After adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team that fell just short of a title, the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were expected to become one of the all-time great teams in NBA history. They didn’t disappoint, proving their greatness with a breathtaking 16-1 playoff run, but where do they rank on our list of the 10 best?
Given the achievements of the last two Warriors teams, it’s easy to forget what a remarkable season the 2014-15 version turned in. Led by MVP Stephen Curry, Golden State combined a prolific and efficient offense with an outstanding defense while becoming only the 10th team in league history to win 67 games. The Warriors also cruised through the postseason without being pushed to seven games in any series.
After trading for league MVP Moses Malone in the offseason, the Sixers took time to mesh his talents with aging superstar Julius Erving and standout guards Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney. But by the time the playoffs rolled around, Philly was a juggernaut. Malone’s famous playoff prediction of “‘Fo, ‘fo, ‘fo” almost came true as the Sixers won their three series 4-0, 4-1 and 4-0.
The best of the “Showtime” teams that won five championships in the 1980s, the ’87 Lakers featured Magic Johnson in his first MVP season along with six other double-figure scorers, including James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The irrepressible offensive unit dropped just one game in three Western Conference playoff series before overcoming the defending champion Celtics in six games in the Finals.
The Boston Celtics won nine of 10 championships handed out in the 1960s, but none of those teams came close to dominating the league like the ’67 ‘Sixers did. Led by MVP Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged nearly a triple-double in a facilitator role, Philly averaged 125 points and started the season 46-4. The Sixers ended Boston’s eight-year title streak in the Eastern Conference finals before knocking off Rick Barry and the Warriors in a hard-fought Finals.
Has there ever been a finer frontcourt than Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton? Each of those Hall of Famers was healthy and productive in 1985-86, with Bird earning his third straight MVP and Walton winning Sixth Man of the Year. The Celtics went 40-1 at home and stormed through the playoffs without a real challenge. How great were these Celtics? Michael Jordan scored 63 points against them in a playoff game — and lost.
At 32, Oscar Robertson was near the end of his basketball prime. At 24, Lew Alcindor was just beginning his reign atop the league. Together, the two Hall of Famers were unstoppable for one glorious season. The Bucks won 20 straight games and dominated the playoffs, winning their postseason games by an average of 14.5 points and sweeping the Baltimore Bullets in the Finals. Alcindor earned the first of his six MVP awards and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the day after Milwaukee captured the title.
A year after winning 72 games, the Bulls remained thoroughly dominant, threatening to repeat that feat before losing three of their last four games. Michael Jordan led the league in scoring, Dennis Rodman led in rebounding and Scottie Pippen did a little of everything along with Toni Kukoc off the bench. The playoffs were a breeze until the Finals, when Jordan’s “Flu Game” helped Chicago put away the Jazz and win their second of three straight championships.
A funny thing happened after legendary forward Elgin Baylor abruptly retired eight games into the 1971-72 season: the Lakers became nearly unbeatable. They immediately reeled off 33 straight wins, a record that still stands, and finished with 69 regular-season victories, a mark that stood for 24 years. The key was chemistry. Wilt Chamberlain, then 35, anchored the defense and led the league in rebounding. Guards Jerry West and Gail Goodrich powered the offense. Los Angeles beat the defending champion Bucks in a six-game conference final before whipping the Knicks in five to give West his first and only NBA title after seven runner-up finishes.
After pushing hard – too hard, perhaps – for their record 73 wins in 2015-16 before running out of gas in the playoffs, the Warriors didn’t seem terribly motivated to dominate the regular season. They lost their share of close games in the opening months. But with Durant fully assimilated and a title in sight, Golden State produced an offensive onslaught for the ages. Starting in mid-March, the Warriors won 31 of 33 games, including 15 straight to open the playoffs before LeBron James and the Cavaliers prevented the first postseason sweep in NBA history. Best team ever? Not quite, but with Durant, Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in their primes, there’s always next year. And the year after.
With all due respect to the 2016-17 Warriors, no team has dominated from start to finish quite like the 1995-96 Bulls. A motivated Michael Jordan, in the first full season of his post-baseball comeback, won his eighth scoring title and all three MVP awards (regular season, All-Star Game and Finals). Scottie Pippen joined him on the All-NBA first team and Dennis Rodman, in his first season with the Bulls, led the league in rebounding. Chicago was suffocating on defense and devastating in transition, winning by an average of 12.3 points, 0.7 more than the ’17 Warriors. The Bulls also faced a tougher gauntlet in the playoffs, losing only three games in four series, and finished with an overall record of 87-13, still the best in NBA history.