The Golden State Warriors made a statement with a 112-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs in a clash of NBA titans.
The Warriors joined the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the only teams to win 70 games in a season.
The reigning champions kept their quest to break those Bulls’ record of 72 regular-season wins alive. They must still win their final three games of the season to do so, and the closing stretch includes another clash with the Spurs in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 39-0 this season.
Most importantly, the 70-9 Warriors ended the 65-13 Spurs’ chance of stealing the top seed in the West and shook off any doubts raised by a couple of lackluster defeats in their past three games.
Stephen Curry had a game-high 27 points and the Warriors held the Spurs to just 19 baskets in the first 30 minutes of the first-ever regular-season meeting of teams with 65 or more wins.
Australian big man Andrew Bogut had 11 rebounds and Harrison Barnes eight as Golden State out-rebounded the Spurs 43-32.
The Warriors led by as many as 23 in the third quarter en route to the victory.
Barnes had 21 points and Draymond Green 18 for the Warriors, who shot 54.2 percent from the field and connected on 12 of 25 three-point attempts.
Kawhi Leonard scored a team-high 23 points for the Spurs, who had a four-game winning streak snapped.
The Spurs made five of six shots to start the fourth quarter to pull within 93-80, but the Warriors quickly rebuilt the lead to 18 points and cruised home.
“We’ve been stumbling a little bit the last three home games here,” Curry said. “Against a team like that, that plays at a high level, you want to come in and get a win and that’s what we did.”
More importantly, Curry said, the Warriors played with the kind of energy and rhythm they’ll need to win a second straight championship.
“Our priority tonight was about how we played,” Curry said. “We obviously wanted to win, but how we play these next three games leading into the playoffs is how we focus on the big goal.”
BULLS, ROCKETS ON BRINK
The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets, both fighting for their playoff lives, were dealt damaging defeats.
The Bulls fell 106-98 to the Heat in Miami, where Dwyane Wade scored 21 points for the hosts who moved into a tie with Boston for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls fell to 39-40 and are on the brink of elimination. With three games remaining they are three games behind Detroit for the eighth and final post-season berth in the East.
If the Bulls fall short, it would mark the first time since 2008 that they have missed the post-season.
Jimmy Butler’s 25 points paced the Bulls, with Pau Gasol contributing 21 points and 12 rebounds and Derrick Rose adding 17 points.
Chicago jumped to an early lead and led 22-21 going into the second quarter. They stretched their lead to 46-40 at halftime, but the Heat responded after the interval.
After connecting on just 39.5 percent of shots from the field in the first half, the Heat shot 66.7 percent in the third quarter with no turnovers.
The Heat took a 75-69 lead into the fourth quarter, and put the game out of reach with a 14-4 scoring run in the final minutes.
Gasol said that once again the Bulls paid the price for poor defence.
In Houston, P.J. Tucker scored 24 points and pulled down 12 rebounds and Mirza Teletovic chipped in 26 points off the bench as the Suns shocked the Rockets 124-115.
Tyson Chandler scored 21 points with 10 rebounds, producing the dunk that capped a 12-0 scoring run for the Suns, who snapped a seven-game losing streak and improved to 21-58.
James Harden led the Rockets with 30 points and seven assists, but Houston lost for the seventh time in 10 games and are 1 1/2 games behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.