The NBA has created rules to support a flashy offense-based brand of basketball. This was primarily done to improve viewership and overall enjoyability. However, most of the teams that have excelled in the NBA Finals and clinched the championship have all done so because of their superior defense.
It is easy to forget the importance of a solid defensive unit until a championship is on the line. Although injuries played a role, the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets team is a perfect example of a team that failed to make a deep run in the NBA playoffs due to an over-reliance on their offense. Concurrently, the superior Milwaukee Bucks defense made the difference in the 2021 NBA Finals, where both teams were firing on all cylinders offensively.
While we reinforce the importance of defense, it is not to disregard or trivialize the need for great offense. The LeBron James-led LA Lakers suffered a great deal after losing their two superstars to injury. They were knocked out in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs due to offensive inefficiencies but finished the season as the No. 1 ranked team in defensive rating.
As we anticipate another defensive masterclass in the 2021-22 season, here are the top five best defensive teams in NBA history.
#5 1989-90 Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons have had several eras with different defensive set-ups in the NBA. However, the Bad Boy era, which ran from 1986-1991, was the most dominant defensively. With players like Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman on the roster, they practically bullied their way to championships.
Rodman was a crucial part of the lineup as his energy was infectious. With him as a starter, the Pistons went on a 33-10 run. However, they went 26-13 when he came off the bench.
The Detroit Pistons were the sole reason Michael Jordan did not win a championship early in his career. In the 1989-90 NBA season, they completed a back-to-back after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 4-1 in the finals.
#4 1993-94 New York Knicks
Pat Riley had a successful run as the LA Lakers head coach, winning four NBA titles in his nine years as head coach. While the Lakers were flashy, he took over the reins at the New York Knicks in 1991 and turned them into defensive maestros.
Not only did the Knicks' roster look tough, but they had an innate understanding of the game. That season, they allowed only 91.5 points per game and finished second in the Eastern Conference with a 57-25 run. Added to that, they made 4.7 blocks and 9.2 steals per game.
The Houston Rockets put a dent in their near-perfect season by defeating them 4-3 in the NBA Finals. Although they did not clinch the title, they put together an intimidating defensive front all season long.
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