With a 118-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors closed in on the N.B.A. championship. And they closed in on history. They have a chance to be the first team to go through the playoffs undefeated.
Should they succeed with a win Friday night in Cleveland, they would complete back-to-back seasons to remember: the greatest regular season record ever (73-9 in 2015-16) followed by the greatest playoff record ever.
Indeed, their playoff run would stand as probably the greatest in any major North American sport.
Previously, the best N.B.A. playoff record belonged to the 2000-1 Lakers of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. They raced through the first three rounds undefeated, lost Game 1 of the finals to Allen Iverson and the 76ers, then won four straight for a 15-1 record. In a three-round playoff format, the 1982-83 Sixers were 12-1, nearly making good on Moses Malone’s prediction of “four, four, four.”
The sport with the most similar playoff format to basketball is hockey. No team has swept through the Stanley Cup playoffs in its current four-round format; the record belongs to the 1988 Oilers (Gretzky, Messier, Kurri) who were 16-2-1. (The tie came because of a power failure in the Boston Garden.) Earlier records all belong to the Canadiens. The 1976 and 1968 teams each had only one loss in a three-round format. The 1960 Canadiens were the last team to be undefeated in the postseason, though the playoffs were just two rounds then.