The Golden State Warriors are just five wins from history, and with each passing night it's getting harder to imagine the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' record actually standing. Golden State's defense, impeccable shooting, unmatched late-game execution ... it's real. All of it.
Golden State improved to 68-7 with a close, yet oddly comfortable 103-96 overtime win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. The Jazz had multiple chances to put the game away late, including a possession with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a tied game, but failed to execute.
The Warriors, meanwhile, continue to give a master class in how to finish basketball games. Between the ruthlessly efficient shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the do-it-all stylings of Draymond Green, Golden State has found a formula that leaves opponents scrambling. Even as the Jazz led in the waning moments of the fourth quarter Wednesday, there was a cool confidence surrounding the Warriors.
You almost wonder if part of it is psychology at this point. The Jazz haven't been great in close, late situations this season, but their breakdown continued a pattern of opponents falling apart late against Golden State. It almost seems like everyone in the building is waiting for the Warriors to put their stamp on a game even when they're losing. When the Warriors were down three with 24 seconds left, you knew the team would attempt a three-pointer. You also expected it to go in.
And it did. Thompson hit the big three with 15 seconds remaining to tie the game at 89, which forced an overtime period during which Golden State pulled away quickly. Once the Jazz let their chance to win slip away on that final possession in regulation, it seemed inevitable that Golden State would go on to victory.
Green in particular was special in this one. The box score doesn't tell an amazing story -- 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks in 43 minutes -- but he made some key plays in overtime that were characteristic of a superstar. One was a monster dunk that effectively put the game away. The other was an individual defensive stop that practically no other player could pull off.
Green cuts off two different ballhandlers, forcing a desperate three to beat the shot clock, then rises up to grab the rebound. It's a one-man stop, the kind that only a select few defenders are even capable of trying. A player with Green's athleticism who also has the ability to protect the rim gives Golden State an unmatched post weapon late in games. We already know what they're working with on the perimeter.
The Warriors have seven games remaining -- including two apiece against San Antonio and Memphis. They need to win five of them in order to surpass 72-10 and make history. Given their unparalleled ability to not screw up late in games, it's getting harder to see exactly where the losses might come.
2 other things
A historic night in Toronto
The Raptors earned a crucial win over the Hawks on Wednesday to strengthen their hold on the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The real story, however, is that Toronto improved its record to 50-24, becoming the final team in the NBA to have a 50-win season.
Setting a single-season franchise win record is always a big deal, but especially so for Toronto given the power of round numbers. All the other 29 NBA teams have reached the big five-oh at some point in their respective histories, but since the Raptors joined the league for the 1995-96 season, they had never done so. After falling just short at 49-33 a year ago, Toronto needed just 74 games to do it this season.
As Raptors HQ explains, this was a special night for fans who haven't seen their team be all that successful over two decades of existence.
The Lakers' rookie guard apologized Wednesday night for recording Nick Young and the subsequent controversy, but the way fans responded to him at the Staples Center indicated that all is still not well for Russell in Hollywood. Loud boos could be heard when Russell was announced during pregame player introductions, then during the game whenever he touched the ball.
Young said before the game that he wanted to speak with Russell in private about the situation, which doesn't appear to be fully resolved yet. While Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, is expected to be a cornerstone for LA going forward, everyone involved is going to have to work to rebuild relationships. One of those relationships will be between Russell and some fans who are clearly upset that the future face of the franchise slipped up in his responsibilities as a teammate.
A fan behind press row just yelled "traitor" when D'Angelo Russell touched the ball.— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) March 31, 2016
Russell seemed genuinely contrite when he apologized in front of reporters before the game, so it seems a matter of time before everyone moves on.
The 20-year-old finished with 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting and four rebounds as the Lakers surprised the Heat in a 102-100 overtime win.
Play of the night
We would have given it to Green for that miraculous defensive stop, but it's already included above. So let's appreciate the sneakiness of this play by Marcelo Huertas, who hides behind Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra long enough to give himself a chance to creep up behind the ball-handler and poke the ball away. We see big dunks and blocks and passes most nights. But this? We probably won't see something like this again for a while.
6 fun things
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Clutch Shot: Draymond Green channels Steph Curry for big 3-pointer
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