LOS ANGELES — The Golden State Warriors have changed the way the game is played.
Now they have the power to change even more—including the baseline for integrity of the game—with the example they choose to set with their dominance.
The Warriors crushed the spirit of the Los Angeles Clippers, 115-98, on Wednesday night, which is what the Warriors are used to doing via their many blowout victories the past several years.
Golden State's passing show and shooting audacity have initiated a literal change of pace in the NBA that is being copied but not truly duplicated. Right now, no team has at least 30 assists in five games except the Warriors, who've done it 16 times already—out of 22 games.
Even if they didn't repeat as NBA champions after their historic 73-victory regular season and aren't pushing hard early on this year, the Warriors are more loaded than ever with Kevin Durant. They are more capable than ever of crushing spirits and embarrassing opponents. And they are more inspiring than ever with performances of unimaginable beauty and prolificacy.
Klay Thompson's 60-point performance in 29 minutes of play Monday was a taste of that. The must-see moment could've been allowed to grow into even more, but he was kept on the bench for the fourth quarter.
That's why the way the Warriors choose to flex their crazy muscles this season will be watched closely—and may dictate whether the tenets of the so-called basketball gods are ready to be changed in this new era of video game basketball.
Klay's father, former NBA player Mychal Thompson, said it was "a no-brainer" to stop Klay's magical run Monday and for Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to sit Klay the final quarter against the overwhelmed Indiana Pacers.
"Up 30, it would've been a circus running him around screens," Mychal said. "It's just not something you do."
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers agreed, saying it would have been "bad form" to rub it in that way, even though Rivers applauded the Warriors for finding Thompson's hot hand with so many passes.
"Usually a team gets in the way of a guy having a big night," Rivers said.
See, that's the thing: These epic individual nights are indeed so rare that a valid case can be made for maximizing them.
The Warriors are going to have plenty of nights to rest Thompson and the other top players in fourth quarters.
But even on Wednesday night, with another game looming Thursday in Utah, Kerr sent Stephen Curry back into the game—to join three other Golden State starters—with 4:47 left and a 107-89 lead over the Clippers. It was hardly a perilous situation, but valid justification existed. Isn't it useful in the long run to let those on the court build chemistry with rookie Patrick McCaw instead of Kevin Durant out there?
So would it have been that much worse to let Thompson play it out in a similar experimental manner when he had 60 already—and see what happened for him?
You would absolutely keep him out there if you were playing as Thompson and the Warriors in NBA 2K17 against your buddy, right? It's a no-brainer.
Well, old-school NBA thinking from old-school NBA guys such as Mychal Thompson, Kerr and Rivers is obviously not the same as 2K thinking from the couch. But it's undeniable that society has increasingly leaned in the direction of celebrating the look-at-me, self-indulgent personality.
That's why Kerr stands at a tipping point. His team is so "blessed," as he often says, that a lot of the decisions he makes are about restraining the Warriors.
Bear in mind that Kerr preferred the Warriors not push for those regular-season-record 73 victories, but the ambitious players wanted it—and Kerr acquiesced. They got the 73—and if they had also gotten the NBA title that just eluded them, that would have changed the baseline for trying in the regular season. It would've been much cooler and understandable to push limits in the regular season. It would've tilted the scales back at a time when the medical analytics preach rest above all.
Thompson's Monday megamoment will almost certainly face its biggest threat from within. Perhaps the Warriors will soon be in position to drop an NBA-record 174 points in a regulation game on an opponent, and it'll be a team thing. No one has ever beaten anyone by more than 68 points, and maybe an opportunity for that abuse will be hard to sidestep.
The Warriors also love to compete with each other (in a healthy way), and both Curry and Durant can score at will. That could make for some compelling nights ahead. It was only last month that Curry set a new NBA record with 13 three-pointers in a game. Might he decide one night it feels OK to launch 30 three-point shots? The league record is 22.
The game is clearly changing.
For Cleveland's Kevin Love to post a 34-point quarter so soon after Thompson's 37-point quarter in 2015 (Love hit eight threes in the quarter to Thompson's nine), it's clear that additional possessions via quicker game pace and more three-point attempts make it much easier for some special shooter to exceed Kobe Bryant's 81 points in a game…without even having to work too hard dribbling the ball to seek shots.
Two days after Love's freakish first quarter last month, James Harden's Houston Rockets became the first team ever to attempt 50 three-pointers in a game. The Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers in March had set the new record for most combined three-pointers made in a game with 37.
And once Bryant's 81-point mark is surpassed, maybe Wilt Chamberlain's 100 could even be reached if these Warriors have tilted the scales on what is acceptable form by letting their stars try for more and more as the season goes on.
What might seem like a mockery now will not feel quite that way if we inch in that direction—which is why the Warriors are the gatekeepers of our basketball future.
The truth is, the Warriors are only getting better as they integrate Durant and their other new guys.
On Wednesday, they decided to try harder and communicate better on defense and immediately reminded everyone how amazing they can be at that end—all long arms and quick feet. Even though they shot poorly, they cruised over one of the few other title threats, a Clippers team that absolutely wanted this game a million times more than the Warriors did.
Draymond Green wasn't even aware afterward that the Warriors had beaten the Clippers seven consecutive times. Thompson didn't even realize his team had just won 15 of its past 16.
Ho-hum, all around.
And as the season goes on, the Warriors are going to want to be entertained, too. That will mean pushing the limits of their greatness and supremacy on occasion. Thompson was already half-joking late Monday about how he also had to sit out the fourth after his 37-point third quarter, so the Warriors perhaps need to keep games closer.
In reality, part of the reason Thompson got those 37 was because the game was kept somewhat close with the Warriors force-feeding him the ball, often leading to easy Sacramento Kings points at the other end. That is frequently how the Warriors mess with the game—getting "too happy," as Kerr refers to it—and trying for dazzling passes.
But that's like excessive speeding on an empty freeway. It might be wrong, but the only one you're going to hurt is yourself. Running up the score or hunting individual records is more like reckless driving that endangers the livelihood of your fellow man.
Except…it is exciting.
And the fact is that we live in a real world of high-speed chases that take over live television.
Thompson, Curry or Durant pushing the envelope on how wild a game can be once or twice in an 82-game season isn't all that unreasonable by comparison.
What's the right thing to do?
"The simple play is what wins games," said Golden State's resident independent thinker Draymond Green.
With an experienced head on the bench and the lessons of last season, the Warriors are absolutely not out to make a farce of anything.
But here's hoping they go for it when they can.
Records are made to be broken, and paradigms are destined to shift in unforeseen new directions.
If the Warriors can do it without obvious car-chase spectacles—or ambulance-chasing disgraces that profit from an opponent's misery—then by all means they should go for it.
Whatever the time and place, there's always been a healthy amount of ego and an admirable base of determination in a person finding out what can be done that hasn't been done before. But there is inspiration to be found in those accomplishments. The folks that make NBA 2K actually had to recode the game this year because the real Curry hit shots last season from farther out than the programmers ever dreamed anyone could.
See, not even the video game era can keep up with what's possible for the Warriors.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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