ATLANTA (AP) — Stephen Curry pumped a fist, wagged a finger and even gave a little shimmy with his shoulders.
Chalk up No. 50 for the Golden State Warriors.
On a night when Curry scored 36 points — in other words, just another day at the office — the Warriors became the fastest team in NBA history to 50 wins in a season with a 102-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
They surpassed the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who needed one more game to reach the milestone. Of course, that’s the team Golden State is chasing for one of the league’s most iconic marks.
“It’s really cool,” Klay Thompson, the other half of the “Splash Brothers,” said after Monday’s game. “Just being in the conversation with that Bulls team, it’s humbling and it’s surreal.”
The Warriors (50-5) squandered a 23-point lead in the third quarter, actually falling behind Atlanta early in the fourth. But they bounced back, as they always seem to do, tightening up on defense and riding their dynamic guard duo to another triumph.
Thompson scored 12 of his 27 points in the final period, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers. Curry chipped in with nine points, including a trey in front of the Atlanta bench that had him wiggling his shoulders.
“We’re staying in the moment,” Curry said. “It’s a special group, and we understand the potential we have, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Fifty wins is great, but we’ve got to keep plugging away and staying hungry, because no one wants to talk about that in June.”
Indeed, a second straight championship is the only way to make this a truly successful season, but the pursuit of Chicago’s record — accomplished during the height of Michael Jordan’s six-titles-in-eight-years dynasty — has provided quite an intriguing side plot to the regular season.
On their last long road trip of the season, the Warriors have bounced back impressively from their worst loss of the season, a 137-105 drubbing at Portland last Friday. They knocked off the Clippers in Los Angeles the following night, then made the cross-country trek to Atlanta to face the struggling Hawks, who had the best record in the East a year ago but have slipped this season.
“We just seem to respond every time we get a loss,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Our guys are very competitive, so when we lose, they get angry and seem to rattle off a bunch of wins in a row. That’s a pretty good sign. We don’t have to motivate them much. They motivate themselves.”
Golden State has three more games on its road trip. Next up is Miami on Wednesday, followed by Orlando the following night and Oklahoma City on Saturday.
If the Warriors get through that stretch unscathed, Chicago’s record of 72-10 will be very much in reach. Seventeen of their last 24 games are at Oracle Arena, where Golden State is 24-0 this season. There are still two games left at San Antonio (47-9), which is also having a remarkable season and trails by just 3 1/2 games in the Western standings, and two other tough road contests at Dallas and Memphis.
The other away games during that closing stretch are at Utah and in Los Angeles against the woeful Lakers.
Of course, the Warriors didn’t get to this point by looking too far down the road.
They’re having too much fun on the journey.
“We’re not complacent,” Curry said. “We’re trying to get better and find different ways to win games. We’re staying in the moment.”
Kerr insists his team never talks about Chicago’s record, or the little milestones along the way like 50 wins.
But it’s clear this team is doing everything possible to ensure it will be mentioned in the same conversations with MJ’s Bulls.
Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, who attended Monday’s game and stopped by the Warriors’ locker room afterward to offer congratulations, was hesitant to compare two remarkable squads.
“It’s a different style of game,” said Mutombo, who played against the Bulls when Jordan was in his prime. “It’s a different era.”
Yet, the big man knows he’s witnessing something special.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Mutombo said. “They’re wonderful to watch, very wonderful. I think they’ve made our league more (exciting) for the next generation. That’s what all the young people want to do — just look like Golden State.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .