Can we finally get past the Cleveland Cavaliers being unbeatable or being the best team in the NBA?
It’s hard to argue with numbers. When a team is undefeated this deep into the playoffs, the easy observation is that it's because that team clearly is the best.
The same standard that must be applied to the Cavs, who lost 99-84 to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the East finals on Saturday, is for everyone: What happens when adversity strikes?
Golden State not only won the championship last season, they won their first two series in five games with MVP Stephen Curry less-than 100 percent and starting center Andrew Bogut banged up.
It’s hard to see a scenario in which LeBron James doesn’t lead the Cavs back to the NBA Finals. But what would their record be had they lost him for six games in the playoffs like Golden State with Curry in the first two rounds? Would Golden State have swept the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks at full-strength in the first round like Cleveland? Yes. Without Curry? Possibly.
For the first time, however, when things didn’t go their way the Cavs looked average. Don't overreact to that, either. It happens in a seven-game series. Keeping up that furious pace is difficult. Adjustments are made. Eventually, shots stop falling. The true test is can that team still win under those less-than-ideal circumstances.
That’s what separates championship teams from all the rest. So far, with Golden State tied 1-1 with the Oklahoma City Thunder going into tonight, the Warriors have shown they can win. And they've yet to hit their full stride after winning 73 regular-season games.
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith leave a lot to be desired defensively for Cleveland. The same goes for Channing Frye. What happens when the opponent exploits them so effectively that it becomes a liability to have them on the floor and coach Ty Lue is forced to make a change?
The Cavs are not a 45% three-point shooting team, which is how well they shot in the postseason before the Game 3 loss. What happens when they begin to shoot with less accuracy? How will James perform if he faces Andre Igoudala, the 2015 Finals MVP who neutralized him, again? None of the teams the Cavs has faced has such a game-changing defensive option.
I don't know. But I'm not ready to declare that the Cavs are clearly the best team. And if I'm forced to make a call, I'll go with the known quantity in Golden State and not the best-case scenario theories about Clevleand.
If the Thunder are able to win their series, given that they've already solved the riddle of the 67-win San Antonio Spurs, then I'm not sure how it's possibe for anyone to pick against them.