Warriors 116, Timberwolves 107

Don Nelson emerged from the Golden State Warriors locker room

all disheveled from a wild celebration after finally overtaking

Lenny Wilkens as the NBA’s winningest coach.

His gray hair was soaked to the scalp not with Dom Perignon, but

a concoction of fizzy soft drinks after a 116-107 victory over the

Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night gave Nelson win No. 1,333

for his career.

“We didn’t have any champagne bottles, so we took some Sprite

and some Mountain Dew and some water and sprayed it all over him,”

said Anthony Tolliver, who scored a career-high 34 points.

How appropriate, because the road to this record has been

anything but smooth and easy for one of the league’s true

mavericks.

“It’s just such a neat feeling,” Nelson said. “This is

probably why we end up coaching, for moments like this.”

In 31 seasons on the bench, Nelson is 1,333-1,061 in a career

that has made stops in Milwaukee, Golden State (twice), New York

and Dallas. He won five titles as a player, has been named coach of

the year three times, but has never made an NBA Finals as a

coach.

Through it all, Nelson has always done it his way. He’s clashed

with players, management and ownership at various stops along the

way and is the only coach with at least 1,000 career victories who

has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Nelson has built a reputation as a “mad scientist,”

experimenting with lineups and offensive sets to cater to teams

that were not always the biggest, strongest or most talented. In

his first stint with Golden State in the late 1980s, he employed

the famous “Run T-M-C” lineup of guards Tim Hardaway, Mitch

Richmond and Chris Mullin to make the Warriors one of the more

entertaining teams in the league.

And now “Nelly Ball” has its own special place in history.

“This is a tremendous honor for a great coach and we are all

thankful for the memories that he has provided us over the years,”

Warriors president Robert Rowell said in a statement. “Don’s

creativity and innovative style have proven effective for over

30-plus years in the NBA, including this season, when the team has

consistently played hard and has been extremely competitive despite

a short-handed roster the entire year.”

This has been a long season for the Warriors (24-54), who have

been ravaged by injuries and are a lock to finish with their fewest

wins since 2001-02. But in some ways, this was the perfect team to

take Nelson to the top of the record books.

The Warriors played their sixth straight game without Monta

Ellis (flu) and also were again without Anthony Randolph (ankle)

and Kelenna Azubuike (knee). Center Andris Biedrins (sports hernia)

and forward Brandan Wright (shoulder) have missed big chunks of

time this season too.

The Warriors have called up five players from the Development

League this season, which is tied with the 2007-08 Spurs for the

most in one season. Tolliver and Chris Hunter – who both played big

roles in the record-setting win – are former D-Leaguers and C.J.

Watson and Azubuike also have played there in past seasons.

“I told the team that I loved them dearly, that they were very

special to me,” Nelson said. “But sometimes they don’t play like

I want them to.”

Stephen Curry had 27 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds and a

career-high seven steals, but the Warriors let a 27-point lead

dwindle to four with 43.6 seconds left. Anthony Morrow closed the

game out at the free throw line, and the players mobbed their

69-year-old coach when the final buzzer sounded.

“For us to get the record is a big accomplishment for us,”

Curry said. “We call it our championship game.”

It was extra special for Nelson to do it in Minnesota. He has a

daughter who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka and had

20 family and friends at the game, including his wife. He also said

Wilkens has been in contact with him recently as Nelson has neared

the mark.

“Lenny’s been an idol of mine for a long time,” he said.

Among active coaches, Utah’s Jerry Sloan (1,188) and the Lakers’

Phil Jackson (1,095) are closest to Nelson on the list.

“There’s plenty of guys close to that if they want to coach a

couple of years,” Nelson said. “There’s coaches out there that

win 50 at a time, 60 at a time. Not like me, winning 20 at a time,

it’s a little harder.”

Nelson got his first head coaching job with Milwaukee in 1976

when he replaced Larry Costello 19 games into the season.

“I didn’t even have an assistant,” he said. “That’s how long

ago that was.”

In an industry where service time is measured in months, not

years, the achievement was not lost on Timberwolves coach Kurt

Rambis.

“The success he’s had, the longevity he’s had, it’s tough to be

a coach in this league and to stick around as long as he has,”

Rambis said. “To have the success that he’s had, the numerous

situations he’s been in. He’s done a great job.”

Curry, who was passed over by the Timberwolves in favor of Jonny

Flynn and Ricky Rubio in June’s draft, was sensational. He made 12

of 22 shots and ran the team like a veteran, finding Tolliver and

Hunter for easy baskets in the paint all game long.

With leading scorer Al Jefferson out because of personal

reasons, the Timberwolves didn’t have near enough offense to keep

up.

“He hasn’t had a championship yet, so this is kind of like his

championship,” Tolliver said. “We wanted to make it as special as

possible.”

NOTES: Kevin Love had 17 points and 18 rebounds for the

Timberwolves and Flynn finished with 19 points, eight assists and

six turnovers. … Hunter scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting. …

Love had his team-leading 35th double-double of the season. … The

Timberwolves also played without rookie Wayne Ellington, who missed

the game with strep throat.