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OAKLAND – The last regular-season game at Oracle Arena meant T-shirts on the seats and, at the end, confetti falling from the rafters. It also meant the Warriors and their fans finally could exhale, exult and feel at least slightly exalted.
Their 130-120 win over the Timberwolves Monday night was not very artistic, but it was the 50th of the season, which in the NBA is a milestone of considerable significance.
So some of the players – notably Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and David Lee – took a few moments to embrace their coach, Mark Jackson, for whom the past five months have been the essence of bittersweet.
"That his first 50 win season," Curry said. "So to celebrate that with him . . . you want to take that time out to acknowledge him, because he's been through a lot this season.
"In three years, what we’ve been able to do is pretty remarkable. And he has as much to do with that as anybody in this locker room."
Curry is the leader and he led on Monday, pitching in 32 points, 15 assists, five rebounds and three steals. The Warriors trailed by as much as 19 in the second quarter, but responded by outscoring Minnesota 98-69 over the final 33 minutes.
It was another stirring comeback in a season of comebacks and pratfalls. All of which generates angst and plays wicked games with pulse rates.
"It was," Lee said, "a very emotional night."
That's natural when you've been around, like Curry and Lee have, for the revival. The Warriors won 23 games two seasons ago, 47 last season and now 50. They are not championship caliber, but they're close enough to hear what it sounds like, see what it looks like and sense what it feels like.
"This organization is trending upward," guard Klay Thompson announced.
"It's been done what, four or five times in the history of this organization?"Green asked. "So don't take it for granted.
"We wanted to celebrate with coach. We definitely support him. He put us in great position to be successful. To share that moment with him, it meant a lot. Two years removed from 23 wins, to get 50 means a lot.''
It means the Warriors (50-31) likely get a first-round playoff matchup with the rival Clippers, who currently hold the No. 3 seed and, odds are, will keep it.
But getting 50 the hard way, as the Warriors, did also means there is strength at the core. They've lost when they should've won, won when they should've lost. They've gone without starters at both forward positions and at center. Their conscience, team sage Jermaine O'Neal, missed two months. They've survived prolonged slumps by Harrison Barnes and no small amount of disappointment with Marreese Speights.
And, yes, they also lost two assistant coaches – Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman – less than two weeks apart, in this final month of the regular season.
It has been anything but smooth, but the regular-season ride nears a satisfying end.
"Just awesome," Jackson said, "50 wins, with all the adversity that we had all season long – all the trials, all the injuries, all the excuses that we could have taken, all the setbacks that we own.
"I love these guys to death. I appreciate everything that they've done, the way that they have conducted themselves, how they've fought and continue to fight."
There was love on the court, in the room and in the air, a feeling of achievement.
The Warriors averaged 3 points per minute over the final 33. The Timberwolves, after such a strong start, were kicked out of the building. They never knew what hit them. On this night, the Minnesota was five guys in the way, with no chance at all.
THE GOOD: Curry, again. Jackson continued to push him for first-team All-NBA and it’s hard to argue against it.
Green was an absolute terror, in every way: 20 points (7-of-9 shooting), 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals, two blocked shots and relentless energy.
Lee started awfully, then recovered with a gritty, efficient game, 25 points (on 12-of-14 shooting), nine rebounds and two steals.
THE BAD: Atrocious start, especially on defense. Minny made eight of its first 10 shots and scored 42 points in the first quarter.
The defense got only somewhat better; it was masked by increased overall effort.
THE TAKE: The Warriors began to matter last season. They gained respect. But a 50-win NBA season is like a 10-win season in the NFL. It puts the Warriors in a seat at the table with the league's finest. They're not elite, not yet, but they've come a great distance in a short time. The future is unknown, but they have come all the way back from a time when only their most devoted fans cared.