Where Tim Duncan's Big 3 Ranks with Greatest NBA Playoff Trios
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Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have dominated the NBA for a long time, and this postseason hasn't exactly been an exception to that general rule of the thumb.
Thanks to the victories it has accumulated during the 2013 playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs trio has moved up the leaderboard and now has more postseason wins than all but one group of three players in the history of the Association. That's not too shabby, and they aren't done yet.
So, that begs the question: Where does this Big Three rank among the greatest NBA playoff trios of all time?
To approach this task, I had to set up a few ground rules. Two of them, in fact.
- All three players in the trio must be big-name studs. We don't want any glorified role players like Robert Horry in there. If you never made an All-Star team or were clearly past your prime from start to finish during your tenure with the trio, fuhgeddaboudit.
- Players can only appear once. That prevents all trios involving Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, as well as the litany of three-man groups that the Boston Celtics produced much earlier on in NBA history.
With that in mind, these are the 10 trios that have emerged ahead of the pack. Only two of them are active, but both have the potential to continue their ascents toward the coveted No. 1 spot.
Note: All stats came from Basketball-Reference's archives and are current through Tuesday, May 21.
10. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce
Team: Boston Celtics
Years Together: 2007-12
Playoff Wins: 45
Can you imagine if these three had been able to play together in their true primes? Both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were at their best before joining forces with Paul Pierce and the rest of the Boston Celtics, and they still dominated.
There was the famed 2008 title, when KG lifted his head and screamed "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE" into the rafters, but that wasn't the end of the trio's success.
The 2009 postseason didn't go so well, as Garnett missed all 14 games with a knee injury, but in 2010, the C's pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to Game 7 and ultimately fell just shy of Kobe Bryant and Co. Then, two years later, Allen, Garnett and Pierce forced another Game 7, this time in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat.
LeBron James was too much for the aging triumvirate, but it was impressive enough that they'd pushed the future champions to the brink.
This Boston pairing narrowly edged out Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich for the final spot in the rankings.
9. Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade
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Team: Miami Heat
Years Together: 2010-13
Playoff Wins: 32
One of two trios featured in this article that is still active, the Miami Heat's pairing of superstars is bound to move up in the rankings as the years progress.
Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have already won a title together, and they're the heavy favorites to repeat as 2013 champions. It's also tough not to imagine them entering the 2013-14 campaign as the best team in the league.
In their first season together, this Heat trio advanced to the NBA Finals but ultimately succumbed to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. It was an ugly series for Miami, but James and Co. would redeem themselves the following year by eviscerating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals.
Now they're just a series victory over the Indiana Pacers away from making it back-to-back-to-back trips into the season's final set of games.
The body of work is undeniably impressive, but it's small enough that I can't rank them any higher.
8. George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard
George Mikan. Photo credit to NBA.com.
Team: Minneapolis Lakers
Years Together: 1949-54
Playoff Wins: 37
It's hard to argue with the type of success that George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard had while playing together for the Minneapolis Lakers. Forming the league's first dynasty, this trio was utterly unstoppable.
Mikan was the centerpiece, both literally and figuratively, so dominant on the inside that the league office had to change the rules in an effort to slow him down. But don't make the mistake of thinking that these Lakers were all about the bespectacled big man.
Mikkelsen and Pollard enjoy significantly less name recognition, but they're both Hall of Famers. The former was a defensive ace, and the latter, known as the Kangaroo Kid, was one of the few guys during his era who could throw down in the flow of the game.
Therein lies the problem, though. Despite their four titles in five years, Mikan, Mikkelsen and Pollard played in a league that wasn't very competitive.
We have to respect the greatness, but context is important as well.
7. Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas
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Team: Detroit Pistons
Years Together: 1985-94
Playoff Wins: 63
The Bad Boys only won two titles—compared to George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard's five—but those championships came at a time when the NBA was significantly more competitive. It wasn't exactly easy to emerge victorious when you had to get through Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson standing in your way.
Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas enjoyed both plenty of victories and plenty of time together when they were all on the Detroit Pistons. Their longevity and success enabled them to win more playoff outings than all but three other trios in this article.
The problem was, this group of legendary players wasn't always successful. Scattered in those nine seasons together are two first-round exits and two seasons in which only 82 games were on the schedule.
Zeke, Dumars and Laimbeer complemented each other perfectly, but the landscape was just too tough during the late 1980s and early 1990s for them to enjoy the inordinate amount of success necessary to rank higher.
6. Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed
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Team: New York Knicks
Years Together: 1968-74
Playoff Wins: 43
In the history of the New York Knicks franchise, there have only been two championships. Both came when Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed were all suiting up.
Clyde is still putting on suits, but they're of a much different variety. I assume he and Craig Sager are friends, based on that picture.
The title-winning Knicks squads were deep units, but there was still plenty of star power at the top. The inside-outside defense of DeBusschere and Frazier was the stuff of legends, and the offense wasn't so shabby either.
All in all, the Knicks have been around for 66 seasons. They've advanced past the first round of the postseason in 27 of them, including this current campaign and the legendary career of Patrick Ewing. DeBusschere, Frazier and Reed played together for six seasons and contributed six times to that total.
And if they hadn't run into the Wilt Chamberlain-led juggernaut known as the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, there may have been a third trophy on the mantle. Perhaps Reed staying healthy that year and not missing all but six games of the regular season would have helped out.
