CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors are chasing a championship, not necessarily perfection.
The Warriors have a chance at becoming the first NBA team to run the table in the playoffs, and go 16-0. They’ve won their first 14 games and, and lead the Cavaliers 2-0 in the NBA Finals.
But after their collapse last year, becoming the first team to lose after leading the championship series 3-1 to the same Cavaliers, Golden State’s goal is getting two more victories. Winning the championship is the only history on their minds as Game 3 Wednesday nears.
“We want 15-0,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before practice Tuesday. “We literally have never once mentioned 16-0. To me, it’s a miracle that it’s even a possibility. It’s so hard to do.
“We’re more focused on what happened last year, in terms of we were up 2-0 and we came here and the series shifted. That’s the important lesson, not any historical benchmarks.”
The Warriors hunted history last year, and got it — in the regular season. They went 73-9, setting a mark for the most wins ever. But they fell apart in the Finals for various reasons.
Draymond Green’s suspension for Game 5 was huge. But Steph Curry wasn’t at his MVP-best. Andre Iguodala’s back bothered him. All the strain and mental and physical fatigue from establishing that mark could have come back to bite the Warriors at the end. So perfection isn’t as important as holding the gold trophy.
“That would be a great thing to do and everyone wants to make history, but I want to win four games,” Green said. “If that’s four-to-three, if that’s four-to-zero, great. I just want to win four games. The championship is history. That’s really the only history we need to make.
“We made that mistake of circling 73 and worrying about the wrong thing before.”
The best record in playoff history belongs to the 2001 Lakers — coached by Phil Jackson and featuring Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue. They went 15-1. That was before the NBA changed the first-round of the playoffs from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven series in 2003.
Since that change, the 2007 Spurs, who swept LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, have the best record. They went 16-4.
The Cavaliers were no match for the Spurs that year, and haven’t been one for the Warriors thus far in this series. James has played his usual outstanding complete game. He’s averaging a triple-double of 28.5 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Yet he’s a minus-33.
That speaks to how loaded and dominant the Warriors are with their four stars: Curry, Green, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
They’re almost impossible to guard, but they’re making life difficult for the Cavaliers on the other end with their defensive pressure. It’s why few outside of people in the Cavaliers’ corner believe Cleveland can win a game or two — if that.
The Cavaliers forced just four turnovers in Game 1 and lost by 22. In Game 2, the Warriors committed 20 turnovers, James had a triple-double, and the Cavaliers still lost by 19.
The Warriors’ margin for error is far greater than the Cavaliers, who seemingly have to play a near-perfect game to beat Golden State.
“You never want to be down 2-0 in a series against anybody,” James said. “We know it’s a tall challenge but it’s a great moment to be a part of.”
The Cavaliers won Game 3 of the Finals in Cleveland the last two years against Golden State, but that doesn’t mean anything now. Both teams are different.
James wouldn’t reflect on how being down 2-0 this year feels compared to last year. He said he doesn’t remember how he felt. But after Games 1 and 2, he made it clear that the difference between this Golden State’s team and last year’s is Durant.
The Warriors were a super team already. They won the championship in 2015, followed that with the best regular season ever and appeared to be coasting to the title. And after they lost, they added Durant, a former MVP, in free agency.
If the Warriors can keep this group together, they’re going to be the team to beat for a long time.
But right now the Warriors aren’t thinking about the future or about going 16-0. They just want to seize this moment.
“Sixteen-and-oh doesn’t matter in any stretch of the imagination unless that’s a closeout game and that’s the opportunity in front of us,” Curry said. “All it is is just winning a championship and doing what you need to do to get that done.”