams still play for two points. The Warriors always seem to trade three for two.
And the Warriors defense can beat any team on smarts and muscle. The Warriors understand the standard Kerr created and still demands and so do the coaches. It is in their heads. Kerr is in their heads, even though he didn’t go into the locker room after the win.
“If you get this record tonight,” I asked interim coach Luke Walton before the game, “what influence will Steve Kerr have had on it?
“Oh, everything. Everything we do is based on what Steve has set up. We try to mimic what we think Steve would do. We continue to preach to the guys the lessons and the values he put in when he got here.”
“Did he have a message for you and the team today?” someone asked.
“He was great,” Walton said. “We have core values as a team. He put them up on the white board. He reminded the guys what those values were.”
“Can you tell us what those values are?” I asked.
“The first one, and the most important one, is probably joy. He wants us having fun. It’s a long season. This game’s meant to be fun. There’s mindfulness. There’s compassion for each other. And for the game. And then there’s competition. When we hit those four things, we’re not only very tough to beat, but we’re very fun to watch. We’re very fun to coach. We’re very fun to be around.”
Of course, Walton spoke about the streak, but he downplayed it. “Obviously, we’re not putting too much time and effort into that. We’re more concerned with the growth of our team.” Meaning the streak is a minor milestone.
What about tying or surpassing the 1995 Bulls’ 72 wins, the most in league history?
“The 72 thing is far, far away,” Walton said. “We’re not going to coach trying to chase that record. We’re still going to give players nights off on back-to-backs. And we’ll do our best to limit minutes for some players. Our main concern is being healthy come playoff time.”
There could be other concerns. Kobe Bryant, who knows a thing or two about hoops, had this to say about the Warriors afterward: “The challenge for them is going to be conflict. You’ve got to have some kind of internal conflict thing, keeps the team on edge. Because if not, it becomes so easy you just kind of coast, you kind of fall into a malaise. Draymond (Green) seems to really be the guy that drives the team every day in practice. So, they’re going to need to have some type of challenge internally to push themselves.”
Walton gave his own fair warning. “Eventually, we will lose,” he said.
It was the prudent thing to say, pure Steve Kerr in its wisdom and balance and truth. At this moment, it just feels wrong.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.