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OAKLAND — The Warriors’ inexorable march to greatness had started to limp. The Oracle Arena crowd came to watch their team make history Wednesday night, but the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, apparently unaware of their assigned role as patsies, had the audacity to take a 14-12 lead about five minutes into the game.

The Warriors’ reply began gradually. Draymond Green scored inside. Stephen Curry, after a hard foul by Memphis’ Matt Barnes, sank a couple of free throws. Andre Iguodala made a beautiful pass to the cutting Klay Thompson for another basket and an 18-14 lead. Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger called timeout, because he knew what might be about to happen.

And then it happened anyway. When play resumed, after a short jumper by Memphis’ Zach Randolph, Curry blasted a 3-pointer from dead-on, 31 feet away from the basket. Then he made one from 26 feet off a pass from Green. Then he dribbled behind his back to lose the man guarding him, Xavier Munford, and capped another from 27 feet. The three shots happened in a span of 57 seconds.

Joerger called another timeout, but in a sense it was too late. In 3 minutes and 22 seconds, the Warriors had turned a deficit into a comfortable 27-16 lead. The Grizzlies would never get closer than nine points for the rest of the evening, and Golden State would wrap up a 73-9 regular-season record, the greatest in NBA history.

And it all started with that first-quarter blitz.

“We do pack a good punch every once in a while,” Curry said.

Yeah, these Warriors, who start their postseason run against the Houston Rockets Saturday, are the George Foreman of basketball. They have their dry spells, their off nights, their bouts of sloppiness. Usually, all it takes is one haymaker to set things right. And it can happen so fast that you aren’t sure what you just witnessed.

Consider:

On Dec. 8, the Warriors outscored Indiana 22-0 over a span of about 4½ minutes of the second quarter.

On Dec. 28, they led the lowly Kings by just two points in the third quarter, until a technical foul on Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins sparked a 9-0 run that lasted 1:13. After the briefest of lulls, Golden State scored another six points in exactly one minute. All in all, a two-point deficit turned into a 13-point lead in 2:49.

On Jan. 18, in a big showdown with the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, the Warriors sprinted to a 12-2 lead in the first 2:11. Just to show it wasn’t a fluke, they began the second half with a 9-0 run that took 1:27. They won 132-98.

On Feb. 27, Curry hit three 3-pointers in 80 seconds at Oklahoma City, with Mo Speights adding a basket inside, to cut the Warriors’ deficit from 40-30 to 42-41 in the second quarter. They added an 8-0 spree late in the fourth quarter, and eventually won in overtime.

On March 12, the Warriors trailed Phoenix 95-86 entering the fourth quarter in Oakland, then immediately outscored the Suns 7-0 in less than a minute. Then Phoenix fought back to go up 108-105 with 5:50 left. Then Golden State ran off 14 consecutive points in 3:23 and won 123-116.

On April 3, they were having trouble shaking the Trail Blazers until Thompson keyed a 9-0 burst that lasted 50 seconds. The Warriors wound up winning by 25 points.

This is but a small sampling. Make no mistake, basketball is a game of back and forth. Every team has its runs. The Warriors’ are just more frequent, and more spectacular.

Thompson can feel the dam breaking sometimes.

“You can,” he said. “I mean, Steph hits two in a row, then he gets an easy backdoor layup or something like that, or Draymond’s leading the break and finding Iggy for Alley-Oop. You can just feel it. Especially in our home building, you can feel the electricity.”

A lot of those runs begin (or end) with a 3-point splash by Curry or Thompson. But they are frequently sustained on the defensive end, where blocks and steals can lead to easy baskets.

“It’s everything on the defensive end,” Thompson said. “We’re playing the passing lanes, we’re switching aggressively, getting out on the fast break, that’s what fuels a run. We’re the best transition team in the game, so try to get as many of those as we can.”

It can be exhilarating to watch. Every Golden State shot starts to fall. The opponent’s passes become tentative. And depending on the venue, the crowd either goes insane or falls into a respectful silence.

“Man, it’s a track meet,” small forward Harrison Barnes said. “You know, we’re making shots, we’re running on fast breaks, it’s like ‘just keep up with the pace.’ … You sub guys in, they’re still feeding off that momentum, too. It’s a great feeling. It’s hard to describe, but when guys are raining 3s, running in transition, getting dunks, everyone is passing, moving, it’s demoralizing.”

And yet it’s commonplace. The Warriors have done this so much by now, they rarely meet a deficit they don’t believe they can overcome.

Center Andrew Bogut said the San Antonio Spurs have generally done the best job keeping the Warriors from igniting. But that just means one cascade of points rather than two or three over the course of a game.

“We know if we just keep the game close, grinding out defense and rebounding, not turning the ball over and keeping the game close, no matter how bad we’re shooting we’re eventually gonna knock down three in a row,” Bogut said. “So you go bang-bang-bang, and like you said, the lead goes from one to nine in a matter of minutes. That’s heartbreaking to teams in a way, because they’re playing us so well and it’s so close, and they think they’re in the game, and bang, you know, seven minutes left in the fourth and it’s a 10-point game.”

If there is a downside, it’s that the Warriors are so convinced a quick strike is in their future, they don’t always play with a sense of urgency. Some teams get agitated when they fall behind by 10 points. The Warriors know a 12-point run might come at any moment. It usually does, but it’s a precarious model for success.

Curry acknowledges as much.

“Sometimes it’s joy when literally nothing’s going right and you just find it,” he said. “But sometimes it’s frustrating, too, because we know we may have lost our focus for a three- or four-minute stretch and put ourselves in a bad position that we needed those points to come back. That’s when it becomes frustrating, like why put ourselves in that situation?”

Before Wednesday’s regular-season finale, Joerger was asked what his Grizzlies could do to limit the Warriors’ explosions. The coach laughed out loud and shook his head.

Finally, he said: “All five guys that are on the floor, they’re gonna take tough shots and they’re gonna make tough shots. … Most teams don’t allow their guys to take that shot. They’re gonna hit ’em. And they’re gonna hit a couple ones where you’re all over ’em. You cannot let go of the rope, even a possession or two. Because that’s where they push it up to 12, 15, and we all know what the numbers are when they get up to that number.”

Joerger knew all about the Warriors’ penchant for paralyzing runs. His players knew, too. Ultimately, though, they were powerless to stop it. The Grizzlies might not have let go of the rope that night, but like so many other NBA teams, they definitely got dragged along by it for a few crucial minutes.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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