NBA Playoffs History: 5 Greatest postseason runs of all time

NBA Finals
NBA Finals
Punit Pathak

To determine the league's champion, best-of-seven elimination rounds are held after the NBA regular season, which we know as the postseason or playoffs. The top eight teams qualify from the Eastern and Western Conference to compete for the NBA Championship.

The postseason includes a first round matchup (quarterfinals) from which the team advances to the second round (semifinals). Two winners advance to the third round (Conference Finals). The winner from each conference advances to the NBA Finals.

In the following presentation, we will take a look at the five teams which had the greatest postseason runs of all time. This list is based on games won by the franchise and the dominance of the teams through each round.

Do note that till 2003, NBA franchises played a best of 5 series in the first round and could only win up to 15 games in the postseason.

#5 Detroit Pistons - 1989 NBA Playoffs (15-2 postseason)

1988-89 Pistons
1988-89 Pistons

The Detroit Pistons were nicknamed 'the Bad Boys' for their aggressive plays. They were one of the toughest teams in the NBA, consisting of Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, and Joe Dumars. The Pistons had one of the most dominant playoffs runs in NBA history, with a record of 15 wins and only 2 losses.

Pistons finished number one in the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 63-19. In the first round, they faced the Boston Celtics and defeated them in the best of five series with a 3-0 sweep.

Detroit carried the momentum and cruised past Milwaukee, winning the Conference Semis 4-0. In the Conference Finals, Pistons faced the high flying Bulls, led by Michael Jordan (appearing first time in the Conference Finals) and beat them 4-2 (their only losses were against the Chicago Bulls).

The Finals series was a rematch of the previous year's championship round between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Detroit Pistons. The Lakers won all their postseason matches with 11 wins and were hoping to secure their three-peat.

The Bad Boys won the series in a four-game sweep and took their revenge for last year's loss. Joe Dumars' impressive performance won him the Finals MVP.

#4 San Antonio Spurs - 1999 NBA Playoffs (15-2 postseason)

1999 NBA Champions
1999 NBA Champions

It was the beginning of a new era for the San Antonio Spurs under coach Gregg Popovich. The strong squad had players such as Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson, and the 'Twin Towers' (David Robinson and Tim Duncan). A poor start to the season saw them on the lower end of the Western Conference standings. The Spurs recovered from the setback and won 31 of their last 36 games to qualify as the top seed in the conference.

Spurs won the first round 3-1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the Conference Semis, San Antonio faced the Lakers and swept them four games to nil. Spurs easily defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in the Conference Finals to book their place in the NBA Finals. The team was dominant in the playoffs, with a record of 11–1.

San Antonio Spurs defeated the Eastern Conference champions New York Knicks 4 games to 1 (the Knicks made history by becoming the first eighth seed team to play the NBA Finals). Tim Duncan was named NBA Finals MVP as the Spurs finished with the postseason with a record of 15 wins and 2 losses.

#3 Chicago Bulls - 1991 NBA Playoffs (15-2 postseason)

Chicago Bulls
Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan were one of the greatest teams ever to play in the league. MJ led the team along with star players Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, and B.J. Armstrong. This team won a then-franchise record 61 games in the regular season. It was Michael Jordan's first NBA Finals appearance.

Chicago started strong in the playoffs and swept the New York Knicks in the first round 3-0. They were pitted against Philadelphia in the Conference Semis and won 4 games to 1.

Chicago had their much-awaited rematch with the Detroit Pistons in the Conference Finals (the Pistons eliminated Bulls in the playoffs in the last three years). The Bulls got their revenge in the Conference Finals by crushing the two-time defending NBA Champions 4-0

The Los Angeles Lakers did not finish as the top seed in the Western Conference but still made it to the Finals (losing three games in their run). The Chicago Bulls won the series 4-1 and Michael Jordan was named the Finals MVP. It was Chicago's first NBA Championship and was their strongest run in the postseason.

#2 Los Angeles Lakers - 2001 NBA Playoffs (15-1 postseason)

Shaq and Kobe
Shaq and Kobe

The Lakers had won the NBA title the previous year, so hopes were high as the dynamic duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant was firing on all cylinders. The team finished the season with a record of 56-26 and were the number 2 seed in the Western Conference only behind the Spurs.

The Los Angeles Lakers swept the Trail Blazers having beaten them by double digits in all three games of the first round. In the Conference Semis, they went past the Sacramento Kings with ease winning four games.

The Conference Finals saw the Lakers defeat the number 1 seed San Antonio Spurs 4-0 and they became the first team since the 1988-89 Lakers to sweep the Conference Playoffs 11–0.

The Lakers won the Finals series 4 games to 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. If not for Allen Iverson’s 48-point game (Game 1) overtime victory, the Lakers would have become the NBA’s only team to complete an undefeated postseason. LA successfully defended their crown as Shaquille O'Neal won the Finals MVP.

#1 Golden State Warriors - 2017 NBA Playoffs (16-1 postseason)

2017 NBA Finals - Game Five
2017 NBA Finals - Game Five

The Warriors were hailed as a superteam due to the inclusion of superstar and 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant. Already boasting a star-studded lineup of players including the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, KD's arrival made the Warriors unstoppable.

Golden State won 67 games and lost only 15 in the regular season (their second-most wins in franchise history), finished on top of the Western Conference and also became the fastest team in NBA history to clinch a playoff berth.

The Warriors swept Portland, Utah, and the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, Conference Semis, and the Conference Finals respectively to become the first team in NBA playoff history to start with a 12–0 record in the postseason (with a winning margin of +16.3 per game).

In the NBA Finals, the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers four games to one (in their third consecutive meeting at the Finals). Kevin Durant was named the Finals MVP. The Warriors set the record for the longest playoff winning streak with 15 and the best record (16 wins and 1 loss) in NBA Playoffs history.

Edited by Raunak J


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