The Golden State Warriors kept their bid for an historic 73 NBA regular-season victories in 2015-16 alive on Saturday with a dramatic 100-99 triumph over the Grizzlies in Memphis.
The reigning NBA champion Warriors trailed the injury-depleted Grizzlies, who had lost 11 of their last 14 games, by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter.
But Golden State turned up the heat to improve to 71-9.
They are just the second team in NBA history to notch 70 wins in a regular season, along with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
They must win their last two games of the season to surpass that Michael Jordan-led Bulls’ team’s record 72 triumphs.
They face a big hurdle in their penultimate game on Sunday, when they visit the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs are a perfect 39-0 on their home floor and trying to become the first team to go unbeaten at home in a single season.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr – who played on that 1995-96 Bulls team – said the record isn’t his foremost concern.
“I just want to be fresh and ready for the playoffs,” Kerr said.
The pursuit of the record had become almost controversial in the wake of the Warriors’ shock loss to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, which came days after a home loss to the playoff-bound Boston Celtics.
Pundits immediately pounced, speculating the chase for the record had left the Warriors physically and emotionally fatigued just when they needed to be prepping for the post-season and the nitty-gritty of their title defense.
“These things are tricky,” Kerr acknowledged. “You’re not sure what you’re trying to accomplish.
“The record is out there,” Kerr added. “It’s important to a lot of people.”
That includes Golden State’s Draymond Green, whose 23 points included the game-winning tip-in with a minute remaining.
Green also pulled down 11 rebounds.
NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both struggled from long range, combining for five three-pointers on 24 attempts.
Thompson finished with 20 points and Curry added 17. Curry didn’t make his first three-pointer until the third quarter after missing his first five attempts.
Nevertheless, the Warriors led 53-50 at halftime, the Grizzlies erasing the deficit with a strong third quarter that saw them enter the fourth with a 78-70 lead.
Golden State chipped away and took a 98-97 lead with a three-pointer by Harrison Barnes with 1:40 remaining.
The Grizzlies regained a 99-98 lead with free throws by Matt Barnes, but Green then tipped in a basket that was allowed to stand upon review after first being ruled basket interference.
“We dug deep,” Green said. “We got stops when we needed to get stops down the stretch.”
Bulls fend off elimination
In Chicago, Jimmy Butler scored 21 points and Cristiano Felico chipped in 16 off the Bench as the Bulls kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 105-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James scored 33 points and J.R. Smith added 24 for the Cavaliers, who could have clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference with a victory.
But the Bulls’ bench came up big, contributing a total of 44 points and sparking a 13-0 scoring run in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls, who were without injured forward Taj Gibson and guard E’Twaun Moore, remain on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Chicago needs to win their two remaining regular-season games and have the Indiana pacers lose all three of theirs in order for the Bulls to advance.
The Atlanta Hawks boosted their playoff position with a 118-107 come-from-behind victory over the Boston Celtics.
Paul Millsap scored 31 points with 16 rebounds for the Hawks, who with two games remaining have a one-game lead on the Celtics and a 1 1/2-game lead over the Miami Heat for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.