Even after losing Game 2 to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors remain the favorites to return to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive season and win their third championship in four seasons and second in a row since signing Kevin Durant in 2016.
The Warriors spent the regular season being the bored genius child who seldom found anything to motivate them. Let's be clear: the same Golden State team that struggled to get through the 82-game schedule also won 58 games.
Then in the playoffs - after a season of wondering whether this team had lost the plot, or would struggle to find another gear - they went on to beat the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans in five games each and dominate the Rockets in Game 1 to take home-court advantage away from them in the Western Conference finals.
With Durant, the Warriors are 25-4 in the postseason. They lost one game during their entire championship run last season - a Game 4 defeat to the Cavaliers after taking a commanding 3-0 lead in The Finals. The one game felt like a championship win for Cleveland. All-time teams like the Warriors have a way of making single victories feel that way - before they snatch all hope away in the next game.
As the series shifts back to Golden State for Game 3 on Sunday, it's worth considering this Warriors team's legacy. It's easy to look at the once-in-a-million opportunity they received thanks to a one-year cap spike of adding Durant to a team that had just won 73 games, and his addition will always cast a sort of asterisk over everything this team accomplishes. After all, in the era of superteams, the Warriors built the ultimate superteam - one which requires opponents to play a perfect 48 minutes to take one game in a seven-game series.
But the legacy of these Warriors, especially if they win another championship this season, will be like many other title teams before them, except more amplified: they'll have prevented many other legitimate superteams from claiming a piece of this era.
This year's Rockets have been the culmination of Daryl Morey's years of tinkering with the roster in Houston with the goal of building a two-way monster capable of contending for a championship. On offense, the Rockets have long embraced Moreyball, which emphasizes 3-pointers, layups, and free-throw attempts, leaving very little room for inefficient possessions. The addition of Chris Paul next to James Harden, whom Mike D'Antoni calls the best offensive player he's ever seen, pushed Houston's offense to historic levels this season.
Houston also has one of the best defenses in the league, thanks to a versatile roster with lineups that can switch from one through five - a requirement to even compete with the Warriors at this level. In any other era, this would be the runaway championship favorite. Instead, will anyone be surprised if the Rockets, who were assembled specifically to beat this Golden State team, don't win another game in this series?
The Rockets wouldn't be the first superteam to be cast aside by these Warriors. Last year's Cavaliers boasted one of the most lethal offenses in league history. With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving leading the way, Cleveland brushed aside its inconsistency on the defensive end by exploiting the LeBron-and-four-shooters approach that no team could answer.
Per John Schuhmann of NBA.com, the Cavaliers made more corner 3-pointers in a single season than any other team since the league started tracking shots by location in 1996. James assisted on 162 corner threes - 31 more than any other player has ever registered in the league. The Cavs rode that offense to The Finals last year, losing just one game in the East.
Their offense didn't sputter against the Warriors in The Finals. Cleveland scored at least 113 points in each game after losing Game 1. And the series was still an afterthought. The Warriors won in five games.
The possibility of the Warriors keeping their core together - and it would be a lot easier if recent reports of Klay Thompson taking a discount on a contract extension are true - is discouraging for any team hoping to contend over the next few years.
The Boston Celtics look like the most obvious candidate, with a young core that's two wins away from the NBA Finals, All-Stars in Irving and Gordon Hayward set to return from injury next season, and more trade assets via the draft to improve the roster.
Boston has the kind of switchability on defense and, when fully healthy, the upside on offense that's reminiscent of what the Cavs built, and what the Rockets have now. And even then, it feels like these Warriors will find answers over a seven-game series.
The same goes for whatever the Rockets decide to do next season, or whichever team James ends up landing on, or the next superteam collaboration between up-and-coming stars looking for a chance to compete for a championship.
Durant joining the Warriors will always complicate the legacy. There's been a notion since he signed with Golden State that it made the league unfair. That part is true.
There's another truth in what the Warriors have built, too. Whether you want to debate how this team came together or not, they've raised the level of what it means to be a championship team to heights we've simply never seen in this league. And in doing so, they've challenged front offices, coaches, and players to compete at that level.
Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Vice Sports, and Complex, among other publications.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)