Teams dominating the playoffs or overcoming great adversity to win the NBA championship featured the greatest postseason runs of all time. These playoff runs are iconic and legendary as they showcased some of the greatest moments throughout NBA history.
Greatest postseason runs in NBA history
The greatest postseason runs are very subjective. You can’t rely on the postseason record alone to determine if a team had a great run. You have to factor in the matchup, health, and other intangibles.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the eight greatest postseason performances in NBA history.
8. Lakers, 1987
Postseason record: 15-3
Led by Magic Johnson, the 1987 Lakers finished first in the Western Conference standings.
In the playoffs, they swept the Denver Nuggets 3-0 and beat the Warriors 4-1. Surprisingly, they faced the 7th-seed Sonics in the Western Conference Finals who defeated the 2nd-seed Mavericks and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Rockets. The underdog Sonics team fought hard but the Lakers reigned supreme—sweeping them 4-0.
In the NBA Finals, they faced their archrival, the Celtics, which had the greatest regular season in franchise history (67-15) the year before. As we know, those two teams are one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history.
In a back and forth battle, the Lakers won in a tough six-game series (4-2) overcoming Larry Bird‘s Celtics.
7. Bulls, 1996
Postseason record: 15-3
The 1996 Bulls is arguably the best team of all time having won 72-10 in the regular season and 15-3 in the postseason. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were simply unstoppable this year.
In the first round of the playoffs, they swept the Heat 3-0. After that, they bested their tough Knicks rival 4-1 in the second round and swept the Magic 4-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the NBA Finals, the Bulls faced a gritty Sonics team led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. They started the finals strong by winning three games to nothing but dropped their next two games. This revitalized the Sonics to mount a comeback. However, the Bulls were not a fan of blowing leads. They closed the series in Game 6.
6. Cavaliers, 2016
Postseason record: 16-5
The Cavaliers’ historic run in 2016 is still fresh in our memories. It featured one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history.
The first two rounds for the Cavs were an easy sweep against the Pistons and Hawks.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, they faced the Raptors, another top team in the East. But for LeBron James, it doesn’t matter as he had a knack for beating the Raptors from time to time. The Cavs won the series 4-2.
Coming into the NBA Finals, the 73-9 Warriors were looking to get another championship title. The Warriors started the series 3-1 against the Cavs, and no one had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in NBA Finals history.
Things turned around when Draymond Green was suspended in Game 5. This allowed the Cavs to storm the last 2 games, and ultimately forced a Game 7.
In the final seconds of Game 7, you will see two of the best playoff moments of all time—LeBron’s chasedown block against Iguodala and Kyrie’s dagger three over Curry, one of the clutchest NBA shots of all time.
The comeback was completed and that ended Cleveland’s championship title drought for over 50 years. This is definitely one of the greatest postseason runs in NBA history.
5. Mavericks, 2011
Postseason record: 16-5
The Mavericks in 2011 is arguably the best Cinderella run of all time. The fact that they’ve won the NBA championship with one all-star and an aging team is unreal. After all, their roster consisted of an average player age of 31 years.
During that season, the Lakers were looking to three-peat. However, the Mavericks had other ideas. They owned the defending champions 4-0.
After the second round, another hot team is in their way. They faced a young Thunder team who had 3 future MVPs—Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. They beat them in dominant fashion 4-1.
Against all odds, the Mavericks are now in the NBA Finals. However, there’s another round of adversity as they faced Miami Heat‘s Big 3—Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James. Overcoming all odds, the Mavericks won 4-2 behind one of the best NBA playoff performances of all time from Dirk Nowitzki.
4. Pistons, 1989
Postseason record: 15-2
The Bad Boy Pistons were one of the most iconic teams in NBA history. Their toughness and defense were top-notch. Not to mention their constant fighting and trash talking with other teams.
Led by Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, the Pistons swept the first and second round easily. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference Finals, they faced the Bulls and their rising star Michael Jordan. They deployed their infamous “Jordan Rules” strategy which caused problems for Jordan physically. Thus, they bested the Bulls who relied heavily on MJ in six games (4-2).
In the NBA Finals, they met the Lakers again for a finals rematch. They got their revenge by owning the Lakers 4-0.
3. Bulls, 1991
Postseason record: 15-2
1991 is officially the start of the first run of the Bulls dynasty and Michael Jordan’s dominance in the decade. In this season, they won 61 games in the regular season finishing as first in the East.
Entering the playoffs, the Bulls swept the Knicks in the first round (3-0) and they beat the 76ers in the second round (4-1).
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls faced their nemesis, the Pistons which had their “Jordan Rules” strategy. But it didn’t work anymore as MJ was stronger than ever. With no one stopping Jordan, they finally got their revenge by sweeping them 4-0.
In the NBA Finals, they faced the Lakers in which they beat in a dominant fashion—winning the series 4-1. It was Chicago’s first NBA championship and was their strongest run in the postseason.
2. Warriors, 2017
Postseason record: 16-1
In 2016, the 73-9 Warriors blew a 3-1 lead against the Cavs in the Finals. The next season, they landed another superstar, Kevin Durant, in free agency. They were looking to bounce back after the humiliating defeat the prior season.
They were already looking scary and are the favorites to win the NBA championship. In the playoffs, they swept the Blazers, Jazz, and Spurs—starting a postseason record of 12-0.
In the NBA finals, LeBron James was not enough to defend the Cavs’ title. The Warriors got their revenge against the Cavs—beating them 4-1. They set the record for the longest playoff winning streak with 15 and the best playoff record of all time (16-1). The postseason record alone screams that this is one of the greatest postseason runs in NBA history.
1. Lakers, 2001
Postseason record: 15-1
The 2001 Lakers’ championship run was one of the greatest postseason runs of all time. After all, the early 00s era is the peak of the Lakers dynasty. Having won three consecutive championships from 00-02, they cemented themselves as one of the best teams in NBA history.
The Lakers finished the regular season as a second seed in the West with a record of 56-26.
In the playoffs, they swept the Blazers, Kings, and Spurs. That’s right, they swept those three teams! The Blazers had Shawn Kemp and Scottie Pippen, the Kings had Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, and the Spurs had Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Those matchups were tough but the Lakers beat them all. They entered the NBA finals with a record of 11-0.
Entering their second straight NBA Finals, the Lakers faced Allen Iverson‘s 76ers. However, Iverson was not enough for the Lakers’ Kobe-Shaq duo. They owned the 76ers in a dominating fashion 4-1. If not for Iverson’s 48-point overtime performance in Game 1, the Lakers could’ve been undefeated in the postseason. Unreal.