Last Wednesday, as most people reading this will be aware of, the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their final fixture to record the best regular-season record in NBA history.
It was the culmination of an incredible season, with the team overcoming coach Steve Kerr’s absence for the first half of the year as Stephen Curry elevated his game to yet another level and will become a back to back MVP.
But does this now place extra pressure on the Warriors as they go through the NBA playoffs as the greatest regular season team ever?
Some analysts have suggested that Golden State’s accomplishment will be undermined if they cannot finish the season with the championship, and say they would then be unable to call this the greatest season of all time.
The Need to Win
What it certainly does do is give the Warriors’ opponents even more motivation, as any team that meets them throughout this playoff run will all dream of boasting about preventing the greatest season in history.
Back in the 1996 playoffs, when the Chicago Bulls had set the previous regular-season record of 72-10, they had been the first team in history ever to win more than 70 games.
Yet during the playoffs, the Bulls adopted the mantra “72-10. Don’t mean a thing without the ring” as they knew the importance of not tarnishing their season.
The Warriors will know this too. In modern day sport, it is extremely difficult for athletes to ever avoid headlines or what is being said about them, even if some still try to.
However, Golden State are different, they actively encourage reading what is said about them, particularly anything negative about the side, which they often bring up in pre-match press conferences and use as extra motivation.
Heading into this season motivation was always going to be the toughest task, as it is for any previous champion, yet this Warriors side, who had been the best team of the previous season, felt they had been disrespected all summer.
No sooner than the champagne bottles had been popped after their game six win in Cleveland secured the title, talk was already beginning to spread about how much ‘luck’ the Bay Area side had been given.
Lucky that they had not faced the San Antonio Spurs, lucky that they had played injured point guards in every playoff round, lucky that Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving only played one game combined in the NBA Finals.
This had clearly stewed in the Warriors for months and they came back with possibly more motivation than any previous champion ever before to prove that their season was not just pure luck.
Two weeks before the season even began Steph Curry offered a sarcastic apology in a pre-season press gathering, declaring the team were sorry for beating who was in front of them, sorry for not getting injured and sorry for all their awards.
Maybe we should have known when Curry finished that statement with the words “We’ll rectify that situation this year” what was to come.
So yes, the Warriors know that not winning the title from this point, barring any serious injuries to key members of this team will stain the season, they’ve read all the articles and seen the tweets.
Draymond Green had even admitted ahead of the playoffs that the 73-9 record will mean nothing if the Warriors do not close the deal.
The Warriors are already set to progress to the second round of the Western Conference, currently 2-1 up over Houston in their opening series, with Curry only playing 20 minutes of the three games so far.
Curry suffered a slight ankle injury during the opening match, but is set to return this Sunday. So if the issue does not continue, as expected, it will be difficult to see Houston winning another game.
They should comfortably finish off Houston, but as they go further into the playoffs you can be sure that as the intensity rises, the pressure of 73-9 will be propelled into the spotlight even more.
But Golden State are well aware of this, they know better than anyone, and if one team has coped with pressure and proven people wrong over and over again, it is them.
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