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Are the Warriors the greatest playoff team in NBA history?

Kevin Durant, of the Golden State Warriors, whose offensive prowess is unrivalled in today's game (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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8th June, 2017
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Following a come-from-behind victory in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are steamrolling towards a second NBA title in three years.

The Warriors hold a 3-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and no team has ever lost a seven-game series from such a commanding position. In fact, only three teams in history have managed to force a Game 7.

The outlook looks bleak for LeBron James and the Cavaliers but for the Warriors there is a shot at redemption and a chance to complete a historic post-season.

Having collapsed spectacularly to lose last year’s championship – following a record breaking 73-win regular season – the Warriors will be out for revenge. They don’t just want to beat the Cavaliers, they want to utterly humiliate them and confirm their utter dominance of the NBA.

Win Game 4 on Friday night and they will have a claim to be the greatest playoff team in NBA history. No other team has ever gone through a post-season undefeated and a perfect 16-0 mark for Golden State would vault them into the upper echelons off NBA lore.

There are only two teams in history who can compete with this year’s Warriors – the 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers.

1996 Chicago Bulls
Often cited as the best team in NBA history, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman led the Bulls to a 72-win season and a fourth NBA crown in six years.

Following Jordan’s return from his sabbatical in Minor League Baseball, the Bulls were utterly dominant in the regular season pilling up a then record number of wins.

In the post-season they were similarly fantastic losing only three times on their way to the championship.

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In the first round the Bulls swept the Miami Heat, a young team who were just in their eighth year in the NBA. Next up were the New York Knicks, a trickier prospect led by All-Star centre Patrick Ewing. But they were arguably on a downward curve having made the Finals in 1994. The Knicks were handled easily in five games.

In the Eastern Conference Finals the Bulls met the Orlando Magic, who had made the Finals the year before. The Magic were led by a young Shaquille O’Neal and explosive scorer Penny Hardaway as well as ex-Bulls big man Horace Grant. This was arguably the Bulls’ most impressive performance of the playoffs as they dispatched the 60-win Magic in four straight games.

The Seattle Supersonics were next to run into the buzzsaw that was the ’96 Bulls in the Finals. Led by trash-talking defensive player of the year Gary Payton and spectacularly athletic forward Shawn Kemp, the Sonics were no pushovers.

Payton defended Jordan superbly and held him to his lowest scoring Finals – a mere 27 PPG. But despite this the Bulls were too strong. The Sonics were closed out in six and the Bulls were on the road to another three-peat.

The quality of the opposition in the last two rounds makes this Bulls run extremely impressive. But if the Warriors can complete a 16-0 run they would certainly have a legitimate claim to be the most dominant playoff team of all time.

Kobe Bryant smiles in last game

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

2001 Los Angeles Lakers
But for Allen Iverson’s heroic performance in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals the Lakers – led by Shaq and Kobe Bryant – might have completed a perfect post-season.

The quality of the opposition the Lakers faced throughout the Western Conference Playoffs was extraordinary – the Lakers had to sweep aside the Trail Blazers, Kings and Spurs on their way to the second of three straight titles.

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The Kings and Spurs in particular were incredibly strong teams in the early 2000s. The Kings – led by Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Jason Williams andamp; Peja Stojakovic – were bitter rivals with the Lakers throughout the early part of the decade. The two teams had contested a bitterly controversial series the year before but there was no such drama this time round as the Lakers won four competitive games to advance.

The Spurs have been consistently one of the greatest teams over the last 20 years and 2001 was no different. Led by Tim Duncan and David Robinson the Spurs had the best record in the West and held home court advantage over the second seed Lakers.

However, they were no match for the Lakers who swept the Spurs and won each game by an average of 22 points. It was one of the most one-sided Conference Finals in recent memory.

The Lakers’ run becomes less impressive in the Finals, where they faced the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers were essentially a one-man offensive team – completely reliant on their talismanic shooting guard Allen Iverson.

Iverson exploded for 48 points in Philadelphia’s Game 1 over-time win, but was otherwise completely overmatched as the Lakers rolled to a comfortable series victory in five games.

So where do the Warriors of 2017 stack up compared to these all-time greats?

There is definitely an argument that the quality of their opposition has not been as high, especially when you consider the Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard for most of the Western Conference Finals.

However, the Warriors have a chance to do two things neither the Lakers or Bulls did – complete a perfect post-season and beat the defending champions along the way.

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Whoever you think has had the most dominant playoff run, there is no doubt these Warriors are poised for a period of dominance to rival either Jordan’s Bulls or Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers.