Warriors eye playoff perfection but title still the big prize

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LeBron James No.23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against Kevin Durant No.35 of the Golden State Warriors in the first half of Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio. AFP PHOTO

CLEVELAND: Forgive the Golden State Warriors if they stubbornly focus on winning the NBA crown instead of the chance they become the first champion with an undefeated playoff charge.

The Warriors lead the best-of-seven NBA Finals 3-0 entering game four Friday at Cleveland and have won 15 consecutive playoff games, the longest streak in North American major pro sports history.

“It would be great to own a piece of history,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “Just because 16-0 means we’re champs. It wasn’t a goal of ours to start the postseason, but now that’s it’s attainable, we have our eyes set on it.

“All we have to do is come out with great focus and play as hard as we can and we should be in a position to win.”

The nearest an NBA champion has come to playoff perfection was the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers, who went 15-1. Led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the team lost only its finals opener to Philadelphia.

And the Warriors made history but got burned last year, when they won a record 73 regular-season games and took a 3-1 lead over Cleveland in the finals only to lose after the Cavaliers made the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history.

No team has ever rallied from 3-0 down to win in 126 NBA playoff series, but Thompson says locking up the title means more than completing a playoff sweep.

“We still remember what happened last year. It’s fresh in our minds,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter until we get that 16th one.

“It’s very impressive, though. It’s something we pride ourselves on, just our consistency this post-season and not getting down on ourselves, not feeling ourselves too much when we’ve been winning, but still staying hungry and on course.”

Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith would enjoy shattering the perfect playoff run.

“I would love to put a dent in that record,” he said. “I don’t really focus on it too much. That’s really for them, whether they get the record or they don’t.

“If we bring our A game and play smart enough, we’ll do it.”

Warriors star forward Kevin Durant, seeking his first NBA title after leaving Oklahoma City for the Warriors last July, warned against complacency with the trophy so near.

“The series is not over,” Durant said. “This could turn if we come out there thinking we’re the champions already.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr dismissed talk of 16-0.

“Not something I’m thinking about,” he said. “Let’s go win and then we can savor a championship however we want.

“You don’t want to mess around. You’re up 3-0, you have all the momentum, you have to carry that through.”

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue stressed anything is possible in a must-win situation.

“Right now our season’s on the line,” Lue said. (One win) is a step in the right direction. We’re not going to give in. We’re going to keep competing.

“If we come out with the fight and intensity that we played with last game, clean up a few mistakes, then we have a chance to win on Friday.”

Unbeaten, room to improve
The scary part for Golden State rivals is that the Warriors feel they can get even better.

“I personally feel like this team can. There is another level,” Warriors reserve Andre Iguodala said. “If we can continue to grow, then it’s really scary.”

Warriors forward Draymond Green expects the Cavs’ best game will be their next.

“Close-out games are always the hardest,” Green said. “They’re going to come out and fight.”

As for 16-0, Green figures it comes with the territory.

“Now that it’s a legit possibility, one game away, you should think about it,” he said. “You don’t want to prolong the series and give a team more and more confidence. It’s something ou should push for now just because it means you’re done.

“We’re very confident. With a 3-0 lead, you should be confident. But we’re not satisfied. We’re not complacent.”

Warriors center Zaza Pachulia could become the first player from the former Soviet republic of Georgia to win an NBA title.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” he said. “I’m excited because of the situation. I’m always proud to represent my country.”

He wouldn’t mind a 16-0 playoff run either.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “This is a thing that’s really special, that’s never happened before. We’re not looking at a record. We just want a championship and I think we are very capable of finishing perfect.”

AFP



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