By Aaron Stanley
We’ve seen two instances in the past decade where powerhouse teams have exhausted themselves in chasing a regular season milestone only to flounder in the playoffs.
The New England Patriots went 16-0 in 2007 to post without a doubt the most dominant regular season performance in modern football history. But we all remember how they met their match in Eli Manning, David Tyree and the New York Football Giants who stunningly upset Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl.
We are seeing this phenomenon again this year with the Golden State Warriors. They exhausted themselves during the regular season en route to an immortal 73-9 record, but all of a sudden in the playoffs they have looked remarkably vulnerable and, at times, average.
When I began to look at this topic, the Warriors were down 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals, including two blowout losses, to Oklahoma City — a team that they manhandled four times during the regular season.
Don’t look now, but the Warriors are gassed and have been unable to avoid being blown out when Steph Curry has not been 100 percent. They have lost five of 15 games in the postseason after losing just nine of 82 during the regular season and have come under criticism for foolishly wasting energy on a regular season record.
The Thunder, to their credit, were playing their best basketball of the year. They easily manhandled a solid Dallas Mavericks team in the opening round before stunning the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs — who posted an equally absurd 67-15 regular season record — in six games in the conference semifinals.
Should’ve Billy Donovan and his Thunder squad advance and ultimately knock off Cleveland in the Finals, Oklahoma City’s playoff run would have to be remembered as one of the greatest in history.
But if the Warriors had failed to advance, how will they be remembered? Ultimately, the true question here is measuring what is more impressive — the regular season wins record or a title?
Most observers would say it’s all about the rings. You can be a regular season paper champion all day long but it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that ring. Thus, Golden State erred by going for the record and not resting its players down the stretch.
I would argue that rings are definitely important, there is something unique about this wins record that cements the Warriors in the annals of basketball history, even if they do end up choking in the playoffs because they overexerted themselves during the season.
First of all, it’s not as if the Warriors don’t already have their ring — they won the whole thing last season.
Secondly, of all the great Bulls teams of the Michael Jordan-era, the 1995-96 squad that won 72 games is heralded as the greatest single season performance of all time. At a certain point, a ring just becomes another ring. If you really want to be remembered as a truly elite team, you have to go above and beyond. By hitting 73 wins, the Warriors did something that no other team — whether led by Kobe, LeBron, Shaw, Jordan, Duncan or anyone else has ever accomplished.
Critics also overlook the fact that Golden State had serious competition for the No.1 seed in the Western Conference. San Antonio was also winning at a freakish pace for most of the season before it started resting all of its key guys down the stretch (look where that got them).
Also, while a major reason for Golden State’s playoff struggles has been nagging injuries to all-world point guard Steph Curry, these injuries have been due to fluke events like slipping on a wet floor more so than regular season wear and tear.
If the Warriors fail to capture the NBA title, it should be attributed to the great play of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the new Big Three, not because they burned themselves out shooting for the wins record.