OAKLAND: One victory shy of defending their NBA title, the Golden State Warriors might just be on the verge of completing the greatest season in the league’s 70-year history.
A triumph over Cleveland in Monday’s fifth game of the best-of-seven NBA Finals would give Golden State a repeat crown to cap a campaign that had the best start in league history, 24-0, and saw the Warriors win a record 73 regular-season games, one more than the old mark of the Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
“I never in a million years would have guessed that record would be broken,” said Steve Kerr, the Golden State coach who won his first NBA title as a guard on that Bulls squad. “I’ll say the same thing I said 20 years ago. I don’t think this one will ever be broken.”
A 108-97 victory Friday in Cleveland gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead in the finals and their 88th combined season and playoff win, one more than the Bulls’ old record total from two decades ago.
But Chicago was 15-3 in the playoffs to stand 87-13 overall while Golden State is 15-6 in the playoffs and only 88-15. And the Bulls had to win only three games in round one, not four as Golden State did this year.
The Warriors’ 28 regular-season win streak in a row dating to the end of the prior season became the second-longest in NBA history. They won 54 home games in a row over two seasons, 10 more than the old mark of the ’95-96 Bulls, and Golden State’s record 34 road wins were one more than those Bulls managed.
Jordan congratulated the Warriors in April on an “amazing season” but added, “I look forward to seeing what they do in the playoffs.”
‘It’s all subjective’
Golden State’s Draymond Green takes the best-ever debate in stride, saying “they are going to talk and we really don’t care.”
“We’ve got (to win the title) before you can even consider saying that,” Green said. “It’s all subjective. To say we’re better than the ‘Showtime’ Lakers, how can you say that? We never played them.”
That’s when teammate Klay Thompson interjected: “We are better than the ‘Showtime’ Lakers.” But that could have been a nod to his father Mychal, who won two titles with that Lakers lineup.
“Like saying we’re better than the Bulls — we’ll never play them. Two completely different eras,” Green added. “So I don’t really get off on the ‘best team of all times.’ I’m trying to win rings. That’s my only goal.”
Lakers Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson defended his “Showtime” squad, saying the unit with NBA all-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy could beat this year’s Warriors.
“We’ve never seen two guys who can shoot like Steph and Klay (Thompson), but they never ran up against somebody like us,” Johnson told ESPN.
Each boasts Aussie big man
The 1995-96 Jordan, in his first full season after an ill-fated try at baseball, led the NBA with 30.4 points a game and added 6.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists, then raised his average to 30.7 points in the playoff run and captured NBA Finals and season Most Valuable Player awards.
But Curry led the NBA this year with 30.1 points a game, also averaged 5.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists, led the NBA in steals with 169, free throw accuracy at 90.8 percent, hit a one-season NBA record 402 3-pointers and won season MVP honors for the second year in a row. After a 38-point effort in game four, the finals MVP could come his way as well.
“He doesn’t have the size and the strength to dominate a game physically, so he has to dominate with his skill,” Kerr said. “But he has a lot of faith in himself and he trusts his shot.”
The Bulls had Scottie Pippen (19.4 points a game) to match Thompson (22.1) and Dennis Rodman with an NBA-best 14.9 rebounds a game to Green’s team-best 9.5.
Each team had an Australian center, with the Bulls’ Luc Longley averaging 9.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.35 blocked shots and the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut at 5.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
The Bulls had Croatian forward Toni Kukoc and guards Ron Harper and Kerr but the Warriors counter with Harrison Barnes and 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala off the bench.
And both Kerr and Chicago’s Phil Jackson were voted NBA Coach of the Year.