As the end of the decade dawns, it’s time to count down the NBA’s five-best teams of the 2010s.
The “Heatles” responded to their first title by going a league-best 66-16 during the regular season, including a 27-game winning streak – the second-longest in NBA history. LeBron James, in the thick of his physical prime at 28, was arguably at his apex, too. If not for one voter’s completely indefensible vote for Carmelo Anthony, James would have been the first unanimous MVP of all time.
Miami never quite reached the level of play James anticipated when he gloated about winning “not six, not seven” championships after taking his talents to South Beach. But the closest the Heat came was in 2012-13, when their second consecutive Larry O’Brien Trophy – even amid multiple elimination games against the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs – always seemed like a formality.
The Spurs could have crumbled after a title slipped through their grasp in the 2013 Finals. Instead, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and company used the most disappointing outcome of their decades-long dynasty to achieve their most fulfilling one.
No title team since the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons used a more egalitarian approach for success than the Spurs. Tony Parker was their lone All-Star, while he, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard each averaged between 14 and 17 points per game during the playoffs.
There were definitely more talented teams in the past 10 years than 2013-14 San Antonio. But there’s an argument to be made not one of them reached the all-time level of play the Spurs did while avenging their loss to the Heat.
The end of the city of Cleveland’s five-decade championship curse was at times impossible to see coming. The Cavaliers changed coaches midway through the regular season, and the Warriors and Spurs were overwhelming title favorites as the postseason tipped off.
But none of it mattered when the lights were brightest. Cleveland romped through the Eastern Conference playoffs before meeting Golden State in another Finals rematch – a seven-game epic that’s perhaps the most dramatic and historically significant championship series ever.
Would the Cavaliers have dethroned the Warriors if Steph Curry was fully healthy and Draymond Green hadn’t been suspended for Game 5? It’s debatable. What’s not is that Cleveland’s first title is the most memorable NBA accomplishment of the 2010s.
Motivated by incessant summer chatter about their first championship deserving an asterisk, the Warriors approached the 2015-16 season with a point to make. They never let up before breaking the Chicago Bulls’ mythical record for wins on the final day of the regular season.
This team, of course, is the only one here not to win a championship. But Curry, the first ever unanimous MVP, wasn’t himself for the playoffs’ remainder after spraining his MCL in the first round , and Green’s suspension in Game 5 of the Finals is one of the NBA’s all-time tipping points.
During the regular season, though, the Warriors reached a plane of performance and excitement no team had before.
Kevin Durant’s stunning decision to join Golden State in the summer of 2016 yielded exactly the same result everyone knew it would.
The Warriors were historically dominant throughout 2016-17. They seamlessly combined the “Strength In Numbers” ethos that defined their rise to the top of the league with the all-time talent of a roster featuring four of the league’s 15-best players, not to mention Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP.
There was never a doubt which team would win the title in 2016-17. Most fans lamented that reality, but for basketball purists, watching Golden State manage two-way effectiveness that might never be reached again was an unforgettable sight to behold.