As it stands, we're left with two and a number of incredible memories, most notably Reed limping out of the tunnel before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
5. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish
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Team: Boston Celtics
Years Together: 1980-92
Playoff Wins: 85
From 1980 to 1992, the Boston Celtics won 99 playoff games. However, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were "only" together on the court for 85 of them, knocking this trio out of second place in the wins column.
If you're curious, it was mostly Bird who was absent during the victories that can't count toward the total.
All three now in the Hall of Fame, Bird, McHale and Parish helped the C's rule the 1980s (along with the Los Angeles Lakers). They made it to five NBA Finals and took home the title in three of them. During the other two—1985 and 1987—their rivals in purple and gold managed to get the better of them.
Parish and McHale formed one of the greatest frontcourts of all time, while Bird just did everything. He could score, rebound, defend and pass. You name it, and the Hick from French Lick would do it.
During their prime, this trio looked like it deserved to rank significantly higher, but it didn't enjoy the same level of longevity as our next entry. The tail end of their time together was rather lackluster, as Boston failed to advance past the second round during each of the last four seasons in question.
4. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker
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Team: San Antonio Spurs
Years Together: 2002-13
Playoff Wins: 96
What happens when you put together a quiet and pensive 7-footer, a French point guard and a crafty Argentine 2-guard?
It sounds like the start of a joke, but the only punchline would involve a hell of a lot of playoff wins and titles. In fact, only one trio has ever won more games than the San Antonio Spurs' triumvirate during the postseason.
Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper won 110 extracurricular contests together for the Los Angeles Lakers, but they won't be appearing in this article. Cooper fails to qualify as a star, so the trio is therefore ineligible.
He may have won five championships and made plenty of All-Defensive teams, but the dearth of All-Star selections is troubling.
Thanks to their heart-stopping win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 2 of the 2013 Western Conference finals, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have 96 playoff wins together. Doesn't it seem like they'll eventually get to 110?
If they close out this series and steal two games from the Miami Heat—sorry, Indiana Pacers fans—that puts them at an even 100. All it would take is another trip to the conference finals and two victories in 2014 to tie Magic, Kareem and Cooper.
That's by no means out of the realm of possibilities, especially because Father Time doesn't seem to affect this squad. Tim Duncan's per-36 numbers have been staggeringly consistent throughout his career, even the later portions, and he's shown no signs of slowing down. It seems like retirement is the only thing that could put an end to his greatness.
A decline from Ginobili is a more pressing matter, but Parker is playing the best ball of his career. He could very well carry this squad down the road.
This living legend of a trio is already in a lofty spot, but a few more seasons of greatness could push them up even higher.
Also, it's worth noting that this trio is more of a quartet. Even if he hasn't made a single basket, Gregg Popovich deserves a large share of the credit for the Spurs' prolonged success.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy
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Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Years Together: 1982-89
Playoff Wins: 78
Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that the San Antonio Spurs go on to win the 2013 NBA title, which would give them four championships and 102 wins together—barring any injuries that bring down the total. That came over the course of 11 years, so Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan would be averaging 0.36 titles and 9.27 postseason victories per season.
Well, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy averaged 0.43 titles and 11.14 postseason victories per season. And that's including the 1983 postseason, which Worthy missed in its entirety with a broken leg that prematurely ended his rookie season.
If we only look at the six postseasons in which the full trio was healthy, the Lakers' triumvirate is now averaging 0.5 championships and 13 postseason victories per year. That's a ridiculous pace.
And remember, the Spurs' portion of the calculation was a best-case scenario since we're assuming that Gregg Popovich can somehow steer his team to a title, beating—most likely—the Miami Heat in the process.
At the moment, the gap between No. 3 and No. 4 in these rankings is rather large.
2. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Team: Chicago Bulls
Years Together: 1995-98
Playoff Wins: 45
Ranking the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman is about as difficult as it gets.
On one hand, they only played together for three seasons. That's a shorter time than any other pairing that made the Top 10, save the Miami Heat's current group of superstars.
But on the other hand, they averaged a title and 15 playoff victories per season while lining up next to one another. Remember, this is before the first round was lengthened to its current best-of-seven format.
That's literally perfection in those two categories. It was physically impossible to win more than one championship or more than 15 postseason games per season. The Bulls couldn't have reached a higher level of success unless they'd swept every opponent they faced.
The three-peat will live on in the annals of NBA history as one of the most impressive accomplishments the sport has ever seen. This was squarely in the middle of one of the most competitive eras basketball has ever seen, and MJ, Pippen and Rodman still couldn't be stopped.
1. Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn and Bill Russell
Bill Russell could be wearing far more rings than this.
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Team: Boston Celtics
Years Together: 1956-63
Playoff Wins: 52
No disrespect meant to Bob Cousy or Tom Heinsohn, but Bill Russell is the clear centerpiece of this trio. And I say that because you can replace both Cooz and Heinsohn with other players and still have a group of players worthy of this No. 1 spot.
I have to at least mention Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, John Havlicek, Tom Sanders and Frank Ramsey, because they all could have been included in this top-ranked trio.
For example, Russell and both Joneses won eight titles together. Sanders, Hondo and the defensive legend worked together to win six championships before Russell pulled the plug on his legendary career.
It's all about the man who won more titles than anyone else in the history of the Association, but Cousy and Heinsohn help him form the most impressive of the stellar trios. In just seven seasons together, they managed to win six of Russell's 11 titles. Only defeat at the hands of Bob Pettit and the St. Louis Hawks in the 1958 NBA Finals kept this group from seven-peating.
Together, Russell, Cousy and Heinsohn set a standard as the most prominent dynasty this sport has ever seen. And for that, they're more than deserving of holding down the fort at No. 1.