Image courtesy of Erik Drost's Flickr page - Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrost88/18712418510/in/photolist-uvy36m-uKQ6xG-tRgUTP-uvtpVm-uKQmv7-uvGFwB-uMFFeG-uNpE1e-tBehBy-uN3P3D-tR2Qho-HUSfr-4Taf5q-uvASzv-7vAzf2-qHUK2k-r52g6V-6K6Fki-bgddQ6-4G4nGd-r4UoZy-7NjrkD-9nssXS-rmt3kn-JgQiv-uoEiQf-djFciv-rmokYq-r4Ujq3-7hGokn-4iSMB3-bgdChx-47g67u-qKt9Fn-qKuV8z-qKt9yP-qKt9Ea-3pYanc-4C12US-uvyAju-uvyCCs-buWvMB-3q3GXA-eedDRY-7NopXJ-6r3FD-6r3uV-3pYaeB-dZTukn-dZTkBK
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The Golden State Warriors were approaching the third way point in the season, when they were finally handed their first loss of the season.
It was almost predictable that it came rather unexpectedly, against a team that, frankly, makes you scratch your head and think, "That's the team that finally beat them?"
Yes, the first team of the season that can boast having bested the great Warriors would be (drum roll, please)...the Milwaukee Bucks.
There was a time when the Milwaukee Bucks were one of the solid teams in the NBA, but that was a long time ago. Right around the time that the Warriors themselves last enjoyed championship level success prior to last season.
Yes, it has been decades since the last time that the Bucks one of the elite teams, although they put on an elite level performance last night to beat Golden State on a rainy Saturday in Milwaukee. There was no controversy surrounding the loss, no last minute heroics. The Warriors did not collapse in the final minute, nor did they rise to make one last, defiant stand.
Stephen Curry joked after the game that the moment that he knew his team had finally lost was when the coach subbed the starters out.
Indeed, Curry was joking. But the unbelievable start, easily the best start of any major professional sports team in North American sports history, had enough of a surreal quality that it made you wonder just what these guys were capable of. Some people had expected them to remain unbeaten at least through to the Christmas showdown against the Cavaliers in Cleveland. And had they done that, and still managed to win that game? They might even have been flirting with an undefeated start into the 2016 part of the 2015-2016 season, which would have been staggering.
Chances are, all of the media attention and the accolades were starting to add undue pressure to the team, and that could be hazardous to a team's fortunes. Remember the 2007 New England Patriots, who were so close to completing the perfect season? Yes, it took one particularly miraculous play to help bury their chances of perfection forever, as well as Assante Samuel dropping a sure interception that went through his hands and, had he caught it, would have iced the game and preserved the perfect season for the Patriots. But in the end, as historically dominant as that New England team was, the only thing that people really remember from that team was that miracle play that they were on the wrong end of, or how wide open the Pats defense left Plaxico Burress when he caught the winning touchdown catch in the final minute of the Super Bowl.
Of course, the NBA season is a lot longer than the NFL season is. There might be some big showdowns looming down the horizon, but the playoffs are still far away, and a lot can happen. It might do everyone well to remember that as incredible as Golden State's achievements so far this season are, they have not yet really clinched anything. Yes, they established themselves as the clear front runners to capture another NBA championship, but that is only speculation. What if they suffer a key injury, or two? What if they suddenly dip a little bit and lose a few more, and all of that talk about them surpassing the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls suddenly dies down a bit? Or, prior to yesterday's game, what if they finally lose, but to a losing team that no body expected them to lose to?
But the Warriors seemed relaxed and in relatively good spirits after yesterday's loss, and that is probably a good thing. They understood that the streak was bound to end at some point - it almost ended the day before in Boston, after all. It took two overtime sessions for Golden State to eek out a victory there. The pressure keeps building, and winning becomes far more difficult under those circumstances.
Now, Golden State is no longer perfect. They are just very, very good. Still defending champions, and still easily enjoy the best record in the league, at 24-1. An incredible achievement to this point, no doubt. Just no longer perfect.
Indeed, as the title of the below article (see link), the real part of the season can now truly begin for the Warriors. Gone is the distraction and excessive hype surrounding their undefeated start. Now, they can concentrate on the task at hand of winning as much as possible, and of trying to successfully defend their title. Their perfect, undefeated start had allowed them to get ahead of themselves, and to assume that they would always somehow find a way to win, even if it seemed impossible. Despite being down by an almost impossible margin with little time left to work with, the star players for Golden State "still assumed that the Warriors would somehow win, despite math and logic. The absurdity of the streak had conditioned them to. Only now, in defeat, could they take stock of how bizarre that assumption really was."
On this one night, the Bucks were clearly the better team on the court. That was the first time that that happened for Golden State this season. Also for the first time, they were held to under 100 points. Finally, for the first time this season, they lost. It was a necessary bit of humility, as well as a reality check.
Yes, this loss might actually help them, because Golden State had been playing progressively worse as the streak went along. They probably needed a reminder that they actually could lose. So now, the focus can return to the pursuit of the title. Again, going back to the article below and what Strauss suggested:
The Warriors wanted to win, but all this winning has warped everything around them. Winning was the path to history, but losing at least restores a sense of normalcy.
For Warriors, the surreal ends and the season begins by Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN Staff Writer