OAKLAND, Calif. – With history within reach, with immortality so close he could grab ahold of it with both hands, Stephen Curry wasn’t about to let it slip away.
So, at the start of the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game between his Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies, with 24 minutes standing between him and an all-time record of 73 wins, the NBA’s transcendent talent ensured the Warriors would make history in a way only he could.
With a barrage of 3-pointers coupled with some dizzying drives to the rim, Curry finished with 46 points to lead the Warriors to a 125-104 evisceration of the Grizzlies in front of a sellout crowd inside Oracle Arena.
“It’s a great way to finish off an amazing season,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I just told our guys I’d never, in a million years, guess that record would ever be broken. I thought it was like [Joe] DiMaggio’s hit streak, really, and I was wrong.
“But I will say the same thing now that I said 20 years ago: I don’t think this one will ever be broken.”
History was made multiple ways in this one. Not only did Golden State clinch the all-time wins record by beating Memphis, but Curry further cemented his status as the best outside shooter of all-time by making 10 three-pointers, allowing him to finish with 402 this season.
For context, no player in NBA history had ever made 300 in a season before this year.
“For him to come out the way he did was incredible,” Draymond Green said of Curry’s performance. “It pretty much sums up the year he’s had.”
It was a fitting conclusion to what has been a season for the ages for these Warriors, and for Curry himself. Golden State began the year a pristine 24-0, escaping from games against the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers that could’ve been losses, putting them on track to potentially make history.
From those opening weeks of the season forward, this team, and its pursuit of history, have overshadowed the rest of the sport. A living legend, Kobe Bryant, was making his farewell tour around the league. The San Antonio Spurs recorded the most wins in that illustrious franchise’s history. One of the game’s most prominent players, Kevin Durant, is set to be a free agent this summer – a surefire discussion starter in any season.
All of them were swallowed up by Golden State’s attempts to chase down Jordan’s Bulls. And, after the Warriors went to San Antonio and handed the Spurs their first home loss of the season Sunday night to improve to 72-9, it appeared the hard work had been done.
Golden State had one game left on its schedule, against a Memphis team that came into the game having lost 13 of its previous 16, as a litany of injuries to key players this season has finally caught up to Coach Dave Joerger and his team. But the Grizzlies played the Warriors as tough as possible in Memphis Saturday night, having the ball with the chance to win on the game’s final possession before falling short.
On this night, though, the challenge would be much greater. Golden State had gone 39-2 at home entering Wednesday’s season finale, and the fact the Grizzlies pushed the Warriors as much as they did Saturday meant there was no chance of being overlooked.
Still, the opportunity to stand in the way of history was something Joerger and his team relished.
“This is an opportunity to be part of something,” Joerger said. “It’s very humbling for me, just [being] a guy out there, a guy from Central Minnesota, growing up [and getting] a chance to be a part of something like this, in this atmosphere.
“I love coaching this team, and to be part of this, they feel the specialness, too, of the moment and what it is tonight.
“We’ll go out there and give everything we’ve got.”
The problem for Joerger and his team, though, is that when Curry and Klay Thompson are shooting like they were Wednesday night, there is no team on the planet capable of stopping them.
A little less than three years ago, when this Warriors team was in the midst of beating the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, Golden State’s coach at the time, Mark Jackson, made a bold proclamation about his young backcourt.
“In my opinion,” Jackson said, “they’re the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game.”
Jackson was derided by many back then, and accused of trying to overhype his own players. Instead, he’s proven to be prophetic, as Curry and Thompson now own the top four single-season 3-point totals in NBA history, and five of the top seven.
And, on this night, the two of them ensured there would be no repeat of Saturday’s nail-biter.
Curry had 20 points in the first quarter alone, burying six 3-pointers in the opening 12 minutes alone to move within two of reaching an unimaginable 400 for the season.
The game, for all intents and purposes, seemed over at that point, despite there still being three quarters left to play. But all that extra time did was allow for Curry to put on one final, spectacular show in front of his hometown fans this regular season in the third.
He opened the second half with a three-pointer from the right corner off an assist from Andrew Bogut – a shot that both got him to 400 three-pointers for the season, as well as putting the Warriors up 73-53. From there, Curry made a circus layup, buried a three-pointer and drove down the lane for a fancy finger roll to score the opening 10 points of the second half for Golden State, and officially put the game out of reach.
Curry then comfortably watched the final 12 minutes from a seat on the bench next to Green, as the Warriors siphoned off the time until the clock hit zero and confetti fired into the air.
The playoffs are still to come, but history had been made. The Golden State Warriors, and their transcendent talent, had done the unthinkable.
“It means I’m part of the best team ever,” Green said.
Through 82 games, it’s impossible to argue with him.