Being in the playoffs is one of the greatest achievements for NBA teams. This is a path every team should go successfully in order to win the championship and get the honourable title. For some players, real basketball starts in the playoffs. We have often heard about top players that they switch to real “powers” during the knockout phase. LeBron James is probably the first example. The King is a different player during the regular season and playoffs.
Has there been any NBA team in history, that went undefeated in the playoffs? As of 2021, there has been no such team. The one that went closest was the Golden State Warriors in 2017 when they did not have a single loss until the Finals when they lost only one game against the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the series 4-1.
While there is no single team without a loss in the playoffs, let’s have a look at the 5 best records.
5. San Antonio Spurs (15-2)
In 1999 Tim Duncan and David “Admiral” Robinson wreaked havoc on every NBA team they faced. Duncan had an astonishing rookie season and was also dominant in his playoff run. Duncan averaged 23.2 points and 11.5 rebounds and earned the Finals MVP Award. They lost the first game in the first round against Kevin Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Back at that time, the format of playoffs was different. In the first round, teams had to play until 3 wins and only then they moved to a 4-game system. Afterwards, they swept the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers 4-0 and went on to win the title against the New York Knicks, when they lost the second game.
4. Detroit Pistons (15-2)
Detroit’s Bad Boys will be remembered for a long time due to their aggressive playing style, versatility, and defensive capabilities. In 1989 they beat Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, the Celtics, Bucks, and set up an encounter in the Finals against the Lakers, whom they swept. We should also emphasize that the Lakers were without Byron Scott and Magic Johnson. The latter only played five minutes in the final two games.
The only two games that they have lost in the playoffs came against the Bulls. Isaiah Thomas led his team to an unbelievable run. Many experts considered the Pistons underdogs but this team knew how to play against elite players – Bird, Jordan, Magic. It is difficult to say how the Final would have unfolded, had Johnson and Scott not been injured but this Pistons team proved that versatility and team play is the key to success.
3. Chicago Bulls (15-2)
Michael Jordan won his first NBA title in 1991. Previously the Bulls had a bitter experience, losing 3 consecutive series against the Detroit Pistons. However, this season proved to be a different one. Jordan took the initiative in his hands, defeated the New York Knicks 3-0 in the first round, lost only one game against the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, demolished the Pistons 4-0, and capitalized the run with 4-1 against the Los Angeles Lakers. We should point out that in the first game they went close and lose 93-91. He later admitted to failing to have his team ready.
During this run, Jordan already demonstrated that stopping him would become an impossible task and he proved it – by winning 6 NBA championships and could have won more, had he not retired for 2 seasons.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (15-1)
The second and first teams on our list have only lost one game during the playoffs, but as the Lakers won 1 game less, they are in second place. Arguably, this Lakers is one of the greatest teams of all time, with Kobe and Shaq forming a menacing duo, terrorizing other teams and in 2001 they faced 4 teams who won 50 games and more. The numbers speak for themselves – they only lost a single game in the Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. On their way to the championship title, Kobe and Shaq swept Portland, Sacramento, and San Antonio. Beating the latter 4-0 is especially surprising because the Spurs had some high-profile players in their roster.
Bryand and O’Neal created a dynasty and left behind a memorable legacy. However, they failed to get on with each other and if it had not been in such way, we could have witnessed even more titles from these 2 players.
1. Golden State Warriors (16-1)
When Kevin Durant joined the Warriors from the Thunder it was only a matter of time before he would have won his first title. Alongside Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry, the Warriors were a formidable team. Besides, they won 15 consecutive games in the playoffs, before losing the fourth game in the Finals against LeBron’s Cavaliers. Possibly, the maximum resistance they got from any other team was the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard, shattering any chances of advancing into the Finals. 2017 NBA Finals was a repetition of the previous season when the Warriors blew away a 3-1 win. However this time they were clinical, not allowing additional chances to the opposing team. Arguably, this is one of the best teams that the NBA has ever witnessed.
On our list, we mentioned Jordan’s incredible Chicago Bulls, brilliant Warriors, but even such teams conceded losses during their playoff runs. It demonstrates that winning every game is a tough task to accomplish even if you have world-class players and from today’s perspective it is unlikely that any team will manage to achieve this feat, as the competition is only rising.