The Golden State Warriors just completed one of the most dominant playoff performances in NBA history, losing just a single game on their way to the franchise’s fifth title, leaving sports fans everywhere wondering if this team is indeed the greatest of all-time.
This list will take into account analytics, but at the end of the day winning is about matchups, and the winner of this list is going to have to be an extremely versatile beast, that can adjust to the toughest opponents.
#5 2012-2013 Miami Heat
When Lebron James joined up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, many people thought the greatest dynasty in NBA history could be upon us. But in spite of all of the hype, the first season was about as crazy of a roller coaster ride one could ask for. The Heat started off terrible, only to eventually recover and make the Finals, take a 2-1 lead in those Finals, only to collapse at the hands of Dirk Nowitzki.
The Heat were not perfect even with all of their star power. Mario Chalmers was not a championship-level point guard, Dwayne Wade was falling out of his prime and Chris Bosh could not seem to figure out his new role in Miami. Even with all of their flaws, it did not stop them from winning two championships together and 66 games in the 12′-13′ season.
They honestly could have been a lot better. They had so much talent that they often coasted their way through the regular season and even Eastern Conference Playoffs, making their record look worse than they really were. The front office also could have done a better job putting talent around their core of stars, but they did make the one move that paid off in a championship by adding Ray Allen. Allen was nowhere near the player he once was, but his game-saving three in Game 6 of the NBA Finals saved not only the Heat from elimination, but perhaps Lebron James’ legacy as the greatest basketball player ever.
When it comes down to it, the Heat’s big three was arguably the best of all-time. The game might have came too easy for them, costing them the opportunity of being higher on this list, but it would be hard to take any team in history over this one when James, Wade and Bosh were playing right.
4. 1985-1986 Boston Celtics
It takes more than just one, even two great players on a team to make this list. The 85-86 Celtics, led by Larry Bird, featured one of the deepest lineups of all time. Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson all averaged over 15 points a game. But as deadly as this team was on offense, it was even better defensively, as they finished with the highest rated defense in the league.
They managed to go an incredible 40-1 at home and put up 67 wins total. The playoffs were a breeze, as they only lost a single game on their way to the Finals where they met a very talented Houston Rockets team, but Olajuwon could not overcome the outstanding depth of the Celtics.
This Celtics team had too many players for some of the teams like Lebron’s Miami Heat, Tim Duncan’s Spurs, the great 70’s Bucks, and even the prime days of Shaq and Kobe that did not make this list. All of those squads featured at least two or even three legitimate superstars, but the 85′-86′ Celtics had nights where even Dennis Johnson could take over the game if their big three all had off nights, and even if the offense went completely stagnant, their relentless defense allowed them to win a lot of games they maybe should not have. This team is one of the most complete of all-time and would be a tough out for any of the three teams in front of them.
3. 1986-1987 Los Angeles Lakers
It was not long, though, before the Showtime Lakers had enough firepower to topple the Celtics once again on their way to their organization’s fourth title of the decade. Like the Celtics, the 86′-87′ Lakers were incredibly deep, perhaps even deeper than the Celtics, with six players averaging double digits.
Magic Johnson led the group with his dazzling display of passing, averaging 12.2 assists per game to go along with his 23.8 points. James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar completed the Lakers big three, but it was Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and A.C. Green that allowed this team to run from start to finish. Nobody could stop this team on defense during the regular season, and they only got more impressive during the postseason where they also only lost a single game on the way to the Finals.
They faced a lesser version of the 85′-86′ Celtics in the NBA Finals, but Boston was still an incredible team that proved to be no match for the Lakers. Los Angeles quickly grabbed a 3-1 lead, and if the series had been played in today’s format, there probably would not have been a sixth game. Los Angeles finished the Celtics off at home in the game 6, cementing themselves as one of the greatest basketball teams of all-time.
2. 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls
A couple of Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams could have been on this list, but for the sake of boredom we chose chose his record-breaking 72-win team, that rolled through the regular season with just 10 losses. A record many thought may never be broken, until the 2015-2016 Warriors did so a year ago, but that team failed to bring home the title.
These Bulls, and Michael Jordan especially, never had that problem, as they dominated the 90’s, winning 6 championships and never letting a single Finals series reach a seventh game. The difference between this 95′-96′ Bulls team and the rest of Jordan’s championship teams is that winning a championship was not enough. They wanted to dominate all their opponents, on their way to becoming the first team to have a single-digit in the loss column. They came awful close to doing so too, but spent a lot more energy in the regular season than they probably wanted.
That still did not stop the Bulls from cruising to the Finals, losing only one game before facing off with a star-studded Seattle SuperSonics team featuring Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. Those two were still no match for Chicago’s Big 3, that was also the deepest of any of the Jordan Bulls’ teams.
But unlike the team in front of them, the Bulls would have gone from the best team on the planet to possibly not even championship contenders with no Michael Jordan. He was the head of the snake, and while he proved to be impossible to stop over the 90s, his supporting cast is no match for the #1 team on this list.
1. 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors
When talking about the greatest team of all-time, it really comes down to the 95′-96′ Bulls or this year’s Warriors squad. Chicago’s run with Jordan was spectacular, but this Warriors group has the potential to win even more championships than even Jordan could have dreamed of.
The 2015-2016 Warriors almost appeared on this list, the difference obviously with this year’s team, Kevin Durant. When Lebron said “not 5, not 6, not 7,” as he arrived in South Beach, it was viewed as funny, but if Durant had said such a thing upon his arrival in Golden State, nobody would be surprised if it actually happened. In his first season with the team, the Warriors won 67 games, became the first team to start the postseason 15-0, and nearly swept a loaded Cavaliers team featuring Lebron James.
If matched up with the 95′-96′ Bulls, Jordan would find himself in a very similar spot that Lebron James was in, scoring an unbelievable amount points, only to find himself down 20 at half time. Kevin Durant not only makes this team the most deadly offensive machine of all-time, he also creates a ton of problems for opponents defensively.
The Bulls would do a better job at stopping the Warriors offense and keeping them off the boards, but the Warriors have four legitimate superstars, something the league has never seen before. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever walk this earth, however, Kevin Durant is not that far off, and the Warriors supporting cast is far better than the 95′-96′ Bulls. It may be hard for people who grew up watching Jordan to accept, but the Warriors have raised the bar in basketball, and no team has ever been better than this year’s team.