By winning their first 24 games of the 2015-16 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors broke a record among all North American professional sports teams, in history. The MLB's St. Louis Maroons -- in 1884 -- started the season 20-0, a mark Golden State flew by before losing the Bucks 104-95 on December 12.
Rightfully so, regardless of how their season ends, the Warriors will go down in the annals of sports history for their legendary and historic start. But, if it weren't for a turnaround three from Andre Iguodala or a point-blank layup that Brook Lopez shanked, the record would still belong to the Maroons and, maybe, these Warriors would be seen as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill elite team.
When the Nets faced the Warriors on November 14 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Brooklyn was 1-8 -- just three days after the team's first win of the season -- and Golden State was 10-0 (already 5-0 at home). It was a matchup between a team expected to be one of the worst in the NBA and the defending champions. It shouldn't have been close, but it was.
This Nets team looked much different than the one that lost by 18 to the Wizards on Wednesday. Jarrett Jack was still healthy. Joe Johnson and Andrea Bargnani (!!) were still Nets and Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young weren't shut down. Even Lionel Hollins was the coach and Billy King was the general manager!
Klay Thompson (back) didn't play for the Warriors, which might have contributed to the hot start the Nets got off to in the first quarter, after which they led 36-21. Thaddeus Young took -- and made -- seven shots from the field while Jack added nine points against his former team, which he always seems to play well against.
But, both sides quickly reverted to their own means as the Warriors quickly came back from their early deficit with a 31-point second quarter. As they have done countless times this season, the Nets let a double-digit first half lead go by the wayside and held a slim 54-52 advantage at the half.
It seemed like the script that would be followed often by the 2015-16 Nets and felt like an impending Warriors' blowout win behind a barrage of Stephen Curry threes. However, that's not what happened, as Brooklyn locked down in the third quarter and limited Golden State to just 18 points on 8-of-23 shooting to go back up seven heading into the final frame.
I'll just leave this here as I wonder how different this season would have been if Jack never got hurt on that fastbreak against the Celtics back in January:
Slowly and steadily, after initially holding the Warriors back at the beginning of the fourth, the Nets saw their lead slip away as their chances of being the first team to give Golden State a loss faded. Then, with just 4:35 left in regulation, Stephen Curry did what Stephen Curry does to put the home team up 86-85.
After that, both teams exchanged scores until Brook Lopez missed a contested shot in the lane that could have given the Nets a one-point lead. But, Thaddeus Young stole the ball back after a Golden State rebound which led to a Jarrett Jack drive and a pair of go-ahead free throws.
Jack sunk both free throws and then Curry, on a wild dash to the hoop, missed a crazy layup attempt that Thad rebounded. But, since no win is ever as easy for the Nets as it should be, Golden State's press forced an eight-second violation that gave the Warriors the ball right back.
It appeared as if Thad was expecting the Warriors to foul but they didn't, were able to trap Jarrett Jack and force the massive turnover.
Upon further review, though, it appeared as if Lionel Hollins (feels weird to mention him at this point of the year) was calling for a timeout that Mitchell Ervin (the official) didn't grant. Anyway, the Warriors would turn the ball over -- thanks to an incredible defensive play by Jack -- and Thad would retrieve the ball, get fouled and make both shots. 97-94 Nets with 10 seconds left.
Now is when the game really got crazy. With the Warriors controlling the ball and needing a three-pointer to tie, the Nets could have opted to intentionally foul to force them to take free throws and significantly increase the difficulty of the comeback attempt. It's the age-old (basketball) dilemma of whether to foul or play good defense. The Nets didn't foul, and it came back to hurt them.
After the in-bounds pass came to Draymond Green -- who had his back to the basket! -- Thad decided not to foul which allowed Draymond to get the ball to Andre Iguodala, a 35 percent three-point shooter. Joe Johnson also chose not to foul Iguodala, who then knocked down a contested triple to tie the score at 97.
But that's not all! Jack, from a distance similar to that of a shot he made to beat the Warriors last season, had a decent look right from Wayne Ellington's pass in the corner to give the Nets a lead that was oh so close to going to. It went off Curry, though, and gave Brooklyn another chance.
0.5 seconds were put on the clock for the Nets, more than enough to get a decent shot off and that is exactly what they did.
With Thad inbounding the ball, Brooklyn didn't have much going on in terms of movement so he threw the ball up to Brook Lopez, who got away with a little push-off against Andrew Bogut to catch the ball and get a clean look. It turned out to be a wide open 3-footer for Lopez, who makes that type of shot 999 out of 1000 times. Unfortunately, that one time happened to come at the buzzer against a team that would go on to win 13 more games in a row. Brutal.
That miss, which Brook and the Nets -- as well as yours truly -- simply couldn't believe, sent the game into overtime, which the Warriors dominated en route to a 107-99 win. In the end, it was just another loss for the Nets -- who now have 57 -- and another victory for the Warriors, who would end up winning a bunch more games before losing (and many more at home). But the Nets were an inch or so short of making sure history was never made, which is as good as anything to result from this season.