The Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games three years ago, but a former team employee believes that historic run actually might have prohibited them from winning back-to-back league championships.
"It probably hurt them in the end because they expended so much physical, mental and emotional energy getting to that state that they may be probably didn't have enough at the end," Lachlan Penfold, Golden State's head of physical performance and sports medicine in that 2015-16 season, said on the latest Habershow Podcast.
Penfold arrived in 2015 as the Warriors were going through a unique coaching transition. Head coach Steve Kerr had back surgery, forcing assistant Luke Walton to take his place for the first 43 games of the season. According to Lachlan, Kerr was in bad shape after the surgery.
"I came over for summer league, and I met him in the hotel -- he was in a fair bit of pain with his sciatica," Penfold said. "He was struggling to walk at times and had to sit down for a bit.
"He came back before training camp, and I sat down with him one time to chat and he could barely even look at me," Penfold added. "He tried to get through training camp, and he couldn't."
Walton coached historically well in Kerr's absence, going 39-4. Draymond Green and Steph Curry had career years, and Curry became the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. But one Warriors team attribute is what caught Penfold’s eye.
"One of the things that I think made that Warriors team so good that year was their refusal to lose, especially when the odds were against them all,” he said. “You're on the road, you're on your fourth, fifth, sixth game of a road trip. You're playing sh—-y, the refs are against you, the crowd is against you, you're 10 points down in the fourth quarter, let’s just pack it in, we'll save our energy for the next game.
“These guys never did that. They played out every game hard, and that's why they had such a great record."
In an effort to keep the Warriors fresh, Penfold advocated for player rest, even talking to Kerr in an attempt to convince the coach to rest his stars for a deep playoff run. Penfold’s pleas didn't work.
"I had some conversations with Steve at the time,” he said, “and eventually, Steve and [Warriors general manager] Bob [Myers] put it to the players, 'Do you want to go after the record or not, because this is your chance at a record.' And some players did, some didn't, but the majority did, and if you're going after the record, you probably need to play your better players.
“I felt like we needed to rest some of the players. It's interesting: If we had of rested them and they lost some more games and maybe didn't get the record, I don't think there would've been that emotional pressure throughout that postseason and Finals.”
Penfold’s fears ultimately came true. Not only did the team lose Curry for six playoff games with ankle and knee injuries, the team blew a 3-1 NBA Finals lead to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, Penfold believes the Warriors ultimately learned from the experience.
"You look at the Warriors now, and they've never gone close to that record because I think they realized the pitfalls of chasing it and what it can do on the back end,” he said.