Thursday, April 14, 2016

#24 and #73

What an amazing night for basketball fans.

It was the wonder of the past and of the future, both dazzling in the present moment.

After 20 years, Kobe Bryant played his last NBA game Wednesday night. Older and coming off injuries, his farewell tour performances were often cameos, in the worst Lakers season in their history, breaking last year's record.  But in several games late in the season, there were flashes of the old Kobe.  He scored in the 30 point range a few times.

Wednesday the Lakers were playing Utah, a team that until game time was hoping for a playoff berth, but Houston had nabbed it.  The Lakers players fed Kobe the ball and urged him to shoot just about every time down the court.  But these advantages mean nothing unless you make the baskets.  And Kobe did.  Drives to the hoop, steals and one-man fast breaks, and three pointers.  He hit two three pointers in the last minute and a half of the game, to give the Lakers their first lead.  And improbably, they won.

Even more improbably, Kobe Bryant had scored 60 points in his last NBA game, 23 in the fourth quarter alone.  Nobody his age had ever scored even 40 in their last NBA game.  Kobe, who once scored 81 and had a string of 50 plus nights, hasn't scored 60 since 2009.  He retires as the NBA's third leading scorer.  He was praised before the game by Magic Johnson.  He even hugged Shaq, who was one of Kobe's former teammates on hand for the occasion.

Now Kobe is past.  But the future is at Golden State.

The Golden State Warriors won their 73rd game, breaking the single season record for victories nobody thought would ever be broken.  They had to win their last four games to do it, including two against another team having a remarkable year, the San Antonio Spurs.

Steph Curry scored 46 points, including 10 three pointers.  The record for 3 pointers in a season was set last year (by Curry) at 289.  Earlier this season Curry became the first NBA player to hit 300.  And Wednesday, he became the first to hit more than 400.  He finished the regular season with 402.

This storybook season ended where it should have, at home at Oracle Arena.

Next weekend the Warriors begin the playoffs as the top seed, beginning their quest for a second championship in a row.   That's their immediate future, with a pretty bright future as a team.

What a night for basketball.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


It had to be the most important regular season win in Golden State Warriors history that didn't have direct playoff implications.  Their victory over the Spurs in San Antonio meant they tied for the single season victory record of 72 wins.  They cinched the first time in NBA history that a team did not lose two games in a row, and/or without losing twice to the same team.

Their victory in San Antonio was Golden State's first since 1997, and it ended the Spurs' bid to become the first team to win out at home (though they could still tie the record for the most home wins in a season.)  The Warriors also set an NBA record with 34 road wins in a season.

Though the game had no direct playoff implications--it didn't change the seeding etc.--it sent a powerful message to the Spurs.  The Spurs lost three times to the Dubs this season, including twice in three games. The Warriors beat them despite playing a tough game less than 24 hours earlier, in Memphis.  The Spurs can no longer count on beating them at home.  And it told the Warriors that with Bogut in the lineup, they can be competitive with the Spurs even in San Antonio.

Bogut's presence was crucial, but it was Green's defense and a return to shooting form and audacity by Steph Curry that made the difference in today's game.  Other players like Thompson and Barnes made key shots--and generally it was the kind of team effort that is the Warriors at their best.

One victory like this changes the story.  Recent struggles can be seen as learning experiences, partly due to reintegrating players back from injuries.  A victory like today's reignites the confidence that can buoy them through the playoffs.

Especially if they come out with crispness and confidence to defeat Memphis when they go for the record 73rd win at their home arena on Wednesday.  As unlikely as that possibility may have sounded at the beginning of the season, or a few days ago.  Just think what it must be like to have tickets to that game!

And if you are counting, Steph Curry made 4 3s today, for a season total of 389. [Update: My math seems to be off here.  It was more like 392.] Reaching 400 is an unlikely but possible feat still, though the least meaningful of these records and benchmarks.  After all, nobody has even hit 300 before.

In San Francisco, Johnny Cueto learned some of the major advantages of becoming a Giant.  He had a terrible first inning against the Dodgers, giving up 5 runs.  But Bruce Bochy did not take him out.  Even in the fifth, with two men on and two out, Bochy did not pinch-hit for him, and his at-bat ended the inning in what had become a tight game.

After the first, Cueto settled down and pitched well for the next six innings but he had given up six runs.  Still, he left the field to a standing ovation.  It was his first game in San Francisco as a Giant, and how could he not feel welcomed by that?

The Giants came back fairly quickly in the game courtesy of homers by Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, then again on a homer by Angel Pagan, before Joe Panik broke it open with a double.  The Giants won 9-6, to take 3 out of 4 from the Dodgers.

A word about Pagan.  Some commentators watching him last season came to the opinion that he's washed up.  But as I noted here, he was playing hurt, and it hurt his play.  But he did it to help the team.  This year he was asked to play left field instead of center, and he has done that without complaint and so far with success.  His speed and power are back.  He's been instrumental in several wins so far.  Angel Pagan is a true Giant and a tremendous asset to this team.