Ranking Every NBA Finals During Warriors' Epic 5-Year RunJune 2, 2019
Ranking Every NBA Finals During Warriors' Epic 5-Year Run
The Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals for a fifth straight season.
No team has achieved that feat since the Boston Celtics of the 1950s-'60s. And back then, the league had fewer than 10 teams. Stephen Curry and the Warriors, on the other hand, have battled through the 15-team gauntlet of the Western Conference.
Think of some of the other great teams that weren't able to accomplish this feat, regardless of conference: Larry Bird's Celtics; the Showtime Lakers; Michael Jordan's Bulls; Tim Duncan's Spurs; the Shaquille O'Neal- and Kobe Bryant-led Lakers; and LeBron James' Heat and Cavaliers.
The NBA has seen some incredible collections of talent. None of them have done this. Being among the last two teams standing for five straight years in a 30-team league is remarkable.
So now, during Golden State's fifth consecutive Finals series, let's rank each of the past four by the level of excitement and drama they provided.
To Be Determined: 2019
If the Toronto Raptors pull off an upset in year five of this Warriors run, this is a series that possibly vaults up these rankings. But it may not be as big an upset as some think.
Simple rating system (SRS) combines a team's regular-season point differential and strength of schedule into one number, and as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal pointed out, this Raptors squad has a better SRS than any of the four Cavs teams Golden State faced over the last four years.
Kawhi Leonard isn't LeBron James, but he's on a ridiculous tear through this postseason, and he may have more help that LeBron ever did in Cleveland.
Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry are both multiple-time All-Stars. Gasol is a former Defensive Player of the Year. And over the last seven seasons (as long as Lowry has been with the Raptors), Lowry is 10th in the NBA in box plus-minus. Kyrie Irving is 26th over the same span.
Throw in the big-game experience of Danny Green, a rising star in Pascal Siakam and timely contributions off the bench from Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, and you can see how the Raptors might pull this off.
They're the only team other than Cleveland to represent the East during this Golden State streak, so they're already unique. But if they can actually take down the dynasty, this should be a playoff run NBA fans remember for some time.
Finals MVP: Kevin Durant
Scoring Leader: LeBron James (34.0)
Rebounding Leader: Kevin Love (11.3)
Assists Leader: LeBron James (10.0)
Game Score Leader: LeBron James (28.3)
Unless you're a fan of the winning team, sweeps generally aren't terribly exciting, as the unattached NBA fan is usually looking for more games.
Last season's sweep of the Cavs almost finishes here by default, and the losing team's most memorable moment of the series might have been a Game 1 gaffe from starting shooting guard JR Smith.
ESPN posted video of the infamous sequence.
With 4.7 seconds to play, Klay Thompson fouled George Hill off the ball. With Cleveland down one, Hill hit the first free throw, and the game was tied at 107. He then missed the second free throw. After Smith grabbed an offensive rebound, he dribbled out to half court like a player who figured his team had the lead, and Cleveland didn't get a shot off.
Smith became a meme, and from the start of overtime to the end of the series, Golden State outscored the Cavs by 60 points. It's a shame that's the lasting impression from this series, because there were some phenomenal individual performances.
Durant averaged 28.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.3 blocks. Curry went for 27.5 points, 6.8 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals.
LeBron James was his typically ridiculous self: 34.0 points, 10.0 assists, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks. He almost single-handedly won Game 1, scoring 51 points on 19-of-32 shooting.
Finals MVP: Kevin Durant
Scoring Leader: Kevin Durant (35.2)
Rebounding Leader: LeBron James (12.0)
Assists Leader: LeBron James (10.0)
Game Score Leader: Kevin Durant (30.3)
Though it was slightly more competitive than it was in 2018, Durant and the Warriors still dominated the 2017 Finals.
This gentlemen's sweep was a statement series for Durant. In his first career title run, he went toe to toe with LeBron and came out on top. Sure, KD had more help, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't admit he was the best player in that limited five-game sample.
"Durant was spectacular and will undoubtedly be named Finals MVP once the Dubs win a fourth game," FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring wrote after the Warriors took a 3-0 lead in the series. "His impressive showing here, largely against the best player of the past generation, figures to prompt conversation about whether we're seeing a changing of the guard concerning which player deserves to be considered the best in the world."
Golden State got that fourth win two games later, and Durant was indeed named MVP. His final line for those five games: 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals. He shot 55.6 percent from the field, 47.4 percent from three and 92.7 percent from the line.
But if we're just looking at the one-on-one matchup between KD and LeBron, this wasn't as big a wipeout as the series itself. In fact, you could probably find some contrarians who would still say he was the best player in the 2017 NBA Finals. Averages of 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks aren't hard to defend, and his shooting splits weren't much worse than Durant's.
This was just another example of LeBron's all-time individual talent falling short of Golden State's all-time collection of talent.
Finals MVP: Andre Iguodala
Scoring Leader: LeBron James (35.8)
Rebounding Leader: LeBron James (13.3)
Assists Leader: LeBron James (8.8)
Game Score Leader: LeBron James (24.6)
The year that kicked this dynasty off likely holds a special place in the hearts of Warriors fans. In Steve Kerr's first year at the helm, Golden State jumped from 51 wins to 67 and won the franchise's first NBA title since 1975.
But this was a series marred by injuries.
Kevin Love was lost to a dislocated shoulder in the first round against the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving went down at the end of Game 1 of the Finals. What was left was a ragtag bunch, highlighted by Timofey Mozgov, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova. Mozgov, of all people, was second on Cleveland in total points scored in that Finals.
One might even argue that LeBron making this series competitive was as much a feat as some of the titles he actually won. Some voters for Finals MVP tried to make him the first to win the award in a losing effort since Jerry West in 1969.
Andre Iguodala won the award by a count of seven votes to four, and while he only averaged 16.3 points and was guarding LeBron for much of that ridiculous performance, plus-minus at least gave Iggy an OK case for the award.
During the Finals, Golden State was plus-14.4 points per 100 possessions when Iguodala was on the floor and minus-13.2 when he was off. His teammate, Steph Curry, not getting at least a vote or two is a little strange, though. He led the winning team in points, assists, threes and game score.
Finals MVP: LeBron James
Scoring Leader: LeBron James (29.7)
Rebounding Leader: LeBron James (11.3)
Assists Leader: LeBron James (8.9)
Game Score Leader: LeBron James (26.5)
Sorry, Warriors fans. I had to.
The one year Golden State lost in this run offered the most exciting and dramatic series, and there was some history too.
In 2014, when he announced he'd sign with the Cavs, LeBron shared the following with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins:
"I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there's no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
"I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home."
Just two years later, James delivered Cleveland a title. It ended a city-wide professional sports drought that went all the way back to 1964.
As for the drama, who could forget Draymond Green's shot below the belt that got him suspended for Game 5? Or the fact that it went seven games? And on excitement (or agony, if you're a Warriors fan), that series gave us Kyrie Irving's clutch three and Kevin Love's defensive stand on Curry.
This era will be remembered as belonging to Golden State, but for at least one summer, the Cavs reigned after taking down a juggernaut.