The talent gap separating the field from the favourites in each conference was well documented. No one expected dominance to this degree.
You could look externally for justification. For the conference finals especially, there are notable details in the match-ups.
The Spurs were severely underhanded without starting point guard Tony Parker, then completely debilitated without Kawhi Leonard. The Warriors truly caught a break with Leonard’s unfortunate injury. It’s hard to say that it would have been enough to swing the result, but that 23-point lead in Game 1 suggests the Spurs may have found an answer, and definitely threatened to steal a game.
— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) May 21, 2017
The Celtics make a legitimate case as one of the weaker No.1-seeds of all time, assuming the position solely due to LeBron and co. treating the regular season as an extended training camp.
That’s no blemish on Boston – they are four years removed from blowing up a championship team, their ascension to the top more likely to be the starting point rather than the high-mark of their rebuild, one that is quite possibly the most efficient we’ve ever seen. With the top pick in this year’s draft, the journey has just begun, the final frontier perfectly displayed by the two inevitable finals participants.
Still, these are two talented squads with top-5 coaches who are the closest in ability to challenge the two front-runners — and they haven’t held a candle to either of their front-runners.
Throughout the post-season, the Cavaliers and Warriors have discarded of their opposition with alarming ease, their success coming at a historically dominant level.
Cleveland Cavaliers 10-0, Golden State Warriors 10-0 pic.twitter.com/e0aO4EEZZp
— Corben Dallas (@Corr_M) May 20, 2017
One team in NBA history has progressed to the finals without dropping a game, the 2001 Lakers, finishing 15-1 en route to the title. Armed with young afro Kobe and prime Shaq, this team is widely regarded as the best post-season team in history, alongside the 72-win ’96 Bulls and the ’89 Lakers. The 2012 champion Spurs throw their hat into the ring as the best modern team to blitz through the playoffs. These teams are held in such high regard due to their separation from the competition.
This year, we have two teams stating their claims to enter this conversation. What makes their runs so momentous is their simultaneous occurrence.
Never have two teams remained undefeated heading into the conference finals, let alone the finals. Like the aforementioned teams, the Cavs and Warriors have stood head and shoulders above their opposition — through the first five games they hold an average winning margin of 21.4 points (Cavs +28.5, GS +16), the first- and third-biggest margin in conference finals, with games left to play. For perspective, the 2001 Lakers hold the current highest mark at 22 per game.
There have been great, dominant teams before, but none this far ahead of the pack. Most noteworthy, they’ve never had a team mirroring their success on the other side of the bracket, on a collision course to meet in June.
But their series aren’t over, I hear you say?
Oh, but they are.
Hypothetically, the Celtics or Spurs could dig deep and with the aid of a little complacency steal one of the remaining games, doing so without their respective best players, Isaiah Thomas and Kawhi Leonard, is tough to envision, even for the most one-eyed fans.
Either underdog turning the results of their series is completely out of the question. With the continued focus on rest this season, and the colossal match-up that awaits them, you’d have to believe these teams are as locked in as ever. GS have one game to close out their series, the Cavs with two at home. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. No top seed has ever returned from 2-0 down to win the series. They’ve been winning at a historical pace and margin, and nothing suggests it’s going to stop.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 20, 2017
It’s their shared ability to throw out questions that no one but all-time great teams have the answers to that sets them so far apart.
This should delight basketball fans everywhere, because we’re about to see each team against their closest competitor for the first time since last year’s finals. More than this year’s NBA title will be on the line when these two meet in a few weeks’ time, so enjoy their history making warm-up tour and buckle up for what is shaping as a landmark NBA Finals series.