Because Cleveland has offered so little resistance in the first two games of the NBA Finals – the tone may change now that the series has shifted to the rust belt, but I doubt it – the conversation about Golden State has drifted into to the hypothetical and the fantastic.
The Warriors place in the present is so secure at the moment that there is nothing left to discuss but their importance across all time. That means engaging in the popular and ultimately fruitless exercise of matching them against the great teams of the past.
You know, the debate that is the staple of barber shops and bar stools everywhere, creating as many circular, endless arguments as politics or religion.
Thus, you’ve had Golden State guard Klay Thompson playfully interjecting after their Game 2 victory over the Cavs that his guys could have beaten the famed “Showtime” L.A. Lakers of the 1980s. And his father, Mychal Thompson, a member of two of those titled Lakers teams, agreeing.
It’s simple math, the former L.A. big man said. “We shot eight (3 pointers) a game, they shoot eight a quarter," he told USA Today. “If we played them, they would outscore us 50-16 in 3s. So do the math from there.”
Magic Johnson felt compelled to defend his Lakers team, declaring for ESPN that, “There’s no way they’re going to deal with Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time leading career scorer). There’s no way they’re going to deal with (Hall of Fame forward) James Worthy.” And, of course, understood is the difficulty in handling the most versatile point guard ever, Johnson himself.
The team more commonly compared to these Warriors is the one whose season-victory record Golden State just eclipsed – the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96. The Bulls of Michael Jordan returning from his baseball hiatus to score nearly 31 a game. The Bulls of Scottie Pippen, the most valuable sidekick this side of Tonto. The Bulls of the freaky rebounding prowess of Dennis Rodman.
The problem with these kind of imaginary match-ups – throw in the great Boston teams of the past, too, if you like – is that they insist upon forcing two entirely differently shaped teams from two entirely different eras into the same round hole.
Golden State is the epitome of modern basketball, the team that thrives on the high-possession, high-volume-of-3s game of the present. These Warriors attempted 2,592 3-point shots this season compared to the 1,349 attempted by the ‘95-‘96 Bulls of Triangle offense fame (and the paltry 447 of the 1986-87 Lakers).
The pace of the game has been cranked up, too, as teams shift from the old inside-out model to the long-range artillery strategy of the now. (Golden State averaged 99 possessions per game this season, the old Bulls averaged nearly eight fewer).
With such glaring dissimilarities, the primary tools we end up bringing to these kind of arguments are feelings – and those are the clumsiest of implements.
Thus, I feel that any team with Michael Jordan automatically is the chosen one (especially with a supporting cast such as Pippen and Rodman and, yes, current Warriors coach Steve Kerr supplying a shooter’s threat).
And I believe that a Showtime Lakers unit possessing three Hall of Famers, three members of the Top 50 greatest players in NBA history as selected during the League’s 50th anniversary, just might find a way to steal a series against the snipers of today.
So, just enjoy the moment young Warriors and don’t get bogged down in more esoteric static.
For in the end, engaging in this kind of argument takes you to a place you don’t want to be, a place most familiar to Cleveland right now: The no-win situation.