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For the fourth time in the last decade, the Golden State Warriors are NBA champions. They navigated the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Finals, dispatching the C’s in six games.
But the Warriors—more than anyone, considering the franchise’s recent success—understand that comparisons never stop.
How does the 2021-22 title-winning team stack up to champions of the last 10 years?
The ranking is subjective but considers many factors, including regular-season and playoff performance, quality of postseason opponents, efficiency metrics and individual honors.
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The toughest team to judge is the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the season came to a screeching halt in mid-March 2020. Nearly five months later, the campaign resumed in the Orlando-area bubble. It was like playing two different seasons.
Nevertheless, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers stood atop the Western Conference with a 52-19 record. They had a relatively painless run through the playoffs, winning each of the first three series 4-1 before defeating the Miami Heat 4-2 in the NBA Finals.
LeBron and Davis, who both earned first-team All-NBA honors, also averaged 27-plus points in the postseason.
Los Angeles’ net rating—the second-lowest mark of these champions—and, relative to the others, more favorable playoff path have the Lakers kicking off the list.
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In both 2018-19 and 2019-20, the Bucks finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. However, they didn’t advance to the NBA Finals either time.
Perhaps third time was the charm.
Milwaukee paced the league with 120.1 points per game, ranking second in effective field-goal percentage and tying for the fourth-highest three-point mark. And, of course, the team revolved around Giannis Antetokounmpo, a first-team All-NBA and All-Defensive selection.
After sweeping the Miami Heat to begin the postseason, the Bucks toppled the Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns.
Milwaukee’s high-level efficiency clips the Lakers but isn’t enough to catch a league-leading defense.
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Steph Curry still did Steph Curry things. But in 2021-22, defense carried the Dubs.
Golden State closed the regular season with the league’s best defensive rating and the second-lowest effective field-goal percentage. Opponents averaged the second-fewest assists per game, and the Dubs corralled the second-highest percentage of defensive rebounds.
The championship didn’t come without some issues, though. Following a 41-13 start, they went 12-16 down the stretch. Golden State’s offensive rating was 17th and its regular-season net rating was the lowest of the teams on this list, too.
Golden State bounced back at the perfect time, though, winning all four postseason series in convincing fashion to celebrate a fourth title in eight years.
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Although the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors had a superstar in Kawhi Leonard, they connected on a deep, efficient group.
Kyle Lowry provided 14.2 points and 8.7 assists per game in the regular season, while Pascal Siakam assembled a breakout year that ended with the Most Improved Player award. Serge Ibaka, Danny Green and Fred VanVleet all averaged double figures, and Marc Gasol made a key impact after a midseason trade, too.
Toronto, which posted a 58-24 record, held top-five rankings in both offensive and defensive rating.
Leonard poured in 30.5 points per game during a memorable playoff run that featured a Game 7 buzzer-beater to eliminate the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. Though the Raptors have the most postseason defeats on this list, they managed to overcome the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and two-time defending champ Golden State. The high level of competition boosts the Raptors over the 2021-22 Warriors.
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The season that started a dynasty.
Following the 2013-14 campaign, the franchise moved on from Mark Jackson and hired Steve Kerr. Golden State soon unleashed a dynamic scoring attack that led the NBA in points per game and three-point percentage, also ranking second in offensive rating.
But as All-NBA selections Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson propelled the offense, the Warriors also reached a new defensive height.
Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut earned All-Defensive recognition, and Golden State posted a league-best defensive rating. Green’s and Andre Iguodala’s flexibility also allowed Kerr to roll out the small-ball “Death Lineup” that helped swing the NBA Finals, too.
Golden State ripped off a 67-15 record in the regular season and a tidy 16-5 mark in the playoffs. In this razor-thin separation, though, a couple of 2-1 series deficits—including when Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hurt—keep the Warriors below the 2013-14 Spurs.
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One year after falling to the Heat in heart-wrenching fashion, the San Antonio Spurs put on a masterclass.
Said another way, San Antonio was a buzzsaw.
On the path to redemption, the Spurs registered an NBA-leading 62-20 record and the league’s best net rating. Additionally, the purveyors of the “Beautiful Game” ranked first in three-pointers made and assists while finishing third in defensive rating.
Along with Tim Duncan continuing to defy Father Time, the Spurs leaned on second-team All-NBA guard Tony Parker and Leonard—then a rising star who secured Finals MVP.
San Antonio escaped a seven-game series with the Dallas Mavericks before bouncing the Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Heat in five, six and five games, respectively. The convincing nature of the Spurs’ playoff run earned the edge on the 2014-15 Warriors.
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Tough to follow a legendary team, you know? More on the 2016-17 Warriors later, though.
Golden State set an extremely high bar in the first season of the brief Kevin Durant era, yet the 2017-18 squad still had a stellar year. The offense led the NBA in two-point, three-point, free-throw, true shooting and effective field-goal percentage, along with points per game.
On the defensive end, the Dubs swatted the most shots in the league and allowed the NBA’s third-lowest field-goal percentage.
Golden State dealt with more injuries than usual, which contributed to a 58-24 regular season. Additionally, the Warriors fought off two elimination games against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. But when the lights shined brightest, the quartet of Curry, Durant, Thompson and Green helped the Warriors run through the playoffs at 16-5 with a sweep of Cleveland in the Finals.
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In the moment, it seemed the 73-win Warriors could have a claim to vaulting past the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the best team in NBA history.
But the Cavaliers prevented that discussion from happening.
Kyrie Irving’s last-minute three in Game 7 of the Finals punctuated Cleveland’s epic 3-1 comeback on a fantastic Golden State team. LeBron James followed 41-point outings in Games 5 and 6 with a 27-point triple-double in the decisive clash, too.
That narrative provides a deserved boost to this roster over its champion competition. During a 57-25 regular season, Cleveland didn’t lead the NBA in any major statistical categories but otherwise held a plethora of top-10 rankings, including the league’s third-best offensive rating.
Plus, the Cavs swept the Detroit Pistons and Hawks prior to eliminating the Raptors in six and shocking the Warriors.
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After toppling the Thunder in the 2012 Finals, the Heat earned back-to-back rings in iconic fashion.
Ray Allen’s clutch propelled Miami to an overtime win against the Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, and the Heat followed with a Game 7 triumph. The championship capped a season in which Miami tallied a franchise-record 66 wins—which included a 27-game streak, the second-longest single-season run in NBA history.
Behind the Big Three of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat notched an NBA-best .552 effective field-goal percentage. Among the champions, Miami had the third-highest net rating, too.
LeBron, who was arguably at his peak in this season, secured league MVP and was a first-team All-Defensive selection. Wade landed third-team All-NBA recognition.
The Heat went 8-1 in the first two playoff rounds before overcoming the Indiana Pacers’ league-leading defense and a powerful Spurs team.
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Golden State responded to its 2016 Finals collapse against Cleveland by signing Kevin Durant.
Long story short, that worked out OK.
During a 67-15 regular season, the Warriors stood atop the league in offensive rating, effective field-goal and true shooting percentage, assists, blocks and steals. Their defensive rating only trailed the 61-win Spurs, too.
Most impressively, Golden State waltzed to sweeps of Portland and Utah before Kawhi Leonard’s injury left no doubt in the San Antonio sweep. Cleveland managed a win in Game 4 of the Finals, so the Warriors missed a perfect postseason by just one contest.
Durant, Curry and Green—also an All-Defensive pick—each received All-NBA honors on this juggernaut.
All stats from Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.