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The Most Dominant Playoff Run in NBA History

The Golden State Warriors' 16-1 record in the 2017 playoffs en route to winning the NBA Championship is worth revisiting.

Dominating the NBA is no easy feat.

Thirty franchises, worth billions of dollars each and armed with world-class players, coaches, and basketball minds, all share the same goal: winning an NBA Championship

This extreme level of competition leads to parity. Every NBA season, teams collate all their resources to try and capture the crown from last year’s champion. Those striving for their first championship are typically hungrier for glory than those who have already won. Most every dominant NBA player, coach, or team eventually runs its course, evidenced by the ever-changing list of past champions and award winners.

So when a team is so superior to everyone else for a five- or ten-year stretch, it's historic. One of those teams is the Golden State Warriors

When the Warriors lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy after winning the 2015 finals, a 40-year championship drought was broken. What they have done in nearly 10 years since puts them in an echelon of NBA royalty few can touch.

The NBA's Dynasties

SpanTeam# of Titles in Span
2015-2022Golden State Warriors4
1999-2007San Antonio Spurs5
2000-2002Los Angeles Lakers3
1991-1998Chicago Bulls6
1980-1988Los Angeles Lakers5
1957-1969Boston Celtics11

So, as sports fans do, we compare. The Warriors are better than everyone else right now, but what about if they played in the 90s against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls? Or the juggernaut Los Angeles Lakers teams of the early-2000s?

Those hypotheticals will never be answered, but the Warriors do trump all the past greats in one category. In 2017, the Dubs had the most dominant playoff run in NBA history en route to their second title in three years.

The Best Playoff Runs in History

YearTeamPlayoff RecordWin %
2017Golden State Warriors16-1.941
2001Los Angeles Lakers15-1.938
1983Philadelphia 76ers12-1.923
1999San Antonio Spurs15-2.882
1991Chicago Bulls15-2.882

The Warriors’ 16-1 record in the 2017 NBA Playoffs is statistically the most dominant postseason run in league history and is worth revisiting.

The Big Four

NBA fans were incensed when Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Warriors in the summer of 2016.

KD reached the NBA Finals with the Thunder once in 2012, which they lost to the Miami Heat, and never made it back. The breaking point was the Thunder’s blown 3-1 series lead to Golden State in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. That offseason, Durant jumped ship for the defending champion Dubs, and thus a ‘superteam’ was created.

Alongside 2x MVP Stephen Curry, ‘Splash Bro’ Klay Thompson, and all-world defender Draymond Green, Durant would have far less on his shoulders this time around.

In the 2016/17 regular season, the Warriors expectedly zoomed to a league-best record of 67-15 and the top seed in the West. The Dubs finished top-5 in the NBA in: FGM (1st), FG% (1st), 3PM (4th), 3P% (3rd), assists (1st), steals (1st), blocks (1st), and points scored (1st).

But the Warriors weren’t done there.

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Road to the finals

It’s important to note what happened in the Warriors’ last playoff run before adding Durant and posting one of the greatest team regular season campaigns ever.

After clawing back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Thunder in the 2016 WCF, Golden State faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals for the second-straight year. This time, it was the Dubs’ turn to blow a 3-1 lead.

One win away from securing back-to-back championships, the Warriors lost three-in-a-row to LeBron James and the Cavs and lost the series, coming up short of their goal in shocking fashion. 

Golden State’s collapse was a big reason they sought out Durant the following offseason. 

Armed like never before, the Warriors showed no mercy to their opponents come the 2017 playoffs. 

Facing the 8-seed Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, GSW showed no signs of playoff jitters and swept Damian Lillard and co. with ease. They won three of four games by double digits, and based on the stats, they weren’t close to their full potential. Durant, a career 27 PPG scorer, averaged just 21 PPG in the series. Many believed they were ‘saving’ KD for the later rounds.

Next up were the 5-seed Utah Jazz led by Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, who also proved no match for the powerhouse Warriors. In another four-game sweep, the Dubs did not trail in any of Games 1, 2 and 4. Not for a single second. Their offense was so overwhelmingly explosive and defense so impressively cohesive.

The conference finals matchup vs. the San Antonio Spurs posed a different challenge. The Spurs were champions in 2014 and boasted a roster with more playoff experience than the Warriors, plus do-it-all superstar and 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Surely not another 4-0 sweep, right?

Wrong, but not without controversy. The Spurs darted out to a double-digit lead in Game 1 and were blowing the Dubs off the court, well on their way to a crucial road win to start the series.

In the third quarter, Leonard, who was already dealing with ankle discomfort, took a jump shot and landed on top of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who some claim deliberately attempted to injure Leonard. 

Kawhi hit the floor, grabbed his ankle, and couldn’t get up. He was ruled out for the series after the game. Without Kawhi, the Spurs were virtually helpless, even with a big lead in the game at the time of his injury. 

Another sweep for the Warriors. They had reached the NBA Finals without losing a game.

Rematch vs. LeBron

Now came not only the truest test of them all, but a chance at revenge. Up against LeBron and the Cavs for a third-straight year, Golden State were the favorites, and for good reason. But nobody expected Cleveland to surge back from 3-1 down the previous year, so, in reality, anything could have happened. 

It became evident very quickly that after taking somewhat of a back seat in the regular season and earlier playoff series, Durant was the main man in the 2017 finals. His 38-point outburst in Game 1 got the Warriors off to their ideal start. 

On paper, the Dubs had the best roster in the league and perhaps the best of all time. On the court is where that flash really showed. With Durant virtually unstoppable on offense, the Cavs had to commit more bodies to try and stop him. That gave Curry and Thompson, the two best shooters in the NBA, newfound space to operate and launch: a lose-lose scenario for any opponent. 

The Cavs did manage to do something nobody else could in the 2017 postseason - beat the Warriors. 

After going up 3-0, GSW fell in Game 4 thanks to a combined 71 points by Kyrie Irving and LeBron. All that did, however, was delay the inevitable. 

When Golden State closed out a 129-120 Game 5 victory to capture their second title in three years, it was fairly anticlimactic. They were so dominant throughout the season and playoffs that most everyone expected them to reach the mountaintop. So when they did, it felt nowhere near the magnitude of a typical NBA Finals closeout game. 

Six years later, no team has come close to what the 2017 Warriors did that postseason.

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