Power Ranking the Best NBA Playoff Runs of All Time

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2012

Power Ranking the Best NBA Playoff Runs of All Time

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    The San Antonio Spurs started off this postseason with a 10-game postseason winning streak. It was the 11th time in NBA history where a team has won at least nine consecutive postseason games. 

    So, who are the other 10, and where do the 2012 Spurs fit in with the other great postseason runs?

    Based on the Streak Finder at Basketball-Reference.com, I looked at every streak of at least nine games and factored in the total margin of victory for the tiebreakers.

    There are two potentially controversial aspects to these rankings. First there is the inclusion of streaks that span two seasons. If you personally don't want to account for those, you don't have to—just mentally cross them off your own list.

    However, in assembling the information, I feel that more information is better than less.

    In other words, if you want to discount them yourself, you may. But if someone else feels they should be counted, it is better that the information be supplied, that way everyone can be happy.

    This is really a distinction of preference more than an iron-clad right and wrong.

    The other potential point of controversy is the actual order of the rankings. Some may feel that just because Team Y won 10 games in a row, it doesn't mean they had a greater run than Team Z, who only won nine in a row.

    That's true, but objectivity has its benefits, too. More or less the same thing holds true as in the previous argument—it's a matter of preference. 

    This is just information. I'm not married to these rankings. This is just how they're ordered based on an objective snapshot; personally, I believe objectivity has value.

    There will always be those who say, "Stats don't mean everything," but they don't mean nothing, either. They are the chicken of chicken noodle soup; sure you have other things in the soup,—noodles, celery, broth and carrots as well as seasonings—but if you don't have chicken, it's not chicken noodle soup. 

    Basketball analysis isn't all stats and objectivity, but if you don't have it that, you don't have analysis. I've added some of the veggies and broth into the analysis, but the rankings are objective.

    With that introduction, here are the 11 greatest postseason runs in NBA history. 

11: 2007-08 San Antonio Spurs

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    Games Won: 9

    Total Margin of Victory: 65

    Starting with the Western Conference finals in 2007, the San Antonio Spurs won their last two games against the Jazz, then swept LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Then, the Spurs won three straight against the Phoenix Suns to open the postseason in 2008.

    San Antonio made it back to the Western Conference finals in 2008, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.

    This run was the least impressive on this list. The Spurs' largest margin of victory was a 15-point win over the Jazz to clinch the Western Conference finals spot. Other than that, they had only two other double-digit wins, the fewest of any team on this list.

    Still, in the grand scheme of basketball, this was the 11th-best postseason streak in NBA history. 

10: 1982 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Games Won: 9

    Total Margin of Victory: 93

    The 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title, and they didn't lose a game until Game 2 of the finals. They also lost Game 5, but other than those two games, they didn't lose at all. Only the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers and 1983 Philadelphia 76ers had fewer losses in the postseason in all of NBA history.

    The strange thing about this team is that the two games the Lakers lost were by a combined 49 points. 

9: 1992-93 Chicago Bulls

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    Games Won: 9

    Total Margin of Victory: 100

    If it gives you any idea of how great the Bulls were during the Michael Jordan years, this arguably was the weakest team that Jordan won a title with, and they won nine consecutive postseason games extending form 1992-1993.

    While the 1992 team had the third-most wins in Bulls history, only two of the games on this winning streak were compiled in 1992.

    After a mediocre (for them) 57-win season in 1993, the Bulls swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, knocking out both the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Then, they lost their first two games to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals before coming back and wining four straight. Game 4 featured the legendary 54-point game from Jordan and his triple-double in Game 5.  

    The Bulls then won in the finals against the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix Suns in six games. 

8: 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers

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    Games Won: 9

    Total Margin of Victory: 106

    From 1949 to 1950, the Minneapolis Lakers went on a nine-game winning streak that established a record for most consecutive postseason wins, which would stand for 39 years.

    The first win came in a championship-clinching game against the Washington Capitols in 1949. The next eight came at the start of the 1950 postseason; the first win came against the Rochester Royals in a tiebreaker to get into the postseason.

    The Lakers then swept consecutive three-game series against the Chicago Stags, the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Anderson Packers. Finally, they won the first game against the Syracuse Nationals before losing Game 2.

    The Lakers went on to win the best-of-seven series in six, and the last game was sealed by the shot above. 

7: 1996 Chicago Bulls

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    Games Won: 9  

    Total Margin of Victory: 122

    In my opinion, this was the greatest single-season team in the history of the NBA.

    This Bulls team won 72 games in the regular season, went 15-3 in the postseason and outscored their opponents by a total of 1,194 points in the regular and postseasons combined.

