There was nothing normal about the start of the season for the Golden State Warriors.
Gregg Popovich worried about human nature last season with San Antonio for good reason — it’s normal for teams that just won a title to come out flat to start the next regular season. They go from the high of playing under intense pressure and winning in games where every possession is crucial to the first steps of what can feel like a tedious marathon, and they aren’t as sharp.
Not Golden State. Fueled by the perceived slight that the world saw them as “lucky” — you can thank Doc Rivers for stoking that flame — the Warriors came out playing at a high level with a chip on their shoulder. They steamrolled teams, caught a few breaks, watched Stephen Curry play like the runaway MVP, and raced out to a 24-0 start to the season.
Until Saturday night in Milwaukee, when normalcy returned.
Now the Warriors can start to focus on the real prize.
The buildup for this loss started last Tuesday when the Warriors’ bench was handed a 28 point lead against the Pacers and could not hold it — the starters had to come back in to close out the game, and that is when Klay Thompson rolled his ankle and got hurt. With Thompson sidelined, the Celtics softened the Warriors up Friday night with a double overtime game that felt like a series of body blows. The Warriors were ripe for the picking.
Saturday night Warriors defense was not sharp, particularly their rotations. On offense Golden State always seems to do the smart thing, but against Milwaukee that didn’t happen — for example, the Warriors didn’t draw the slow-footed Gregg Monroe into pick-and-roll situations. In fact, Monroe completely outplayed Draymond Green when the Warriors went small. And for reasons hard to understand, Luke Walton tried to play two big man lineups a lot.
The Warriors had an off night, and a motivated Bucks team played their best game of the young season and Milwaukee ended the Warriors record-setting start 108-95.
So now what for Warriors? Green said it best, as reported by Ethan Strauss of ESPN.
“I told the guys postgame, now we can have a regular season,” Green said. “It’s been kind of a playoff feel to this, just with the streak and all the media around, all the attention around.”
Things will be normal. And maybe a little bit dull.
But the Warriors have the work of the regular season still to do. That means developing good habits that can be relied on in the pressure cooker of the playoffs. That means staying healthy — Harrison Barnes is out injured still, and you can bet other key Warriors players will start getting rested soon. The Warriors know they can trust their starters, they know they can win with small ball, but they need to find other lineups that they can use and trust situationally to win. They need to get those defensive rotations sharpened.
When the book on these Warriors is written, and we start discussing their legacy, this record-setting streak to begin the season will be part of it. But not the biggest part. Look at it this way, when LeBron James was in Miami the Heat won 27 in a row mid-season once — how often do we discuss that compared to the four trips to the Finals and those results? The streak is a nice side note, something that punched up what can be a long, grinding slog of a regular season. But true legacies are decided in June. Not December.