Can we get rid of the asterisk?
The Golden State Warriors never deserved their 2014-15 title coming with caveats. They were the league's most dominant squad throughout the season, steamrolled their way past multiple playoff opponents and beat whomever was placed in front of them. Did they luck into facing a number of units dealing with major injuries? Sure, but no champion has ever held up the trophy without a bit of good fortune.
Still, doubters persisted throughout the offseason, qualifying the Warriors' historic levels of success with the fact that both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were injured when they closed out the season. But those excuses should now be fully eradicated.
In the Warriors' 89-83 victory over the defending Eastern Conference champions, Irving suited up and was held in check to the tune of a 4-of-15 showing from the field. Granted, he'd only just gotten back on the court after rehabbing his injured knee, but he still played 26 minutes in his third appearance of the year and failed to emerge as much of a difference-maker.
Love also played, recording 10 points, 18 boards and four assists on 5-of-16 shooting while the Warriors constantly managed to exploit his porous defense.
The Cavaliers will only improve as the 2015-16 campaign progresses. That much is a guarantee. They'll continue to build chemistry between members of the Big Three. They'll figure out how to incorporate their impressive role players. And perhaps most importantly, they'll gain more confidence as the wins begin piling up.
But this was still a Cleveland outfit playing at full strength. And the Warriors still won, setting an early tone that made it perfectly clear precious few buckets would come easily:
Though the asterisk-erasing element made this outing particularly important for the reigning champions, the nature of the game made it even more impressive. This wasn't a typical Warriors contest—an uptempo offensive battle in which the favorites drilled one shot after another from downtown.
Instead, it was a slugfest between two motivated teams, one in which brutalizing blocks like the one below from Andre Iguodala stood out as the highlight plays, replacing the typical flashiness of a certain three-point maestro:
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Granted, we need to employ a strange perspective while watching a version of Curry that's clearly working to establish himself as one of the premier offensive threats in NBA history.
"In my mind, yes," he told Time magazine while responding to a question about whether he's the best player in the world. "That's how I have confidence out there that I can play at a high level every night."
Working with that backdrop, his final Christmas Day line of 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists fails to stand out, especially because this was the first night in which he failed to knock down more than a single shot from beyond the three-point arc.
Maybe he would've kept the streak alive if he hadn't retreated to the locker room for treatment on his injured calf, but the fact he didn't stand out unintentionally helped showcase the workmanlike mentality necessary to secure this victory.
Naturally, it was Draymond Green who emerged as the holiday stud.
Twenty-two points? That's pretty strong, especially when the contributions came on 8-of-17 shooting from the field and a 2-of-3 performance from downtown. Fifteen rebounds? Even though Green entered the game averaging 8.8 boards, it felt like that was par for the course. Seven assists and two blocks? Pretty typical stuff.
It helps set the tone when you're willing to put your body on the line against the freight train that is LeBron James, even though this play ultimately resulted in a pair of free throws from the four-time MVP:
And on the other end, Green can be just as physical, seeking out contact as he shows off his constantly developing touch around the hoop:
Behind Green, the Dubs continue to prove they can win in every way possible. Thus far, the only game they've lost is one in which they came out cold one night removed from playing in a double-overtime contest. At this point, all of the qualifiers are necessary because it's the only way to explain the inexplicable.
They've won offensive shootouts that relied on their perimeter touch. They've emerged victorious from defensive battles that necessitated insane levels of physicality. They've successfully navigated trap games against teams lesser squads might overlook. Now, they've gotten up for a marquee clash against their Finals foe, working to eliminate the faulty asterisk that some claimed once adorned their resume.
As Brendan Suhr, a former NBA assistant coach, told Harvey Araton and Scott Cacciola of the New York Times prior to the Warriors' Dec. 25 victory, the schedule might be all that can beat this team:
When this team gets to play their style, they’ll impose their will. I’m not very good at math, but what’s their record right now — 27-1? That means one out of every 30 times, someone got lucky. And it wasn’t even a very good team. When they’re playing a big-time opponent, they’re ready to go, man. The only thing that can beat them is the schedule. They had two injuries and a back-to-back after a double-overtime game when they lost to the Bucks. The league office can stand up — it won that game as much as Milwaukee did.
Even that first sentence no longer reads the same.
This game wasn't played in the typical Warriors style. They made only five three-pointers (one from Curry, two from Green, one from Klay Thompson and one from Iguodala). They shot just 41 percent from the field while holding the Cavaliers to a 31.6 percent clip.
Instead, as Tim Cato noted for SB Nation, "Cleveland was able to stay in the game playing that same grinding, physical style that helped them push Golden State to six games in last June."
And to borrow Suhr's phrasing, the Warriors still imposed their will by the end of the contest. In doing so, they guaranteed the blueprint to figuring them out becomes even tougher to piece together.
Golden State has now followed up its lone loss to the Milwaukee Bucks with four straight victories, and this new streak might not end for a long time.
Go ahead and circle Jan. 25 on your new 2016 calendars right now. That's when the Warriors meet the San Antonio Spurs for the first time, and the versatility of their game makes it increasingly clear they could enter that showdown with 19 consecutive wins to their credit.
At this point, predicting such a streak doesn't even feel bold. There's nothing this team can't do and no one it can't beat.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com or my own databases and are current heading into Dec. 25's games.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.