    While their win streak was "only" nine games, the Bulls dominated in the postseason and never trailed in a series. Their only loss until Game 4 of the finals was a 102-99 overtime loss to the New York Knicks in Game 3 of their second-round series.

    That's all that separates them from the longest postseason winning streak in NBA history. 

6: 2003 New Jersey Nets

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    Games Won: 10

    Total Margin of Victory: 85

    In my best Gomer Pyle voice, "Surprise! Surprise!"

    The 2003 New Jersey Nets make a shocking appearance on the list. With the exception of this year's Spurs, they are the only team on it that did not win a title in the season (or in cases where it spanned two years, one of the seasons) during which the streak occurred.

    The Nets' margin of victory is also the second-smallest of any team that makes this list, lending credibility to the argument that "longer" isn't necessarily greater, but if that's your opinion, just mentally knock them down a few pegs.

    Having said all that, let's appreciate what this team did and not worry about what they didn't do for a moment.

    After winning Games 5 and 6 against the Bucks, the Nets swept the Celtics in the second round, and then the favored Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals.

    This arguably was Jason Kidd's greatest season as he led the Nets to the precipice of a title in spite of a relative dearth of talent around him. Kidd averaged 20.1 points, 8.2 assists and 7.7 rebounds in one of the more remarkable individual postseason runs ever.

    That also stands as one of the more underrated individual performances on record.

    Apologies on the video. It spans 2001-2003, but it's the best I could find.  

5: 2012 San Antonio Spurs

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     Games Won: 10

    Total Margin of Victory: 114

    The 2012 San Antonio Spurs were absolutely amazing to end the regular season and open the postseason, winning 20 straight games overall. Then, they dropped the next two against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Where this ends, as of now, no one knows. As stated in the last slide, though, of the 10 other teams that have won at least nine consecutive games, nine have a title on their résumé.

    That bodes well for the Spurs. 

4: 1999 San Antonio Spurs

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    Games Won: 12

    Total Margin of Victory: 119

    There are 11 unique teams that have won at least nine straight postseason games. Tim Duncan has been on three of them and is the only player in NBA history who can make that claim. There really is an argument for him being the greatest player of this generation.

    There are a few other players who were on two teams, such as the Bulls that were on both the 1993 and the 1996 teams, the other Spurs players who were on the either the 2007 and 1999 teams (or the 2007 and 2012 teams), and a few Los Angeles Lakers who were on the 1982 and 1989 teams (spoiler alter!).

    The bottom line here is that the players who have led their teams to two postseason streaks of nine or more games are names like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan—arguably the three greatest players in NBA history. 

3: 1989-1990 Detroit Pistons

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    Games Won: 12

    Total Margin of Victory: 130

    The Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s were one of the best, meanest, nastiest, hardest-fighting, most-flopping, dirtiest, toughest teams that have played in the modern era of basketball.

    Some loved them, and some utterly despised them, but however you felt about them, the fact was they were a successful team.

    In 1989, the Pistons won their final three games against Michael Jordan's Bulls to get to the NBA Finals.

    Then, they swept the 1989 Lakers, the defending champions who came into the finals on a 13-game postseason winning streak. This was all the sweeter to the Pistons because they were the team the Lakers had beaten to win the title the prior season.

2: 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Games Won: 12

    Total Margin of Victory: 165

    If you’re looking at the whole chicken noodle soup mix here, this is my vote for the greatest postseason team in the history of the game. 

    Statistically, no one touches this team. 

    The 2000-01 Lakers went 15-1 through the playoffs, outscoring their opponents by a total of 204 points in the process. Their lone loss was an overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers behind Allen Iverson's 48 points in Game 1.

    Their overall winning percentage is the best in postseason history, and their overall point differential is the second-most (just one point less than the 1987 Lakers who went 15-3 en route to the title). 

1: 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Games Won: 13

    Total Margin of Victory: 102

    Those of the modern ilk might not truly grasp just how dominant the Lakers were in the 1980s. Every single year of the decade they made it to at least the Western Conference finals, and they made it to the NBA Finals eight times. They won the title five times.

    It was fitting, then, for the Lakers to end the decade with the longest postseason winning streak in NBA history. In 1988, down 3-2 in the series, they won their last two games against the Pistons to win the title.

    Then, the Lakers opened up the postseason in 1989, winning their first 11 games before getting swept by the aforementioned Pistons. It remains the only time in league history where a team has swept the first three rounds of the playoffs only to be swept in the finals.

    To be fair, they lost both Byron Scott, their third leading scorer, and Magic Johnson, their leading scorer and the league MVP in the finals. Such losses tend to impact a team.