It would take an unlikely Finals sweep to argue that the Miami Heat’s current run was better than Shaquille O’Neal’s 2000-2002 LA Lakers, Larry Bird’s 1984-87 Celtics, George Mikan’s 1952-54 Minneapolis Lakers, or the smash mouth 1988-90 Pistons as the third best run of NBA Finals of all-time.
Here is the ranking of the 12 teams to ever win their Conference at least three years in a row–led by the Celtics during Bill Russell’s first 10 seasons (won 9 of 10 finals and top regular season record 9 times from 1957-66) and Jordan’s last six seasons with the Bulls (6 straight titles from 1991-98 excluding the two years he skipped after the tragic murder of his father).
|Rnk||At least 3 straight finals||through||Wins||Losses||Diff||Reg Seas||Conf Gm7||Tie-br|
|7th*||Heat (win 4-3)||2014||14||11||3||1||1||0|
|8th*||Heat (lose 4-3)||2014||13||12||1||1||1||0|
|10th*||Heat (get swept)||2014||10||12||-2||1||1||0|
Los Angeles Lakers 2000-2002. Shaquille O’Neal won the MVP in 2000 and was third in voting the next two seasons, while a young Kobe Bryant was in the top 12 all three years. The Lakers won all three Finals and looked better every year in beating the Pacers 4-2, then losing only Game 1 to Allen Iverson and the 76ers before winning the next four in that series and all four against the Nets for the third straight title. Their strong case as the third best run behind Russell’s Celtics and Jordan’s Bulls is only hurt by them nearly being eliminated two of three years earlier in the playoffs. Portland took them to seven games in 2000, and the Sacramento Kings took them to seven games in 2002 in what is still widely viewed as the most lopsided officiating to ever determine a playoff series.
Detroit Pistons 1988-1990. ESPN’s bad boys from Detroit may have had the third best run in history. Consider that only a 108-105 Game 7 loss to the Lakers in 1988 kept Detroit from three straight titles. They then swept the Lakers the next year, and beat Portland 4-1 in 1990. To get to that game they had to do what no team would ever do again–beat a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls team in a series (see photo of John Salley going past Michael Jordan). The lack of an MVP candidate during the run keeps them out of the discussion (Isaiah Thomas was their top player), but there may never have been as punishing a defense as Bill Laimbeer and defensive player of the year Dennis Rodman even if you could get past Joe Dumars on the perimeter.
Boston Celtics 1984-87. True, the Lakers beat the Celtics in two of three finals during this stretch, but the Celtics made the finals all four years and are the only team in consideration for third best of all time to also have the best regular season record three times during their streak of conference titles. During this time the Celtics had two NBA titles and four conference titles, while the Lakers had two NBA titles but only three conference titles. In 1987, Larry Bird finished behind Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in MVP voting to end a streak of six straight years as one of the top two players in the league. Kevin McHale finished fourth in MVP voting in 1987, and both Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson received MVP votes during this run. True, Magic and the Lakers had a longer run near the top, but when focused on just the 3+ consecutive conference teams, Bird’s Celtics top them and it would take a sweep this year for the Heat to pass them on the list.
Minneapolis Lakers 1952-54. George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers would likely go down as the third greatest NBA run except for a Game 4 loss to Rochester in the 1951 Conference finals. The Lakers 5-point loss that day prevented them from coming back to Minneapolis, where they were 29-3 during the regular season, for a decisive Game 5 that likely would have let them string six consecutive titles together. Even with that break, the 1952-54 team has to be in the discussion for the third greatest ever. Mikan dominated the game with 20 points and 14 rebounds a game during that stretch even after he was so dominant that the foul lines had to be widened and the 24-second shot clock had to be put into place. During his first three years (titles in 1949 and 1950 and regular season best record in 1951) his perfected hook shot from either hand allowed the 6-foot-10 player to revolutionize the game with 28 points a game and get Lakers’ fans ready for another hook shot–that of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar years later.
Close, but below these: Duncan’s Spurs (1999-2007) and Magic’s Lakers
The best team NOT on this list are the San Antonio Spurs from 1999 to 2007. The do not qualify for this list because they have never won the West even twice in a row – something they will try to change tonight. However, if you took just their four titles during these nine years you would find a Finals record of 16-6 – better than even the Bulls – and Tim Duncan was in the Top four in MVP voting all four years. They just skipped the other five years.
For consistency, you could certainly argue that Magic Johnson’s 1982-1989 Lakers deserve to rank No. 3 due to making it seven of eight years. However, they only went 19-21 in Finals Games during those eight years, and the one time they were eliminated in the Conference Finals by the twin towers (Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon) in 1986 it was a four-games-to-one thrashing. Breaking the Lakers into 1982-85 and 1987-89 you have two different runs of teams that actually both lost one more Finals game than they won.
Teams are ranked based on how many more wins than losses they had in the Finals during their run (e.g. Russell’s Celtics were 38-21 for a +17 during those 10 years), with the tie-breaker being how many times the team had the top regular-season record minus how many times they were stretched to a 7th game during a conference series. Based on this criteria, the Heat would rank as the 10th best ever if they were swept in the finals, and the 5th best ever if they swept the Spurs or Thunder.
Below are the arguments for and against the Heat being the best behind Russell and Jordan if they were to sweep.
I do believe a Heat win pushes them past the more recent Lakers champions under Kobe Bryant, and the two separate runs under Magic Johnson. However, it would take a sweep to get the Heat into an objective discussion against these four teams.
The two also-rans are the 1951-53 New York Knicks and 1968-70 LA Lakers, who both won their Conference three straight times but lost each time in the Finals to rank 11th and 12th on the list.
A title this year and next and many would argue for the Heat as the second greatest due to being only the second team to win four straight. However, I would still rank them third in allowance for the fact that Jordan actually won six straight while playing.