Everyone loves an underdog story, especially if you’re trying to win a dodgeball tournament to save your local neighborhood gym full of lovable misfits, but the truth of every underdog story is what Ace Ventura taught us, all those years ago:
"In every contest, there must be…A LOSER."
And let’s be serious, when it’s your team that’s on the receiving end of an upset win when you were already thinking about what kind of shots you were going to buy your bunch of friends once the confetti falls, it sucks.
Such is life this week for the Golden State Warriors, the team that looked like they were on a Mario Kart Super Star ever since they won the NBA title last year. And the team they’re already being compared to left and right is the 2007 New England Patriots – the team that was 18-0 going into the Super Bowl and then…well, you know. They blew it.
Both teams were so good, so dominant, so cocky and F-you that people were comparing them before the NBA Finals had even started. The Big Lead said "The 2015-2016 Warriors are one loss away from becoming the 2007-2008 New England Patriots" WHEN THEY WERE STILL PLAYING THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER. Charles Barkley said on ESPN’s Mike and Mike radio show that "They had a terrific season, it didn't end in a good way. You have to finish if you have a historic season. The closest thing we can compare it to, you'd have to talk to someone who was on that New England Patriots team when they went undefeated during the regular season and didn't win the Super Bowl.''
It’s kind of spooky how much the 2015-2016 Warriors and the 2007-2008 Patriots had in common. And it goes so much deeper than being really, really good and then blowing it in the championship. Plenty of teams have done that. Let’s start with the easiest comparison.
Points on Points on Points on Points
After the 2006 NFL playoffs, where the Patriots blew a 21-3 lead to the Indianapolis Colts (no thanks to Reche Caldwell’s butterfingers), the 2007 Patriots were re-loaded with offensive talent and out for blood. You know the guys. Randy Moss. Donte Stallworth. Wes Welker. Ben Watson. Jabar Gaffney. Kevin Faulk. The question wasn’t whether New England’s offense would embarrass you, just how badly they would do it.
Tom Brady threw 30 touchdowns – two more than his previous record for touchdowns in an entire season – in eight games. The Patriots scored 589 points that season, which was 134 more points than the second-place Cowboys on the scoring list. Peyton Manning’s Colts scored 450, which was 139 less than New England.
The Warriors and their Halo-sniper three-point shooting were one straight highlight reel all throughout the 2015-2016 season, but you may be surprised to find that the Warriors didn’t stuff their opponents in a locker quite as much as you may have thought just from watching highlight reels. Golden State scored the most points in the NBA this season, with 9,421, but the Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant show was right behind them with 9,038.
So yeah, both teams scored the most points in their respective leagues, but the ’07 Pats scored almost 30% more points than the second-place team in the "points scored" category. This year’s Warriors, for as amazing as they were, "only" scored about 4% more than OKC.
All I Do is Win
After getting busted for Spygate, the Patriots did the only thing they could do – go out and beat everyone so badly that it’d be obvious they were better than you, video cameras or not. Just ask linebacker Rosevelt Colvin:
"People thought Bill was giving Tom all the answers. So it was a matter of, we're not just going to stick it to you, we're going to stick it to you a little more than we usually have. We're going to prove a point, and prove it hard."
That ended in a 16-0 regular season, two postseason wins against the Chargers and Jaguars, and, of course, the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. It’s been the only perfect regular season since the Miami Dolphins did it in ’72.
All the Warriors did this year was break the 1996 Chicago Michael Jordans…err, sorry, Chicago Bulls regular season win record, winning a ridiculous 73 games and extend an emphatic middle finger to anyone who thought their championship last year was a fluke – or just a "gimme" after everybody on the Cavaliers that was actually any good got hurt.
(Sorry, JR Smith)
This one’s too easy. Steph Curry’s brain-melting performance this year earned him the first unanimous NBA MVP award in NBA history, which will fit nicely in Steph’s trophy case next to his 2014-2015 NBA MVP hardware.
Back in 2007, though, when the Patriots were wreaking Khaleesi’s-dragons-esque destruction on the NFL that had scorned them as cheaters and frauds, Tom Brady got all but one vote for NFL MVP and won it after LaDanian Tomlinson claimed the MVP title in 2006. Here’s what Robert Kraft had to say when Brady, which, in hindsight, unintentionally sounds super cocky:
"To be honest, I'm surprised it took so long for him to get this recognition because he's sort of been our MVP since he stepped on the field in '01, in my mind, and the way he just took over," Kraft said. "He treats everyone in that locker room the same way he treats me or the coaches."
Also, guess who the one guy who didn’t vote Brady for MVP in 2007 voted for?
Rewriting the books
The Warriors gave the NBA record books a Stone Cold Stunner this year, and Stone-Cold-Stunning the record for most regular-season wins was just the beginning. Just look at this everything-pizza list of records Golden State shattered this year:
Largest win margin over the first four games of the season
Best-ever start to a season, with 24 wins and zero losses
Best-ever record at the All-Star Break (48-4)
Fastest team to clinch a playoff spot – the Warriors clinched on February 27th, almost two whole months before the season was over
Most single-season threes by one player (Steph, clearly)
First player to hit 300 threes in one season
Longest home court winning streak of all time
Team record for three-pointers in one season
All that, and then they blew it in the championship like you would expect a Cleveland team to blow it.
A lot of the Patriots’ records from 2007 got blown away by Peyton Manning’s 2013 season, but here’s a few that New England set in the 18-1* season:
Single-season passing touchdowns (Tom Brady, with 50)
Single-season touchdown catches (Randy Moss, with 23)
Most points scored in a single season (589)
Single postseason game completion % (Brady, 92.9%)
Touchdown to interception ratio (Brady, 6.25-1)
Highest point differential (+315)
Cornerback Ellis Hobbs also set the kickoff return for a touchdown record, running a you-have-GOT-to-be-kidding-me-dude 108-yard touchdown return against the Jets.
And speaking of Ellis Hobbs, he may have summed up the Patriots’ F-you attitude better than anyone else with this quote after Randy Moss caught his 23rd touchdown to pass Jerry Rice:
"It was kind of a Jordan moment. You knew it would happen, just not when. You knew he was going to Moss. Randy missed it. Then he did it again. Like it was meant to be. It looked so easy. They knew it was coming, and they couldn't stop it. Everybody knew what we were going to do. We knew that you knew. Go stop it."
And then, in both cases…someone did.
So here we are
Comparing stats across two different sports is always going to be a little wonky, but both of these teams were two of the most incredible performances any of us have ever seen. Surely, there aren’t many Patriots fans that are also Warriors fans (Tom Brady’s parents, perhaps?), but watching the Dubs do their thing all season long and Hulk-smash the NBA record books felt so much like the ’07 Patriots that most New Englanders were surely watching this series thinking "There’s no way they can screw THIS up"…until they did.
It’s a sports bar question that’ll never have a straight answer: who blew it worse? The Warriors, when they seemed to run out of gas at the exact same time Cleveland was playing out of their minds? Or the Patriots, who had a chance to do something that had never been done before and finish the perfect 16-game season, and looked like they had Brady’s 4th ring in the bag until (gulp) the helmet catch?
It’s totally the Patriots, by the way. At least the Warriors can say that they lost to the best basketball player of his generation that averaged a triple-double all series and that’ll probably end up in the top 4 of all time, if he’s not there already.
The Pats lost to Eli freakin’ Manning.