Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Golden State Looks Far From Winningest Team in NBA History

It was an undeniably impressive season for the Golden State Warriors, made all the more so because they managed to go 73-9 and eclipse the mark of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls to establish a new regular season standard of excellence.

As many people, myself included, have suggested, however, they absolutely needed to find a way to end the season with a championship ring to fully cement that greatness. Otherwise, it is just a regular season mark, and meant nothing when it counted the most. 

To be fair, the difficulty level of eclipsing a team like the 1996 Chicago Bulls makes it virtually impossible. Even after the Warriors enjoyed a historically dominating season last year and capped it off with a championship, many people felt that their regular season success was a bit trumped up, and that the team's weaknesses would be exposed.  San Antonio (the team that I believed might give them a tough challenge), Cleveland, and some even suggested OKC (which I did not, although apparently there might be something to that, after all). There were even some other tough teams that supposedly could threaten them, like Memphis.

The first time that I heard OKC might be their toughest opponents came around the last month or so of the regular season. But as a team that was hot and went to the NBA Finals a few years ago, I still thought of them as a team that came close, but did not quite do it. That basically was what I had come to think of them as, for that matter. A team that had enormous potential, even appearing for a while as the team best poised to emerge as a dynasty, but did not get the job done in their one and (so far) only NBA Finals appearance. 

Well, that might be about to change, because this edition of the OKC Thunder look like world beaters. They blew past Dallas in five games, and then knocked out the Spurs in six, taking two games in San Antonio - where the Spurs had lost only one game all season prior to that series.

Now, the Thunder appear on the verge of handing the defending champion Golden State Warriors - a team that lost only nine regular season games - four losses in a best of seven series. That would secure another NBA Finals appearance, with another shot at the title. 

And in the meantime, the historic levels of success that the Golden State Warriors had enjoyed to this point are on the verge of being largely forgotten. People would forget that perfect 24-0 start, or how they finished 73-9. People would forget that they were the first team in NBA history to complete a regular season without having dropped two games in a row. But the loss at OKC last night was their second straight loss, and puts the Warriors in a 3-1 hole, which few teams ever really fight back from to even force a Game 7, let alone go on to win the series. 

Maybe the Warriors will be an exception, as they were through most of the season. But OKC is allowing us to see a rare side of this Golden State team. That when someone manages to push them as far as they can go, maybe they do indeed break. 

Since the Warriors spoke of their own greatness, and many were comparing them (usually unfavorably) to the best NBA teams in history (particularly the 1996 Chicago Bulls), it needs to be said now that the Bulls were never forced into a Game 7 during the 1996 playoffs. Very rarely were they ever in Game 7's, although they usually won.

Golden State needs to find a way to force a Game 7, because obviously if they do not, they will have failed. All of those incredible, glittering records will have fallen by the wayside, and they will have been just another also ran. Another team that wanted to win a championship, but did not. They might be particularly memorable because of how dominant they looked, and that is where they might be remembered like the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings, or the 2007 New England Patriots - both teams that achieved amazing success during the regular season and were on the brink of winning it all in the postseason, but just ran into an opponent who, finally, managed to stop them short.

Right now, OKC is looking very much like that team. 


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