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Fast start, focus helped Warriors set course for history

Golden State concocts perfect formula for success en route to a record-setting 73-win season

POSTED: Apr 14, 2016 1:25 PM ET

By Kevin Cottrell Jr.

Special to NBA.com

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GameTime: A Look At Golden State

Check out this recap of the Warriors' historic season and re-live the journey.

The greatest NBA team of all-time debate is endless. Some list the 1985-86 and 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers, the 1986-87 Boston Celtics and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as worthy candidates. One title not up for debate? The team with the greatest season of all-time, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 125-104 on Wednesday for an NBA-record 73rd victory. The 1995-96 Bulls held the record for 20 years before that and it was a mark once touted an unreachable.

So exactly how did the Warriors do the unthinkable?

Grizzlies vs. Warriors

Stephen Curry explodes for 46 points, with ten threes notching over 400 3-pointers in a season, and leads Golden State over Memphis to notch the Warriors' historic 73rd win to set an NBA record.

It begins with a 24-0 start to 2015-16, which placed them two games ahead of the 22-2 start the '95-96 Bulls got off to. The Warriors confidence and swagger continued to build in this hot start, boasting a 14.2 points per game differential through the first 24 games. With a two game head start on the once perceived greatest season of all-time, why not go for the record?

"We weren't even thinking about it [73 wins] that far back in the season," Warriors All-Star guard Klay Thompson said. "These last two weeks it's been in the back of our minds but we knew that at any point anything could happen. Injuries could take place, guys could go down and we'd just have to step up. But we really hadn't thought about it until recently."

They may not have discussed chasing the record, but the plan was in motion. During their run to the 2015 NBA championship, the Warriors set one lofty goal: never to lose three consecutive games. After accomplishing that, they entered this season with the goal of not losing two games in a row. Golden State responded with five different win streaks of seven games or more, becoming the first team to go an entire 82-game season without back-to-back defeats. The Warriors were 9-0 this season following a loss, outscoring opponents by 14.6 points in such games.

It's one thing to avoid two straight losses and quite another to play at a high level on two consecutive nights. The Warriors led the NBA with an 18-2 record on the second night of back-to-backs, when teams' play or energy level often drops. In contrast, the Cleveland Cavaliers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and were a dismal 11-8 on zero days' rest.

Curry Makes His 400th Three of the Season

With this Andrew Bogut assist, Stephen Curry makes his 400th three-pointer of the season, breaking his own record set just last year.

Just four seasons ago, the Warriors were a 23-win team. This season, Golden State won 34 games alone on the road, surpassing those '95-96 Bulls' mark of 33. The Warriors had two separate seven-game road trips this season and went 6-1 on each of them.

As hard as the road can be, Golden State's foes may have it worst off when visiting the Wariors' home arena. For the second consecutive season the Warriors transformed Oracle Arena into a historical arena of sorts with a 39-2 mark that matched the franchise home wins record set in '14-15. However, the two home losses came late in the season and many wondered if 73 wins were still within reach ... except the Warriors.

"A lot of things had to fall in place in order to get this record," forward Harrison Barnes said. "We never made a decision about whether or not we're going to go for it. After the Minnesota loss [at home], we would just go to Memphis and see what happens and go to San Antonio and see what happens. I don't think we were ever worried."

Worry never seemed to be in the team's vocabulary and was not apparent when they faced other elite teams. Golden State was a combined 14-1 against 50-win teams this season and their lone loss was to the San Antonio Spurs (who set a franchise record with 67 wins). In short, they dominated everyone, going 26-2 versus the Western Conference's playoff teams and an impressive 27-3 against the Eastern Conference.

Not only were the Warriors dominant at home and on the road, but their best quality seemed to be their ability to remain calm in close game situations. The Warriors were 6-1 in overtime games and 29-4 in games decided by single digits. So while Golden State may not have discussed a plan to win 73 games, they had a perfect blueprint to do so.

Driving this Warriors run to 73 was the reigning Kia MVP, Stephen Curry (who has more than an inside track on the 2016 award and perhaps Kia Most Improved Player, too). Curry's scoring average improved by 6.3 points per game, the highest improvement in NBA history by a reigning MVP. He led the NBA in scoring at 30.1 points, recording a league-best 40 games with 30 or more points. He also became the seventh member of the 50-40-90 club (50 percent or better on field goals, 40 percent or better on 3-pointers, 90 percent or better on free throws) with marks of 50.4 percent, 45.3 percent and 90.8 percent, respectively.

Most Improved MVP?
A look at the biggest scoring increases by an MVP in NBA history.
Player MVP season PPG Next season PPG Increase
Stephen Curry 23.8 (14-15) 30.1 +6.3
Larry Bird 24.2 (83-84) 28.7 +4.5
Steve Nash 15.5 (04-05) 18.8 +3.3
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 31.7 (70-71) 34.8 +3.1
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 27.0 (73-74) 30.0 +3.0
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

With all that Curry's done this season, he managed to prove he is perhaps the best shooter the league has ever seen. He became the first player in league history to amass 400 3-pointers in a season (402), besting his own NBA-record mark (set last season) of 286. And apparently, Curry's shooting ability was contagious as the Warriors set an NBA record with 1,077 3-pointers (no team had ever reached the 950 3-pointers mark prior to this season).

Most 3-pointers made in single season, team
3-pointers made Team (Season)
1,077 Golden State Warriors (2015-16)
933 Houston Rockets (2014-15)
891 New York Knicks (2012-13)
883 Golden State Warriors (2014-15)
867 Houston Rockets (2012-13)

Although Curry may receive the bulk of the praise, the team could not have accomplished their goals without trusting the entire roster. Golden State became the first team since the '85-86 Lakers to record 43 games with 30 or more assists in a single season. If the Warriors wanted to be remembered as the team of the century, they can let their game do the talking. The Warriors scored 100 or more points 75 times this season, the most by any team since 1991-92 (when the Warriors, Bulls and Indiana Pacers all did so at least 75 times).

Based on the numbers, the Warriors produced the greatest regular season in NBA history. However, their larger goal remains repeating as NBA champions. So how can the Warriors end the debate about the greatest team in NBA history? Simply by becoming the first team to go 16-0 in postseason play.

"16-0?" forward Andre Iguodala asked after winning their 73rd game. "We're going to take it game by game. It can get out of whack when you chase things like that. Besides, it's already written. So for me it's just taking it one game at a time and enjoying the whole process."