OAKLAND, Calif. -- With the same sense of magic and greatness that turned the Golden State Warriors into the only team in NBA history to win 73 regular-season games, Stephen Curry and his defending champions completed a mesmerizing comeback Monday night to earn another chance at LeBron, the Cavs and the trophy. This was, quite literally, the stuff of history.
Only 10 teams have now recovered from a 3-1 postseason series deficit, but it's the Warriors' version that transpired over the past week against the Oklahoma City Thunder that also keeps alive this very real fact: Win four more games -- hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy -- and they are the greatest basketball team of all-time.
I grew up on Jordan, so I get it -- I do. The yearning to believe Air Jordan would have crushed Curry and the Warriors' will, and all their greatness, and all this small-ball talk. The physicality argument -- that, to sum up that grumpy old man who once lived next door to you, "They don't make 'em like they used to" -- has every old-time NBA player nodding in agreement. All we need is a collective, "harumph" to complete the picture.
Fact is, we'll never actually know. Jordan's greatness was on another plane, but so is what the Warriors did with that 96-88 win in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. What we do know, and what we can measure, is this: The Warriors have the most wins in a regular season, one more than those 72-wins Bulls, and to gild that greatness with a championship and claim that all-time status they still have to go through LeBron James, probably the most gifted player of all-time.
Those 73 wins? A back-to-back championship? Beating the best player on earth to do it? With the newly minted unanimous MVP -- the only one in league history -- leading the way? After this stunning comeback against a Thunder team that looked better than any other until the tide turned?
That's enough. That's the greatest team, ever. The greatest run ever.
There is much to do, of course, to reap that reward and spark that never-ending debate. LeBron knows some feel this way, and that alone will power him. Throw in his love for that part of Ohio, his own pursuit of Jordan and all-time status, and his competitive will buttressed by a burning desire to silence the Steph lovers and reassert himself over his league, and it will make for one hell of a daunting challenge.
But the fact the Warriors are there at all to meet LeBron and the Cavs is so remarkable, and speaks so clearly to their level of greatness, that it's hard to doubt them now. No matter who's next.
In Game 7, Curry was an absolute force. He scored 36 points, made 7 of 12 3s, had eight assists and pulled down five rebounds. There were simply too many jaw-dropping moments to recount every one.
I don't write this lightly but, for sheer force of will and a marriage between being clutch and so talented, he was utterly Jordan-like. He was mesmerizing.
And he had to be.
In the fourth quarter, with the Warriors clinging to a lead and that tenuous series comeback, Kevin Durant awoke from whatever slumber he'd been in all game. He scored 12 of his 27 points as the game wound down, hit two improbable long-range 3s that gave his team fresh life, and for a moment, as the lead shrunk and Oracle Arena let the jitters back in and among the crowd, it seemed comeback miracles could work in both directions.
But that's the thing about this Warriors team. They are not flawless, but they are rocks. Truly. They are cold-blooded and resolute in the face of what feels like defeat in a way few others are. Not LeBron. Not the Spurs, for all their titles and accomplishments. Not anyone since ... well, Jordan and those Bulls.
Calmly, cooly, the Warriors responded. Klay Thompson had only one 3 in the fourth quarter, but it was a dagger. And in that moment the Thunder's 13-point lead from the first half was a memory, just like its 3-1 series lead. That Thompson himself had erupted in the second quarter for three straight 3s to cut that lead down and, eventually, the Thunder themselves, just adds to the layers of how the Warriors beat you, just when you think you've beaten them.
Andre Iguodala had seven points that didn't tell a tenth of the story of his hustle, his defense on Durant and others, and the will he injected into his team. Draymond Green, who settled after a rocky start, put up 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists and enough hustle and provocation -- shy of crossing that line to meltdown-status -- to keep the Thunder off-balance. From every player, all game, a sense of certainly pervaded.
Doubt this Warriors team, any of them, at any point?
The Golden State Warriors completed the best regular season of all time. On Monday night, it continued it with one of the most astounding and impressive comebacks we've ever seen in the postseason. Their return from the brink turned these conference finals into one of the best NBA series ever.
Now, the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James come to town for one last crack at stopping them. And unless they do just that we'll be gazing on the greatest basketball team of all time.