The Golden State Warriors nearly let a 19-point halftime lead slip through their grasp, but Stephen Curry's 36 points were just enough for the Warriors to move into the 50-win club with a 102-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on Monday night.
The reigning NBA MVP had an efficient night, missing only eight shots while adding six rebounds and eight assists. Klay Thompson chipped in with 27 points as Golden State improved to 50-5 on the year and notched another historic milestone, becoming the fastest team to reach 50 wins, per CBS Sports.
Erik Malinowski of Rolling Stone captured this graphic of the Warriors' incredible run to 50 victories, and history says there's a good chance they'll become back-to-back NBA champions:
is that good pic.twitter.com/AaFzwgWy95— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) February 23, 2016
Golden State surpassed the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the fastest team to 50 wins, and that Michael Jordan-led squad is also the team the Warriors are chasing in their bid to reach 72 wins.
Curry and Co. have at least one advantage over those '96 Bulls, in that 50 Cent helped celebrate their accomplishment:
Hawks center Al Horford scored a team-high 23 points, but Atlanta struggled against the Warriors defense, shooting 41.9 percent from the floor.
The defending champions held a 30-15 lead after the first quarter on the road against the team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference a year ago. Golden State played an efficient inside-out game that featured plays like this insane pass from Curry to Harrison Barnes for a corner three-pointer:
Those three points were just part of a strong first half for Barnes, who hit three threes and scored 13 of his 14 points in the opening 17-plus minutes.
Despite trailing by as much as they did, the Hawks stormed back with a vengeance. They went on a 33-6 second-half run during which five players—Horford, Tim Hardaway Jr., Paul Millsap, Thabo Sefolosha and Dennis Schroder—scored at least five points. Schroder finished with 18 points and six assists in 18 minutes, with one of those passes coming on this lob to Horford to make it a seven-point game late in the third quarter:
Schroder also scored the Hawks' final eight points of the third to cut their deficit to 76-75.
The Warriors struggled to make shots in the second half, but that was seemingly because they got comfortable behind the three-point line. Golden State went 14-of-45 from distance while shooting only 43.8 percent from the floor.
After Horford opened the fourth quarter with a layup, Sefolosha drilled a three to give Atlanta an 80-76 lead. But the Warriors responded with a 15-4 run over the next six-plus minutes. Curry capped the spurt with this three-pointer with 4:43 remaining, and he added insult to injury afterward:
Steph Curry drains the 3, shimmies in front of the Hawks bench https://t.co/zyhsBTdlKI— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 23, 2016
The Warriors had a rough return from the All-Star break, as the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard led his team to a 137-105 victory with 51 points Friday. Since then, Golden State has responded with back-to-back quality road wins and looks poised to continue its march to 72 victories.
The Hawks, meanwhile, are in a major slump. They've lost five of their last six with four of those losses at home. Atlanta has dropped to sixth place in the East and is only a half-game ahead of the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls.
Curry's backbreaking three-pointer and shimmy in the fourth quarter did not appear in good taste, but the league's leading scorer at 29.8 points per game insists it was all in good fun for one of his former teammates, per Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group:
Curry said the shimmy in front of the Hawks' bench was for Bazemore— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) February 23, 2016
Curry had reentered the game with 5:28 remaining and Golden State leading 88-84, and that three-pointer sparked a 2:07 stretch in which he scored seven points to put the game out of reach at 95-84.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said his superstar has a knack for asserting himself at just the right moments, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Steve Kerr on Steph Curry's fourth quarter: "He senses when he needs to take over and when not … I mean, that’s what Steph does, right?”— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) February 23, 2016
Horford talked about how difficult it is to play Golden State, per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Al Horford on Warriors: It’s impressive. You watch them on film. We study them. Playing on the court with them is totally different."— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) February 23, 2016
With 27 regular-season games remaining, the Warriors are 23 wins from eclipsing the '96 Bulls for most wins in NBA history. Curry, however, sees a bigger prize on the horizon.
"Fifty wins is great," Curry said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com), "but we've got to keep plugging away and staying hungry, because nobody wants to talk about that in June."
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