The Golden State Warriors eliminated any doubt as to whether they are the best team in the league Monday night with a 120-90 evisceration of the Spurs. It was Golden State's second statement victory in a week after a 34-point beatdown of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 18.
The rest of the league will have a hard time wrestling the Larry O'Brien Trophy out of Stephen Curry's hands.
Curry spearheaded the victory with 37 points, five steals and four assists in only three quarters of action before watching the final 12 minutes of the blowout from the bench. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard finished with 16 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals but struggled to assert himself on the defensive end.
LaMarcus Aldridge did not carry the load with Tim Duncan (knee) sitting out and posted a mere five points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field.
Golden State's performance was even more impressive because of the historic nature of the game, which pitted the past two champions, as ESPN Stats & Info noted before tipoff:
The Warriors are now 41-4 and within striking distance of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' all-time best record of 72-10. That team had a dynamic, once-in-a-generation superstar leading the way in Michael Jordan, and this season's Warriors have the same thing in Curry.
ESPN Stats & Info compared Golden State's position through 45 games to that of the 72-10 Bulls team:
Warriors: improve to 41-4; tied for best record in NBA history through 45 games (1995-96 Bulls and 1966-67 76ers)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 26, 2016
Behind its superstar, Golden State pulled ahead early and led 29-23 at the end of the first quarter. Curry scored 15 points in the opening frame and wasted little time wowing those in attendance with his open-court magic, as Bleacher Report shared:
Matt Moore of CBSSports.com pointed to Duncan's absence as one reason the Warriors controlled the early portion of the showdown:
Spurs are just kind of frantic. Could really use a future Hall of Fame legendarily steady center to calm them do NAH— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 26, 2016
Without Duncan as a steadying force, the Spurs turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter. CBS Sports noted "Curry has taken over this game...with defense," and ESPN.com's Ethan Strauss weighed in on that side of the ball as well:
My BS subjective take is the Warriors look amped up, which is helping their defense a lot more than their offense— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) January 26, 2016
Golden State opened a double-digit advantage in the second quarter, and Draymond Green was a huge factor. Moore remarked on his ability to distribute the ball:
Draymond Green has the passing targeting system of a naval destroyer. He could hit a cutting Livingston from 7 miles away.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 26, 2016
The Warriors extended their lead to 55-37 with an 8-0 run, and ESPN Stats & Info passed along arguably the most impressive stat of the first half, given Leonard's status as the league's alpha defender and reigning Defensive Player of the Year:
Warriors are 5-5 FG with Kawhi Leonard as primary defender— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 26, 2016
Carl Steward of Bay Area News Group commented on the one-on-one matchup: "Curry just faked Leonard out of his socks and then gunned home a corner three. Warriors just too quick for these guys if they're efficient."
It looked as though Curry was toying with the Spurs defense during the first half, and his team took a 62-47 lead into the locker room. B/R NBA captured one of the guard's best plays:
ESPN's Michael Wilbon discussed the basketball clinic the home team was putting on:
It's art, when the Warriors are at their fast breaking best w the ball in Curry's hand...like Magic's Showtime...— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) January 26, 2016
The blowout continued in the third quarter, and Curry made some history in the process, as NBA TV recognized:
The Warriors pushed their lead to 27 points with 3:32 left in the third quarter, and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports put the performance in perspective:
The season-high for scoring by a foe against the Spurs this season is 34 by Stephen Curry tonight with 2:54 still left in third quarter.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) January 26, 2016
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports added more context:
Steph Curry has 34 so far. The Spurs starting 5 combined has 41.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 26, 2016
Even big man Festus Ezeli got in on the highlight-reel action as Golden State took an overwhelming 95-66 lead into the final quarter, per the NBA:
B/R Insights reacted to those opening three quarters:
GSWStats noted "Curry just scored his 10,001st career point, becoming the eighth player in franchise history to score at least 10,000 points," while CBS Sports shared a glimpse of the shooter in action:
Some Warriors highlights from tonight... pic.twitter.com/gSCTN2vff4— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 26, 2016
Both teams rested many of their regular contributors during the majority of the fourth quarter. While the Warriors provided their typical entertaining show, radio host Jim Rome pointed out a downside for the league:
Most anticipated NBA regular season game in years and the entire fourth quarter is garbage time?!— Jim Rome (@jimrome) January 26, 2016
As the reserves played out the final minutes, Moore said it was time to stop doubting Golden State:
“Pacers’ll get ‘em.” /blew ‘em out “Cavs can hang with them.” /blew them out “Spurs might be better.” /blew them out. Just stop.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 26, 2016
The Warriors looked human during the fourth quarter with Curry on the bench, though, and Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald argued that further enhanced the reigning MVP's standing:
If Steph Curry hadn't won MVP already, this fourth quarter sealed it— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) January 26, 2016
Marreese Speights hit a three with 1:14 remaining to give Golden State its largest lead at 33 points, and San Antonio's Boban Marjanovic scored six of his 12 points in the final minute.
If the Warriors play like they did Monday, there isn't a team in the league that can beat them. That task next falls to the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Washington Wizards before Golden State hosts the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 6.
Dallas handed the Warriors one of their rare losses in December, although Curry (leg) did not play in that contest.
The Spurs' schedule doesn't get much easier in the immediate future. They'll play the Houston Rockets and defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers in their next two games, and they still have to face Golden State three more times before the end of the season.
Those remaining head-to-head tilts will likely determine whether San Antonio has any chance of overtaking the defending champions for the Western Conference's No. 1 seed.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich at least had a sense of humor in the aftermath, per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated: "We almost got 'em."
Popovich also took what Rachel Nichols of ESPN said was a "not remotely subtle shot" at the Cleveland Cavaliers, who recently fired head coach David Blatt in a decision LeBron James reportedly played a role in making, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Per Spears, Popovich said: "I'm glad my general manager wasn't in my locker room or I might've gotten fired."
Manu Ginobili looked at things from a big-picture perspective, per Golliver: "At this point they're better than us. I'm not embarrassed to face it."
Danny Green was already looking ahead, per Spears: "This is a good learning experience for us. Take it and learn from it."
As for the Warriors, head coach Steve Kerr didn't want to make too big of a deal about just one contest, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "It's just one win, and I don't think the score means anything."
Kerr also commented on his counterpart, per Simmons: "I love Pop. That's my guy. But I don't feel that bad right now."
Kerr probably won't feel that badly if his team does the same thing to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.