CLEVELAND -- It’s out there, big and bold, shining like a beacon in the distance. Postseason perfection. Winning every game of every series. Going where no team has gone before.
The Warriors are on the precipice. Already the first team in NBA history to open a postseason with 14 consecutive victories, they need two consecutive NBA Finals victories over the Cavaliers to become the first to achieve a flawless postseason.
As much as the Warriors would love to put this on their lifetime achievement resume, they won’t allow themselves to go public.
Not after their experience in Game 3 of the 2016 Finals.
“We want 15-0,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday, on the eve of Game 3, 2017 version, at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We talked about it before: 16-0 doesn't matter in any stretch of the imagination unless that's a closeout game,” Stephen Curry emphasized.
Which is, of course, another way of saying getting to 15 wins is the priority because without 15 in a row there is no chance for 16 in a row.
“And that's the opportunity in front of us,” Curry continued. “Because all it is, is just winning a championship and doing what you need to do to get that done. So (Game 3) is another step in that direction that we need to be ready for.”
Having arrived in Cleveland last June with a 2-0 lead in The Finals and losing four of the next five games -- including Game 3 -- provides the only cautionary tale the Warriors need.
“It was the nature with which they won that game, the force that they brought,” Kerr said. “They blew us out. I don't remember what the final score was, but it wasn't close. And I thought that gave them confidence, gave their crowd confidence.”
The score was 120-90. The Cavs never trailed, taking leads of 17-4 and 27-10 in the first quarter. Kerr pulled his starters midway through the fourth quarter, with the Warriors trailing by 24.
It’s the kind of beating that doesn’t fade.
And it’s why the Warriors, coaches and players, realize it would be risky, foolish even, to allow themselves the luxury of fixating on that 16-0 target.
“We can learn that how thin the line is from success and failure, especially playing on the road,” Curry said. “Usually home teams have a different spark about them and they might make a few more shots, those momentum swings, six-point, eight-point runs that you can go on can be a lot harder to deal with, with 19,000 people going crazy. So you got to just understand what's at stake every possession from the jump.”
The Warriors anticipate a tidal wave of energy from the Cavs and their fans but believe they’ll be ready this time.
“But we’ve got to just be able to take that first initial punch,” Andre Iguodala said. “Anything they throw in the game, be ready to adjust to it. The longer it takes, the more confidence they get. We just have to be mentally prepared to withstand the runs that they make at us, or the small adjustments they make, and be able to counter it.”
It’s a lot to consider. So much that, for now, for these Warriors, 16-0, remains more fantasy than reality.
That surely will change, though, should they prevail in Game 3 Wednesday night.