Ranking the Last 10 NBA Championship Teams

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJune 16, 2014

Ranking the Last 10 NBA Championship Teams

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    Today's NBA marks the passage of time not with ticking clocks, but with San Antonio Spurs championships.

    The Spurs notched their fifth title in 15 years by way of a five-game grilling of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. None of those five have come in pairs, and not until this year had San Antonio followed up one Finals appearance with another.

    Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich are the only two courtside staples who've been around for all of the Spurs' modern successes, but never before had they been a part of something quite like this. Never before had San Antonio faced such a formidable foe in a championship series, and never before had it made such a woodshed beating out of any matchup.

    All to cap off a rather epic journey from October to June, no less.

    But the Spurs aren't the only organization to earn a chapter (or three) in the history books over the last decade. The Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks have also taken home the Larry O'Brien Trophy at least once since the start of the 2004-05 season.

    Where does the latest San Antonio title rank among those other nine? And how do they all stack up against one another?

    Read on to find out! 

10. 2005-06 Miami Heat

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Regular Season W-L: 52-30 (.634)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-3.9

    Postseason W-L: 16-7 (.696)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-3.8

     

    Of the last 10 champions, the 2005-06 Heat posted not only the slimmest per-game point differentials during both the regular season and the playoffs, but also the worst regular-season record. They were without Shaquille O'Neal for 23 games, were led by a third-year Dwyane Wade and called upon a 37-year-old Gary Payton to start at point guard 25 times.

    Oh, and they're also the only one of the last 10 to endure a midseason coaching change; Pat Riley shoved Stan Van Gundy aside after the team got off to an 11-10 start.

    You could even argue that the Heat were better the year prior. In 2004-05, Shaq's first season on South Beach, Miami won 59 games, posted a point differential of plus-6.5 and swept its way through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

    But those Heat couldn't quite overcome the Detroit Pistons thereafter. The defending champs dispatched Miami from the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals in seven games.

    The Heat had no such trouble in 2006, after Flip Saunders took over for Larry Brown in the Motor City. An even-more-veteran squad—with Payton, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Derek Anderson among the many fogies—pushed past the Pistons in six before dancing around Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in six more, thanks in no small part to Wade's historic parade to the free-throw line.

9. 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Regular Season W-L: 57-25 (.695)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-4.7

    Postseason W-L: 16-7 (.696)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-3.8

     

    Two previous trips to the Finals had taken their toll on the Lakers. They did well to snag the top spot in a Western Conference that featured eight 50-win teams, but they were hardly as impressive as they'd been the year prior. They absorbed some body blows from both the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder and the tail-end-of-the-Steve-Nash-era Phoenix Suns, with a simple sweep of the Utah Jazz in between.

    Those trials and tribulations didn't diminish the sweetness of L.A.'s ultimate triumph, though. If anything, its fight to win the West was but the enthralling prologue to an epic seven-game series against the rival Celtics. The Lakers prevailed in a wild Game 7 at home, battling back from 15 points down behind the surprising excellence of Metta World Peace (20 points, five rebounds, five steals, one unforgettable postgame press conference).

    Not to mention the sensational glass work of both Pau Gasol (18 rebounds) and Kobe Bryant (15 boards), each of whom took advantage of Kendrick Perkins' injury-related absence.

    L.A.'s payback for its 2008 defeat at Boston's hands may not have been pretty, but it was effective all the same—particularly for the Black Mamba, who took home his second consecutive Finals MVP. 

     

8. 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Regular Season W-L: 59-23 (.720)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-7.8

    Postseason W-L: 16-7 (.696)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-4.3

     

    It helps to have two Hall of Famers in their respective primes and another still shy of his mid-20s.

    That's where the Spurs were when they captured their third championship (and second in three seasons) in 2005. Tim Duncan was at the peak of his powers, averaging upward of 20 points and 10 boards from the opening tip until the moment he hoisted his third Bill Russell statuette as the Finals MVP. Manu Ginobili (20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists during the playoffs) had yet to move to the bench full time. Tony Parker was still shy of his first All-Star appearance, though his 17.2 point and 4.3 assists in the postseason did plenty to advance his cause in that regard.

