The Golden State Warriors are redefining dominance.
At 14-0, the Warriors stand two games away from becoming the first undefeated NBA playoff team ever.
In sweeping through the post-season so far, Golden State has encountered just two single-digit games — a 119-113 comeback victory against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, and a 113-111 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference final against the San Antonio Spurs.
Every other game has been a blowout, and the Finals have been no different. In each of the first two games, the Warriors toyed with the Cavaliers in the first half, letting them gain some false confidence before running away with the game in the second half.
To wit: the Warriors have outscored Cleveland by nine points in the first two quarters, and by 30 in the second half. That’s demoralizing, especially for a team like the Cavaliers that enjoyed utter dominance themselves through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Each blowout affects the next game too. The Warriors’ stars don’t have to play intense fourth-quarter minutes because their games are never close. We’re two games into the Finals, and Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal — players who were eliminated in the second round — have logged more minutes than any Warrior.
Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are playing out of their minds, hitting over 43 per cent of their three-point attempts and scoring more than 25 points per game. There’s no good strategy to stop a pair of MVPs when they’re playing as well as ever.
Historically, the Warriors run holds up. They have the best net playoff point differential of all time, having outscored their opponents by 237. They’ve already set the NBA record for longest playoff winning streak at 14, and tied Mario Lemieux’s 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins for consecutive playoff wins in any major North American sport. For the moment, they seem unstoppable.
Of course, it’s not like they’ve never blown a two-game lead in the Finals before, so it’s still too early to crown them as the best playoff team ever. But the Warriors are on track to outshine the dominant playoff runs of these two teams:
2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers
In the midst of three straight championships, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to the closest encounter with playoff flawlessness before this year’s Golden State team. Los Angeles swept Portland in a five-game first round series, then won four straight against Sacramento and San Antonio to enter the Finals against Philadelphia undefeated.
But the Lakers lost Game 1 against the 76ers, with Allen Iverson scoring 48 points in an overtime win on the road. Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do when a future Hall of Famer decides he wants to take over, and the Warriors will need to avoid that with LeBron James on the other side. The Lakers would go on to win the next four games of the Finals to finish 15-1. Shaq took home Finals MVP honours.
1982-1983 Philadelphia 76ers
In the 1982 Finals, the Lakers downed Philadelphia in six games, as the 76ers had no answer for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That off-season, they found a solution: Moses Malone, the reigning MVP. Big Mo led Philadelphia to a 65-17 regular-season record, then brazenly predicted a “fo-fo-fo” playoff run. There were only three rounds back then, and Malone expected a sweep of each.
He was almost right. The 76ers went 12-1, with the lone blemish coming in the second round against Milwaukee after they were already up 3-0 in the series. Malone walked the walk and was rewarded with Finals MVP honours. But despite the record, the 76ers didn’t blow teams out like the Warriors have. Their net point differential was plus-84, and they played nine single-digit games, including the loss.