Did the Warriors Just Finish the Best Three-Year Run in NBA History?
With a win in Game 5 on Monday night, the Golden State Warriors clinched their second NBA championship in three seasons, having also beaten Cleveland in the 2015 NBA Finals. In their one non-championship season in the last three, the Warriors (73 wins) edged Michael Jordan’s 1992-93 Chicago Bulls (72) for the most wins in a single season in NBA history.
So, with two NBA championships and the breaking of the single-season record for wins, has this been the greatest three-season run by a team in NBA history? Let’s take a look back to find where this current team sits among the all-time greats.
5. Los Angeles Lakers, 1999-2002
With one of the best shooting guards and one of the best centers ever to play the game leading the way, the Lakers took down three different opponents — the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets — en route to three consecutive NBA titles.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal combined for an unstoppable force, as O’Neal was named Finals MVP on all three championship runs. Bryant, who was only 23 at the time he won his third title, averaged more than 25 points per game during those three seasons while O’Neal poured in nearly 29 per game.
4. Chicago Bulls, 1990-93
Michael Jordan started for the Chicago Bulls as a rookie in 1984, so the league had a chance to see the budding superstar from the beginning of his career. So by the time Jordan won his first championship in his seventh season, the NBA and fans nationwide were already accustomed to witnessing the prowess of His Airness.
Jordan led the league in scoring in each season from his third (1986-87) through his seventh (1992-93). He had some help along the way, though, with Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and John Paxson providing key contributions and legendary head coach-turned-executive Phil Jackson guiding the ship. This would not be the only run of continued success for Jordan, as he would embark on a second three-year championship streak just a couple years after his first concluded (including his first retirement when he played minor league baseball).
3. Golden State Warriors, 2014-present
The trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green helped Golden State win its first Larry O’Brien Trophy in 40 years in 2015. While they did not repeat as champions, as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers snapped the city’s 52-year-long championship drought, the team still made history the following season. The 2015-16 Warriors broke the all-time record for wins in a season with 73, one more than Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1995-96.
One summer later, perennial All-Star and former MVP Kevin Durant joined the team as a free agent in a move fraught with criticism from the media and basketball fans across the country. The 2016-17 Warriors flirted with playoff perfection, but fell one game short (16-1) with a Game 4 road loss to Cleveland in the NBA Finals. Ultimately, the Warriors sealed the deal one game later to cap another impressive season, their second title in three seasons, and give Durant — who also was named Finals MVP — his first NBA championship.
2. Chicago Bulls, 1995-98
Michael Jordan is, for now*, the best player ever to have put on an NBA jersey. (*To all LeBron-atics: I’ll happily have the James-Jordan debate, but not until the former’s career has concluded. Thanks.) So any sort of grand success should not come as much of a surprise. Except for the fact that Jordan took a year off from NBA competition and two years later won the first of three more titles.
His second championship three-peat with the Bulls was a thing of beauty, considering Jordan was 34 years old at the time of his sixth title. Scottie Pippen, the Robin to Jordan’s Batman, was by Jordan’s side for all six rings.
With Jordan and Pippen at the forefront, Chicago won six rings in a span of eight years, dominance which would conceivably appear unmatched, were it not for a certain group on the parquet in eastern Massachusetts.
1. Boston Celtics, 1958-69
It was much more than three years’ worth of success, and that is exactly why this team’s sustained dominance is atop the list. The Celtics won eight consecutive NBA championships from the 1958-59 season through '65-66, and nine in 10 seasons going back to '56-57.
Extend the list out just a bit more, and the count grows to 11 Celtics championships in 13 seasons (won back-to-back titles in 1968 and '69).
Bill Russell was the leading rebounder in nearly every NBA Finals featuring the Celtics in that span, and in the two instances where he was not, the honor went to Wilt Chamberlain (fellow Hall of Famer and all-time great). The award for the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player is now named for Russell, and his continued success and that of his Celtics cements their run as the most dominant in NBA history.