    With those three in tow, San Antonio stormed past the Denver Nuggets, the Seattle SuperSonics and the Suns to win the West before tangling with the defending champion Pistons in arguably the ugliest seven-game series in Finals history. The home team blew out the visitors in each of the first four games before the Spurs pulled out an overtime victory at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Game 5. Detroit took care of business in the Alamo City in Game 6 but wound up on the wrong end of a Game 7 slugfest in San Antonio. 

7. 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Regular Season W-L: 58-24 (.707)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-8.4

    Postseason W-L: 16-4 (.800)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-4.0

     

    In case you've forgotten, the 2014 Finals marked the second time the Spurs trounced LeBron James' team in three tries. The first clash came in 2007, when San Antonio swept the Cleveland Cavaliers, led then by a 22-year-old James.

    Strange as it may seem today, those Cavs, with nary an All-Star aside from James, fared better against San Antonio than did this year's Heat in some respects. Those four games were decided by an average of six points, with Cleveland coming within three points of pulling out a win in Game 3 and just one shy of staying alive in Game 4.

    From the Spurs' perspective, that run marked the emergence of Tony Parker as the team's next focal point. The then-25-year-old Frenchman was magnificent throughout the regular season and the playoffs, and he somehow found another gear in the Finals. Parker averaged 24.5 points on 56.8 percent shooting (57.1 percent from three) in that series, earning Finals MVP honors ahead of even Tim Duncan.

    It would be six years before the Spurs returned to the Finals and seven before they touched the Larry O'Brien Trophy again. But that quest in 2007, with Parker soaking up the spotlight, would set the stage for the jaw-dropping transformation that was brought to bear in this year's series.

6. 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Regular Season W-L: 57-25 (.695)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-4.2

    Postseason W-L: 16-5 (0.762)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-5.8

     

    If ever there was a Cinderella story among the NBA's champions, it'd have to be that of the 2010-11 Mavericks.

    To say that Dallas flew under the radar that year is like describing the end of the battle between the Mountain and the Viper as merely unpleasant. It was all too easy to forget about the Mavs amidst the shuffle of intriguing storylines around the league back then, between the inaugural march of the Heat's Big 3, the Lakers' push for a three-peat, Derrick Rose's rise to league MVP status, the Celtics' attempt to prop open their window of contention, the Oklahoma City Thunder coming into their own and, of course, the Spurs returning to the top of the West.

    The stage was all but set for Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to go toe-to-toe in the postseason for the first time, or for Phil Jackson to retire after a rematch of the 1991 Finals, with the Zen Master switching sides.

    But the Mavs had other ideas. With Dirk Nowitzki leading the charge, Dallas swept the two-time defending champion Lakers, made relatively quick work of OKC in the Western Conference Finals and won three games in a row against Miami to clinch the franchise's first championship in six games. Naturally, Nowitzki was named MVP of the Finals, though J.J. Barea's pesky play as a starter and Jason Terry's superb shooting off the bench had plenty to do with the result as well. 

5. 2007-08 Boston Celtics

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Regular Season W-L: 66-16 (.805)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-10.3

    Postseason W-L: 16-10 (.615)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-5.2

     

    The Boston Celtics' quest for Title No. 17 may well be remembered as "A Tale of Two Seasons."

    The C's were easily the league's best team during the regular season. They won seven more games than the second-place Pistons and posted the seventh-best point differential in NBA history behind a defense that ranked as the league's stingiest that year.

    Which was made all the more remarkable considering Boston's Three Party of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett had just come together the previous summer.

    Boston's lack of experience together bubbled up to the surface during the playoffs. The C's needed seven games to finish off the Atlanta Hawks in the first round and another seven to stave off LeBron's Cavs before sliding past the Pistons in six. 

    It would be another six games before Boston took home the title, but not without plenty of drama opposite the hated Lakers. Pierce climbed out of a wheelchair in Game 1, the C's stormed back from a 24-point deficit in Game 4 and Boston set a new record for championship-clinching dominance with a 39-point win in Game 6. Pierce was named Finals MVP after averaging 21.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists against his hometown team.

4. 2011-12 Miami Heat

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Regular Season W-L: 46-20 (.697)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-6.0

    Postseason W-L: 16-7 (.696)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-7.1

     

    Choosing between the Heat's two most recent championship teams is no easy task. Both were phenomenal teams that piled up 16-7 playoff records on the way to the top, all while dealing with pressure and scrutiny unlike any an NBA team had ever seen.

