CLEVELAND — The Warriors have the perfect ending in their sights.
They’re one win from sweeping the Cavaliers and capturing their second NBA championship in three years. If the Warriors do it in Game 4 Friday night, they will become the first team to go undefeated during the postseason — a perfect 16-0.
“What this team has accomplished is remarkable,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday, a day after his team’s 118-113 victory in Game 3.
Kerr was a five-time champion as a player — three with the Bulls and two with the Spurs — and played for some of the greatest teams of all time. The Warriors have made their way into that conversation. If they sweep the Cavaliers — and playoffs — some will make the argument that they are the best team ever.
They have four of the best players in the NBA: Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They play unselfishly, play defense and are the toughest team to guard because of all their weapons and playmakers.
“I knew it was going to be one of the toughest challenges I’ve had because of the firepower they have and because of the mindset they were going to have,” LeBron James said. “They’re a hungry group. You can sense that. You’ve seen that throughout this postseason. You’ve seen it the first three games of the Finals. And they have so much talent, a ton of talent, and they work well together.”
The Warriors are hungry because of how last season ended. They led the Cavaliers 2-0 and 3-1 in the Finals, but the Cavaliers won the final three games and the title as the Warriors became the first team in Finals history to blow a 3-1 lead.
No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
The Cavaliers had a chance to get back in the series in Game 3, but after taking a 113-107 lead with 3:09 left, they never scored again. The Warriors ended the game on an 11-0 run to win the game and put themselves in position to make history.
“It came up once [Wednesday] night. I think the only reason it came up because we want to win this next game. If we win that, it’s 16-0,” Green said. “It definitely wasn’t one of those things where it’s a goal, like, ‘Let’s go in and play awesome and go 16-0.’ That’s too much on the mind. But now that it’s a legit possibility, we’re one game away, I think you should think about it at this point. It’s a realistic goal and it’s something we should push for now. It means you’re done.”
The best postseason record in NBA history belongs to the 2001 Lakers, who went 15-1. Kerr tried to downplay the potential achievement, saying all he cares about is winning the series. “It’s just win,” he said. “Let’s go win and then we can savor a championship however we want.”
The Miami Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972 for the only perfect season and postseason in NFL history. Kerr joked that he enjoys seeing former Dolphins great Mercury Morris celebrate each year when the last remaining undefeated NFL team gets beaten, ensuring that Miami’s mark will stand alone.
“That’s one of my favorite moments of the NFL season,” Kerr said.
When he was told that could be him, Kerr responded, “Wouldn’t that be awesome? That would be great.”
The Cavaliers want to prevent that from happening, but it will be extremely difficult to do that. The Cavaliers gave Golden State their best shot in Game 3 — James and Kyrie Irving totaled 77 points — and they still lost.
“We’re coming back,” J.R. Smith said, showing some of his expected bravado. “I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t think that.”
Shortly after Game 3, a tweet from Smith’s official Twitter account said “Cavs in 7.” It was quickly deleted. Smith said he was hacked, but he still believes that.
“Tomorrow’s another important opportunity for us and for myself to continue this series,” James said. “It’s been a long season. You hate for it to end this way. So mentally and physically, I got to prepare myself for that.”
The biggest difference in this series has been Durant. He’s the early favorite to be the MVP as he closes in on his first NBA championship.
Durant, who left Oklahoma City last July to sign with the Warriors for a chance to get a ring, is averaging 34 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He scored seven consecutive points in the last 1:15 Wednesday night, including the go-ahead three-pointer over a late-to-close-out James with 45 seconds left.
“It just looks like this is his moment, this is his time,” Kerr said. “He’s earned it. He’s been in the league for a long time and he’s, I think, at the top of his game at the biggest time.”
The same can be said for the undefeated Warriors in their quest for redemption — and history.
Some of the numbers behind the Warriors’ perfect 15-0 postseason:
Points scored per game
Points allowed per game
Stephen’s Curry’s points per game
Kevin Durant’s points per game
FG shooting percentage
Assists per game
Steals per game