- If the Warriors finish the playoffs 16-0, they'll not only seize the ultimate revenge on the Cavaliers, but they'll give the 2016-17 NBA season the ending it deserves.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Draymond Green have given basketball fans the most lopsided postseason of the millennium. Now it's time to go to Cleveland and finish it. I'm not here to wring my hands over competitive balance and the state of the league, or complain about what this series might have been without KD, or wonder about the future of LeBron. There will be plenty of time to hit all those storylines in the weeks to come. For now, we need a ceasefire on thinkpieces.
Just let the Warriors go vaporize these guys—16-0 is most the honest ending to this season. No team has ever run through the NBA playoffs undefeated, but no team has ever been quite like the Warriors. This is a team that's had one loss in three months. When we have arguments about what they mean for the league going forward, and where they fit in league history, it should be clear that none of this has a precedent.
For example, in the fourth quarter of Game 2, Jeff Van Gundy interrupted another double-digit win to suggest that Steph Curry and Kevin Durant might be the best duo the league's ever seen. It's ridiculous, but not necessarily for the reasons you think.
With all due respect to Magic and Kareem, Scottie and Michael, Shaq and Kobe, and other legendary pairings, Van Gundy's general point will look fine in time. If Durant and Curry are not quite in the best duo conversation now, I'm sure they'll end up there eventually. The bigger problem with KD and Steph hyperbole is that it's an incomplete explanation of what's happened this year.
It's not just that Curry and Durant are the No. 2 and No. 3 players in the league. They're also rolling with Draymond Green, potentially the best defender the NBA's seen since Scottie Pippen, and a floor-spacing playmaker who fits perfectly on offense. Then there's Klay Thompson, the exact two-way superstar you'd design in a lab to compliment Curry and Durant. Then there's Steve Kerr's offense, an updated version of 2014 Spurs software, which makes this even more unstoppable. And Ron Adams, the grumpy genius who does the same with his defensive schemes. And Oracle Arena, which a friend once likened to playing inside a jet engine. And Andre Iguodala. And Shaun Livingston. And Bob Myers. On and on.
There have been great teams over the years, and great duos like Shaq and Kobe, but the formula here is different. The Warriors are the product of chemistry, talent, and timing the likes of which the league has never seen before, and may never see again. The historical record should reflect as much.
Plus, the cookies. Remember when LeBron threw that Halloween party? There were tombstone cookies dedicated to the Warriors, and as ESPN's Dave McMenamin later reported, "there was even a dummy dressed up like Curry on the floor of the haunted house that guests had no choice but to walk over when they arrived to get to the party."
This is why I've wondered about 16-0 since the beginning the playoffs. If the Warriors could make it through the West unscathed, sweeping the Finals would obviously be the most emphatic statement of all. Destroying the Cavs, demoralizing them, sending LeBron into a midlife crisis—all of that would be right there for them after what happened in last year's series and all the trash talk that followed. It's a response that even Warriors haters would have to respect.
We're halfway there. And they have to be gunning for it, right? Look at Draymond Green a month ago. "Go after the heart!" he screamed. "Go after the motherf---ing heart!"
That was against the Blazers. Imagine how he feels about the Cavs. Draymond might burst into flames in Cleveland tomorrow night.
It's the best–case scenario for what's left. If you've accepted that even a superhuman LeBron performance won't be enough to change the fate of these Finals, Golden State responding to last year's 73-win collapse with a 16-0 playoff run is the most legendary option on the board. It's the one Warriors story that would be worth re-telling.
Decades from now, nobody will care about point-differential or KD's efficiency or any of the Warriors blowouts the past few weeks, but 16-0 would resonate. We can tell stories of how unfair it seemed. How hopeless LeBron looked. How the Spurs would've stolen a game with healthy Kawhi. And how, by June, they were so dominant that rooting for them to make history was the only way to make any of it compelling.
Anti-climatic series have been the biggest theme of this year's playoffs, so as I write all this, I should add that the most likely outcome is still a five-game series. In that scenario we all drag this out an extra few days, go through the motions on some "Can the Cavs do this?" takes, and then move forward with a predictable Warriors title. No drama, but no history, either. If that timeline is the price we have to pay for last year's nationally televised hallucination of a Finals, that's cool.
But it would be cooler to watch Golden State finish the playoffs perfect. It would be the most spiteful response imaginable to everything that happened a year ago. It's also the most accurate way to explain Golden State's relationship to this year's NBA. And maybe every other year of the NBA.