    But the Big Three's first title was more the product of a work in progress than that of a complete club. The Heat's offense still largely resembled the "Dueling Banjos" setup that'd yielded such disconcerting stagnation against Dallas the year prior. It wasn't until Chris Bosh went down with an abdominal injury in Game 1 of Miami's second-round series against the Indiana Pacers that head coach Erik Spoelstra stumbled upon a "small-ball" alignment resembling the one that his team subsequently rode to such rousing success.

    The Heat were able to survive on the strength of James and Wade while Bosh recovered. The Heat took off once Bosh returned to the starting lineup, beating Boston in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals before flattening the Thunder in five games for the franchise's second championship.

3. 2012-13 Miami Heat

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Regular Season W-L: 66-16 (.805)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-7.9

    Postseason W-L: 16-7 (.696)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-6.4

     

    Come to think of it, Miami's 2012-13 championship chase was definitely more impressive than its predecessor.

    For one, the Heat had to follow up their lockout-shortened success amidst the rigors of an 82-game regular-season slate.

    And Miami did much more than that. The Heat won a franchise-record 66 games, including 27 in a row— the second-longest streak in the history of North American professional team sports. They came into the campaign with a clear and unique identity, one bolstered by the summer signing of Ray Allen and the midseason acquisition of Chris Andersen. Those two combined to amplify Miami's distinct brand of small ball around James, Wade and Bosh.

    The Heat rolled through Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs before battling through consecutive seven-game series against the Pacers and the Spurs. The latter featured a Finals miracle in Game 6, when Allen hit a miraculous three-pointer from the right corner with five seconds left to force overtime. The Heat would go on to win that clash and seal the deal in Game 7, unwittingly setting up what proved to be a far different rematch this spring.

2. 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Regular Season W-L: 65-17 (.793)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-7.7

    Postseason W-L: 16-7 (.696)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-7.2

     

    The Lakers had everything going for them during the 2008-09 season: the sting of losing to the Celtics in 2008, the desire to redeem themselves for that defeat, a (relatively) healthy Andrew Bynum, a still-dominant Kobe Bryant and greater comfort for Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza, who'd both arrived in L.A. during the previous campaign.

    Not surprisingly, those Lakers ran away with the West by a whopping 11 games. They survived a surprisingly stiff test against the injury-ravaged Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs, closed out Carmelo Anthony's Denver Nuggets in six to claim the Western Conference crown and made fairly quick work of Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic to secure the franchise's 15th title—and its first since shipping Shaq to Miami in 2004.

1. 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Regular Season W-L: 62-20 (.756)

    Regular Season Point Differential: Plus-7.7

    Postseason W-L: 16-7 (.696)

    Postseason Point Differential: Plus-9.3

     

    Talking about the Spurs in the context of just the last decade would seem to diminish what they managed to accomplish on the way to their fifth championship.

    For starters, they were the NBA's best team during the regular season, by both record and point differential. That certainly held true in the playoffs, with only the Dallas Mavericks mounting a truly threatening challenge to San Antonio.

    Even then, the Spurs dispatched Dallas with a dominant 119-96 win in Game 7.

    More impressive still is that San Antonio saved its best for last. The Spurs set Finals records for field-goal percentage (.528) and total point differential (plus-70) while putting together their best performances of the series on the road.

    And not against some Eastern Conference schlubs, like they did in 1999, 2003 and 2007, but rather against the two-time defending champs, led by the best basketball player on planet Earth.

    All told, San Antonio's latest Larry O'Brien Trophy was the product of a postseason for the ages. As Grantland's Zach Lowe noted:

    Under the slightly different scale Basketball-Reference.com uses, the Spurs blitzed their four playoff opponents by about 10 points per 100 possessions. That is the sixth-best mark ever for a champion, trailing only five of the greatest teams to ever walk this earth: the 1991 and 1996 Bulls, 1986 Celtics, 1987 Lakers, and those 2001 Lakers, who decided to start trying hard in the playoffs.

    Best of all, the Spurs did all of this after suffering through heartbreak of historic proportions in last year's Finals. They didn't just exact revenge on the Heat for that defeat, they also did so on their own terms.

    "For us, this series was not about them" Boris Diaw told Grantland after Game 5. "We did a bit of scouting, but at the end of the day, we’re playing the same defense we played all year. We’re playing the same offense we played all year — just move the ball, be unselfish, and play for your teammates."

    The result? A journey to the top that ranks among the most inspiring the NBA has ever seen.

     

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