Ten up. Ten down.
After pulling ahead at the end of the first half and finishing the drill with a 108-89 Game 2 win over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday, the Cleveland Cavaliers are now a remarkable 10-0 during the 2016 postseason. They've completed a first-round sweep against the Detroit Pistons, taken down the Atlanta Hawks with nary a blemish and defended their home court with two straight victories against their Canadian foes.
With LeBron James leading the show—he even posted a triple-double in this latest outing—and Kyrie Irving playing like his sights are set on winning Finals MVP, head coach Tyronn Lue can now claim the most consecutive postseason victories to begin a coaching career:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
With that win, Tyronn Lue enters the history books https://t.co/kI5voJ6KzX2016-5-20 03:08:54
Per Bleacher Report Insights, the Cavs could become the third team in NBA history to successfully sweep its way through each of the first three rounds.
The 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers were the first to do so, but their postseason winning streak "only" extended to 11 games. Though they advanced past the Portland Trail Blazers with a 3-0 opening-round victory, everything came to a sudden halt when Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons swept them in the NBA Finals.
Next up were the 2000-01 Lakers, who didn't lose until Game 1 of the NBA Finals. They also had the luxury of a 3-0 beatdown of Rip City in the first round, and their streak was similarly snapped at 11 games, though they'd avenge their predecessors by winning each of the next four outings and capturing a title.
However, 11 isn't the record the Cavs are chasing. If they continue their beatdown of the Raptors and win each of the next two games in the Air Canada Centre, they'll get to 12 and tie the 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs, who only lost Game 2 of the opening round and Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Based on the energy this Cleveland squad is displaying, there's little reason to doubt the extension of this quest. When was the last time we saw James look this spry?
The four-time MVP has appeared energized throughout this postseason. He's knocked down long-range jumpers, dominated games with his passing, locked down on the defensive end, made his way to the rim whenever he wants and unleashed feats of athleticism like the one above.
ESPN.com's Mike Mazzeo has a pretty simple summary of what he's meant to the Cavs:
Mike Mazzeo @MazzNYDN
One Eastern Conference team has LeBron James. The rest don't. End story.2016-5-20 02:01:39
But it's not just James who has dominated, even if he's been one of the few truly bright spots on the point-preventing side. The team as a whole has been excellent, to the point that it had emerged as one of the best playoff squads ever through its first nine games.
By comparing offensive and defensive ratings to the league average, we can come up with era-adjusted versions (the full explanation of this process can be found on NBA Math). Averaging those two scores gives us "team rating," a one-number-fits-all summation of how well a team has played.
The Cavs don't just have the top score in the 2016 playoffs; they fall rather high on the historic leaderboard, which dates back to 1974:
This isn't about the league-average defense Cleveland has played.
It's about an offense that has morphed from a strong unit into a historic juggernaut during the postseason. That adjusted offensive rating (113.83) would blow most of the previous bests out of the water, as you can see below:
Only the 1993-94 Golden State Warriors have come close to matching this level of offensive output, and they did so over a meager three-game stretch while playing even worse defense. It's basically impossible to maintain scoring success this extreme for a prolonged stretch, but the Cavs are making the impossible, well, possible.
James has helped, averaging 25.3 points and 6.8 assists heading into Thursday night's affair, in which he submitted a triple-double with 23 points, 11 boards and 11 assists. Irving chipped in 19.6 points and 4.7 dimes over Cleveland's first nine playoff games. Three players have averaged at least an offensive rebound per contest, led by Tristan Thompson and his 5.0 successful creations of second-chance opportunities during his typical outing.
And, of course, the whole team has caught fire from the outside.
After watching the Cavs put up historic numbers against the Hawks, Toronto adjusted by shutting down the perimeter. It had to, given the records its foe had set in the previous round. But the shift hasn't made a difference thus far, as Cleveland has countered by pounding the ball into the paint and dominating with close-range looks.
As Toronto head coach Dwane Casey hinted at after Game 1, per Yahoo Sports' Dan Devine, the Cavs have forced everyone into a pick-your-poison scenario:
You want to take away one thing, but you don't want to open up a whole can of worms to give them layups. And that's what we've got to be disciplined with, and understand where the help is coming from, the angles of your closeouts, the angles of your foot position, of your stance on the basketball [...] That's what we've got to get, that balance.
Well, time is running out. If the Cavs have their way, the Raptors will only get two more chances to showcase that discipline, because this team is on a mission.
No matter who emerges from the Western Conference Finals, a strong opponent will advance to the NBA Finals. It's either going to be the 73-win Golden State Warriors with a healthy Stephen Curry or an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that had an impressive regular season but has seemingly put it all together during the playoffs.
For the Cavs to end the title drought in Northeast Ohio, they need everyone to be as fresh as possible on that final stage. Basketball Insiders' Ben Dowsett recently highlighted this, specifically referring to Cleveland's premier catalyst:
He’s also on schedule to appear in his fewest overall games in a Finals run – even if the Cavs drop one game to an overmatched Raptors team before advancing, mowing down the East will never have been such quick work for LeBron. The benefits to his between-game recovery process are obvious; by the time they see a Western Conference opponent, James will likely have spent three full, separate weeks resting from NBA game action.
Last year, James logged 40.7 minutes per game over the course of 14 appearances prior to the NBA Finals. He was dominant as an individual against the eventual champions, coming close to winning Finals MVP despite playing for the losing squad, but he still had to muster up that type of effort while already exhausted.
Remember this scene in the Eastern Conference Finals?
That's what the Cavaliers would like to avoid this time around. And thus far, they're doing a great job pursuing that goal. Prior to James registering just 34 minutes on Thursday night, he had averaged only 37.6 per game in the nine opening victories. Combined with the lengthy respites from actual action between each series, that should pay large dividends in the ultimate round.
Making history is fun. Some teams chase after records at the expense of enjoying extra rest, with this year's Dubs and their successful pursuit of a 73rd victory serving as the primary example.
But the Cavs aren't trying to rewrite the record books just for the sake of making history. Dominating to this extent serves a distinct purpose.
It gives them one more potential advantage—superior freshness—in their inevitable NBA Finals experience. And given the caliber of opponent sure to advance from the Association's other half, every advantage will be critical.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @fromal09.