Only team in NBA history with an undefeated postseason
The 2016-17 Warriors’ strongest claim to being the greatest team ever got erased when they lost Game 4 of the NBA Finals. By the time they held off a suddenly dangerous Cleveland in Game 5, the focus had turned to the present: Golden State winning the title.
The Warriors might enjoy that room to celebrate without pondering their legacy, but take a step back, and they still have a compelling case as the greatest team ever.
First, the talent.
Stephen Curry is the back-to-back reigning MVP, the best shooter of all-time who has rounded out his game to unexpected levels. Kevin Durant won MVP the year before and also is still in his prime, maybe even playing his best basketball. Draymond Green is favored to win Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s one of the most dynamic passers ever for his position. Klay Thompson is an all-time great shooter and a defensive stopper.
Golden State is so good, Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, barely gets mentioned.
When Durant got hurt in the regular season, the Warriors turned to their other MVP in his prime. When Green – whose unique skill set at center fortifies a unit so devastating, it’s called the death lineup – got into foul trouble, they turned to Durant (a skilled 7-footer unlike any other) at center. Heck, when their coach stepped away due to back problems, they turned to an assistant who previously won Coach of the Year and guided his team to the Finals.
Golden State has everything a team could ever want – and answers when the machine sputters, which isn’t often.
Even with their loss, the Warriors (16-1) posted the best playoff record ever:
Maybe the 2001 Lakers (15-1) would’ve matched the Warriors with an extra first-round game. (The first round was best-of-five then.) The 1983 76ers could have also matched Golden State if they played in the same postseason format.
But the Warriors are the only team to achieve 16-1 in reality, not a hypothetical. They were also much more dominant en route, anyway.
Golden State outscored playoff opponents 13.5 points per game – the third-best mark ever, second best by an NBA champion and best in decades:
With a 67-15 regular-season record, this might be the best season ever.
But why stop there? Golden State’s elite run began two years ago with another 67-15 season and a championship, continued with 73 wins and a Finals loss last year and returned to the top with this year’s title.
The Warriors have won 84.1% of their games in the last three years, the best three-year span in NBA history (with championships won on the right):
Only Michael Jordan’s Bulls came close, winning 82.5% of their games from 1995-96 through 1997-1998. They, of course, also won three titles in that span.
Golden State won only two.
But two of three isn’t bad, and this year’s championship cleanses the stench of blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s finals after winning a record 73 games in the regular season. Two titles and another trip to the Finals puts this three-year stretch in an elite class.
Here’s every time a team reached at least three straight NBA Finals and won at least two of them:
These Warriors, LeBron James–Dwyane Wade–Chris Bosh Heat, Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol Lakers, Shaq-Kobe Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Bad Boys Pistons, Showtime Lakers, Larry Bird Celtics, Bill Russell Celtics and Minneapolis Lakers – that’s the entire list. Add Golden State’s regular-season dominance, and this is an unprecedented run.
The best ever? I’d still favor Jordan’s second three-peat.
But the Warriors aren’t going anywhere. They might already be the greatest. If not, we could have good cause to revisit the topic next year and the following year and…