I’ve seen many a team spring a leak due to unmanageable expectations. I’ve watched with my own eyes as passes that would otherwise be caught uncharacteristically bounce off the hands, as simple throws that a QB makes in his sleep find themselves sailing over receivers’ heads, as shots that barely even touch the rim in normal circumstances rim out, as the simple act of fielding a ground ball becomes a serious exercise.
Teams will often scoff at the idea that they are affected by the noise that surrounds them. Great teams scoff far more loudly than most, mainly because the noise that surrounds them is far more ‘noisy,’ for lack of a better word. But behind this facade of aggressive scoffing lies a nugget of acceptance — the noise does make a difference, and it does change how players play the game.
Prior to their game against the Boston Celtics last Friday, the Golden State Warriors had, according to ESPN, a greater than 70 percent chance of finishing the season with a new NBA record in regular season wins. They dropped that game, which broke a mind-blowing 54 game winning streak at home. The loss significantly dented their record-breaking chances, but lightning doesn’t strike twice, right?
The Dubs then got pasted by the Minnesota Timberwolves (a close-to-lottery team) at home AGAIN just two days ago. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to do the math, but at 69-9 with four games to go, there is only one outcome which guarantees the Warriors a piece of basketball history — going undefeated.
I’ve watched some pretty remarkable undefeated streaks in my young (and quickly getting older) life. I saw my beloved New England Patriots fight, claw and run up the score on their way to an 18-0 record that was shattered by Eli Manning, David Tyree, a helmet, some super glue and numerous uncalled offensive holding penalties (sobs). I saw the Boston Red Sox go down 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS before running off four straight wins to become the first baseball team to EVER overturn a series deficit of that magnitude before running off four MORE wins to sweep the World Series.
In the former case, the massive expectations on the Patriots were a curse, weighing down an otherwise mentally robust team and causing them to severely underperform on the biggest stage of all. The Patriots’ opponent in the Super Bowl, the New York Giants, conversely had absolutely no pressure on them and had otherwise acquitted themselves well in a regular season-ending matchup with the Patriots; they fed on this to produce a simply stunning result.
In the latter case, the utter lack of expectations on the Red Sox was a huge blessing — the Sox, lead by a group of never-say-die “idiots,” had absolutely no pressure on them to actually win the series after falling into a hitherto not overcome deficit, while the hated Bronx Bombers were facing a long-term World Series “drought” (by their exalted standards) and the wrath of their fans.
The pages of sports history are rife with fallen giants, teams that had all the momentum and somehow lost it. The ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls (the very team this Warriors squad is chasing) themselves felt the pressure, later calling the end of the season a grind, dropping two of their last four games at home and setting the 72-win record in what they later called the absolute worst win of the season. Sound familiar? The Warriors have also dropped two of their last three games at home and appear to be biding their time until the playoffs start.
The Warriors are absolutely capable of running off four straight wins in a vacuum — heck, they ran off 28 earlier this season. However, standing in their way are two (?!) games against the San Antonio Spurs, which themselves are having a historic season and are trying to become the first ever team to finish a season unbeaten at home. And the Spurs, playing second fiddle in this crazy season, seem to be turning up the intensity at the perfect time.
In my opinion, the Warriors should go after the record. I hear a lot of talk about how they’d be better served resting their starters, but the chance to set an ALL-TIME UNBREAKABLE NBA record is too good to pass up. The players will never forgive themselves if they look back 30 years later and wonder “what if.” But I also believe that the second they lose a game, they should pack up the bags and prepare for the postseason — their starters are wearing down and the playoffs are going to be a grind in this historically good Western Conference. Owing to tight column deadlines, you (the reader) will see this column after the Warriors play the Spurs at Roaracle — hopefully what I have written still applies in some regard! Go Dubs.
Author’s note: Dear reader, forgive me for being repetitive, since this is the fifth Warriors article I have written this season, but the ongoing pursuit of basketball immortality has a way of exciting silly little sportswriters like yours truly. Additionally, I am attempting to perpetuate a massive reverse jinx in order to better the Warriors’ chances of setting the record.
Check in on Vignesh Venkataraman’s blood pressure and emotional health during these nerve-wracking final games of the season in the Warriors’ pursuit of history at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.