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Jerry Sullivan: Warriors are fighting Cavs, not NBA history

CLEVELAND – Could they start the game already? The longer the wait between games in the NBA Finals, the more ridiculous the conversation becomes.

Considering the chatter of the last few days, it wouldn't be a surprise if Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Larry Bird and Scottie Pippen recruited some of their old teammates and showed up at Quicken Loans Arena to challenge the Warriors to a pickup game.

As basketball fans suffered the interminable wait for the (scheduled) 9 p.m. start for Game Three, the question wasn't so much whether this Warriors team would beat the Cavs, but how they would stack up against some of the greatest teams in NBA history. There's even talk that Kevin Durant is now better than LeBron James.

On Tuesday morning, Johnson said his best Lakers teams would sweep this year's Warriors. He said the Warriors were too small. Of course, Magic never attempted a three-pointer with Kevin Durant running out to the perimeter.

Julius Erving weighed in, the estimable Doctor contending that his Sixers title team of 1982-83 would beat the current Warriors. Pippen has made similar claims about the Bulls' best teams with Michael Jordan. An ESPN poll of Las Vegas bookies said the Warriors would beat the '96 Bulls team that went 72-10 in the regular season.

Let's pump the brakes here. The Cavs did come back from a 2-0 deficit in games to win the championship a year ago. They rallied from a 3-1 deficit in games by winning the last three, two of them in Oakland. Oh, and the record confirms that they did slow the pace of the games in the process.

But these debates help pass the time. You can't blame people for elevating the Warriors to historic status when they've stormed through the playoffs with 14 consecutive wins by an average margin of 16.9 points, which would easily set a record if they maintained it for the rest of the Finals.

Golden State is two victories from becoming the first NBA team ever to go unbeaten in the playoffs, and as Nick Veronica points out, the first team in any major pro sport to do it in a modern playoff format. That would become exceedingly likely if they win Game Three here Wednesday night, so the speculation is understandable.

The Warriors, who were the first team to start 12-0 in the playoffs, want no part of the 16-0 talk. They found out last year how quickly history can turn on a team. They pushed to set a record of 73 wins in the regular season, only to collapse in the last three games of the Finals.

Draymond Green, the Warriors' combustible power forward and eager spokesman, was asked if the players have targeted a 16-0 postseason the way they had those 73 regular-season wins a year ago.

"No," Green said. "We made that mistake of circling 73 and worrying about the wrong thing before. It don't matter.

"There's no feeling of 'We're almost there," he added. "You've got to play every game like you're down. If you keep that mindset, you'll eventually reach the goal. But to say we're up 2-0, we're good? We still got two more games to win, and those two will be way harder than the first two."

Not surprisingly, head coach Steve Kerr shared those sentiments. Kerr, who returned the bench for Game Two after missing most of the playoffs due to complications from back surgery, was asked if 16-0 was in his sights.

"We want 15-0," Kerr said. "That's what we want. Are we 14-0 right now? We want 15-0. That's what we want. We literally have never once mentioned 16-0. To me, it's a miracle that it's even a possibility. It's so hard to do.

"But we are here. We're more focused on what happened last year in terms of we were up 2-0 and we came here and the series shifted. That's the important lesson, not any historical benchmarks or anything like that."

The only history that mattered to Kerr was what happened at the Q on June 8 a year ago. After getting hammered in the first two games of the Finals, the Cavs blew out the Warriors in Game Three, 120-90.

The Cavs, aroused by their home crowd, surged to a 17-point lead after the first quarter of that game. They shot 12-for-25 on three-pointers and outrebounded Golden State by 20. James scored 32 points and Kyrie Irving (32) and J.R. Smith (20) came out of their shooting funks.

"Game Three has been rough for us historically," said Steph Curry, "especially in this building. So to give ourselves a chance at even coming close to thinking about (16-0), we need to really, really just lock in and give every effort we have tomorrow and to how hard this 48 minutes is going to be to really seize control of this series."

"We have talked about it, that 16-0 doesn't matter in any stretch of the imagination unless that's a closeout game," Curry said. "And that's the opportunity in front of us."

As Curry suggested, Game Three hasn't been kind to the Warriors at the Q. Two years ago, the Cavs won the third game, 96-91 -- without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Loved. LeBron James scored 40 that night. The Warriors went on to win the series in six, but it's another reminder of how James can carry a team.

Green said the Warriors realize that the Cavs will have the home crowd and throw everything they have at them. The memory of last year's collapse should help the Warriors. A great team is even more dangerous when it understands the folly of letting down for even an instant.

Curry said last year's team might have suffered a little "mental fatigue" in the run to a record 73 wins. But unlike Green, he doesn't see the team's decision to go for the record as a mistake in retrospect.

"Honestly, I don't regret those decisions at all," Curry said. "We were one game away from winning a championship, so I don't think you can second-guess that much. It's nice to be able to just turn the page and focus on winning the championship in its purest form, and that's what we're about right now."

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