MEMPHIS, Tenn. – As both the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies strolled back onto the court with six minutes and 20 seconds to go in the fourth quarter Saturday night, a familiar song began to blare through the FedEx Forum’s sound system.
The song was “Sirius,” an Alan Parsons Project song that came out in 1982. What it’s known for, however, is being the introduction music for the Chicago Bulls – most notably during Michael Jordan’s tenure with the franchise, including when they won an NBA record 72 games during the 1995-96 season.
The song is often played during the fourth quarters of close games, according to the Grizzlies, and wasn’t tied to Golden State in any way. But it’s timing at that specific point in the game, as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were checking back into the game, couldn’t have been more fascinating.
At that point, Memphis held a 90-80 lead, having somehow outplayed the Warriors by a significant margin. This was despite barely being able to field a complete NBA roster over the past several weeks because of a ridiculous number of injuries. Of the 10 players who saw time for Memphis on Saturday night, five of them weren’t on the team two months ago, and stars Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol all sat out with injuries.
“We’ve just had to get to know each other’s names,” Memphis Coach Dave Joerger said, half-joking, before the game.
Having entered Saturday night’s game with a 70-9 record, it was Sunday night’s game in San Antonio – not this one, against the hobbled Grizzlies – that was supposed to be the one to determine if the record would fall. Yet, when that song came on, it felt like it was a sign that this would be the night that would end Golden State’s chances of exceeding those 72 wins by the Bulls.
But from then on, whether it was conscious or not, a switch flipped for the Warriors. After being unable to get anything going until then, Golden State immediately ripped off a 12-3 run over the next three minutes to pull to within one. And, after eventually pulling ahead on a Harrison Barnes 3-pointer with 1:40 to go, and again on a remarkable tip-in by Draymond Green with exactly a minute left, Golden State managed to escape with a 100-99 victory.
“It’s pretty awesome just to be a part of this whole thing,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who also was a member of the ’96 Bulls. “I never imagined, when I was with the Bulls, anyone would ever come close.
“We’re close. We have a couple games left. We’ll see what happens.”
Given how most of this game went, it’s almost miraculous that the Warriors are off to San Antonio for Sunday’s game with a shot at the record still intact. Curry was uncharacteristically cold, going 7-for-22 overall and 3-for-14 from three-point range, while Klay Thompson (7-for-16, 2-for-10) wasn’t any better.
That set the tone for a sluggish effort from the Warriors for the vast majority of this game, as they just seemed a step slow and a moment behind their normal deadly efficiency at both ends of the court. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were playing – like so many teams have against Golden State over the past couple months – like it was a deciding game of a playoff series.
So at the start of the fourth quarter, while Golden State’s coaches were conferring, Green – the most outspoken player on the team in general, and about going after the record specifically – lit into his teammates, extolling them to match Memphis’ effort after the Grizzlies closed the third with a 15-5 run.
“Just play hard,” Green said of his message to his team. “Just compete.
“I don’t believe in taking this game for granted. I love this game too much. I put too much heart and soul into this game to take it for granted.
“There are so many guys who want to be in this position … don’t take this for granted.”
Things didn’t change, though, until Curry and Green checked in. Then, finally, the Warriors began to look like themselves. But after clawing themselves back into the game – including Curry setting a screen on, of all people, burly Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph to allow Green to get a layup – it wasn’t until Green managed to somehow tip in that Curry missed layup with a minute to go that Golden State was ahead for good.
The final minute wasn’t without its own drama, though. Randolph missed a jumper at one end, and then Curry capped off a frustrating night by missing two straight 3-pointers that would’ve put the game away.
That gave Memphis one final chance to win the game, but when Vince Carter inbounded the ball to Lance Stephenson, he predictably drove into multiple defenders and fired up two separate shots – one that was blocked, and then another that clanged off the side of the backboard – that missed, ensuring Golden State’s pursuit of history would live on for at least another day.
“I’ve always said from day one, when people ask me when you’re done or when you’re gone what do you want to people to remember you as, I want people to remember me as a winner,” Green said.
“To have an all-time wins record, that speaks for itself.”
Thanks to those final six minutes and 20 seconds Saturday night, the Warriors still have a chance to go for it.