The Golden State Warriors won their second championship in three years on Monday night after defeating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 129-120, solidifying their place as the greatest basketball team of all time.
Yes, you read that right.
I know what you are thinking — the Warriors set the regular season record for wins last season, so how can this team be better? Or perhaps you prefer one of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls teams of the 1990s. Or the “Showtime” Lakers from the decade before. Certainly one of the Boston Celtics dynasties from the 1960s or 1980s was better, no?
No, and the reason is simple: This Golden State team was the most efficient and the most dominating from start to finish.
During the regular season, the Warriors won 67 games, outscoring the competition by 11.35 points per game after adjusting for strength of schedule. Only the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers and 1995-96 Chicago Bulls dominated their opponents by a wider margin, but this year’s Golden State squad was a much more efficient shooting team, ending the season with the highest effective field goal percentage in league history (56.3 percent). The Warriors also tied with the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers for the highest offensive efficiency since 1974 (115.6 points per 100 possessions), the first year data is available.
In fact, none of the teams typically mentioned among the best of all time come close to the overall dominating effort the Warriors put in during the 2016-17 regular-season campaign.
Adding Kevin Durant, named the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, to a core that included two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry and all-stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, certainly helped put the Warriors on another level despite concerns there wouldn’t be enough touches to go around. But they found a way to make it work. In fact, this could be considered one of the most unselfish team the league has ever seen.
Golden State recorded 30 or more assists a franchise-record 50 times, the second-most in the NBA since 1984. Only the 1984-85 Lakers had more 30-assist games in one season (52), but they also had a higher turnover percentage: 15.7 percent compared to 13.2 percent for the Warriors. And that team chemistry allowed them to steamroll teams in the playoffs.
Sweeps over the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs made this year’s Warriors the first team in league history to enter the NBA Finals 12-0. They also became the first team in NBA history to sweep three best-of-seven series in the same postseason and the first team in playoff history to win 15 straight games. They lost one game to the Cavaliers, making Golden State’s 16-1 postseason record the best of all time.
And they did it in dazzling fashion. The Warriors averaged 121.6 points per game in the Finals, the fourth-highest average in NBA history and the highest in 50 years, per Elias. They won by an average margin of 13.5 points, second only to the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, a year in which the eventual champion only needed to win 12 games to complete a title run. No team had a higher offensive rating in the Finals than Golden State (121.3) while facing one of the opposing conference’s top two seeds.
This isn’t to say the Cavaliers rolled over in the Finals — they put up a Herculean effort. It just wasn’t enough. They scored 113 or more points four times but lost three of those games, giving them the highest offensive rating by a losing team in the Finals (114.6) since 1984. In fact, just seven teams have produced an offensive rating of better than 110 with an effective field goal percentage in excess of 53 percent in the NBA Finals. Cleveland is now the only team among that group to not win a title.
How ridiculous is it that Cleveland scored 113 points or more in four of the five Finals games, and only got 1 of them? Good God.
— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) June 13, 2017
Destroying the single best Finals loser ever is a fitting ending indeed for the best team the NBA has ever seen. (By Neil Greenberg)