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Golden State’s Space Odyssey

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Before 72 became 73, and before 400, there was 399. With 2:49 left in the first half of the Warriors’ final game of the regular season, against Memphis, Andre Iguodala hurtled down the court in transition. There was a layup if he wanted it, but Steph Curry, who had darted to the right wing behind the arc, waved his hand within Iguodala’s peripheral vision. That was all Iguodala needed. The ball made its way into Curry’s hands, then through the net for Steph’s 399th made 3-pointer on the season. It was an awe-inspiring display of shamelessness, or, for the truly smitten, a perfect example of how the team has chosen to embrace its journey. If the Warriors were going to rewrite the history books, then they had might as well tag the entire thing up.

All year, the Warriors have forged a new normal. The court is 94 feet long and 50 feet wide, and in seemingly every game, there’s something new to learn about how every inch, every second, can be used. The Warriors screen, prescreen, and rescreen to allow Curry and Klay Thompson the room to snipe atop a constantly shape-shifting fortress. Those snipers are then reabsorbed and become screeners themselves, creating avenues for Draymond Green to cannonball his way through the defense. Curry took 20 shots from at least 30 feet out with the game clock at two seconds or less this season. He made 35 percent of them, which also happens to be the average 3-point percentage of the entire league in 2015–16.

The Warriors have challenged the limits of gravity by exploring the depths of space. They are astronauts. The near-universal celebration of this team makes sense in that way. Their meticulous science has become its own form of magic. Their daily forays into the impossible this season have become comforting, like the best kind of recurring dream — like when we were kids and dreamed of being astronauts.

They weren’t the only ones turning the league upside down. Was it the fanfare surrounding the chase for 73 that made us hyperaware of the records in play this year? Or was it the whirring frenzy of the league as a whole, desperate for a stake — any stake — in this season to remember? Russell Westbrook logged as many triple-doubles in a season as any player in the last 50 years; the Spurs tied the all-time single-season home wins record; James Harden committed more turnovers this year than the NBA has ever seen — at face value, these records tell us little about the Warriors. But together, they tell a tale of overexertion. Show me a fan who thinks the Warriors are bad for basketball and I’ll show them a whole lot of teams and players feeling the pressure, galvanized by what Golden State has accomplished. Here’s to all the history still to be changed in the playoffs.

This piece originally appeared in the April 14, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.