The Warriors won 73 games this season and didn't win the NBA title. Let that sink in.
They lost nine games over the course of a grueling 82-game schedule, but also lost nine in the playoffs — including three in a row in the finals as Cleveland won it's first ever NBA crown.
The debate will now ravage on, open-ended, as to whether the Warriors are truly the best ever, or if the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls remain on top of the mantle. They did, after all, finish that campaign with Michael Jordan's fourth NBA title.
Here are three reasons for and against the 2015-16 Golden State squad as the best of all time.
1. The level of competition
It is really hard to compare and quantify teams across different eras and the 20 years separating the '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors saw completely different styles of play and levels of parity in the NBA. But Golden State had ferocious competition during the regular season and playoffs that makes their accomplishments shine brighter. They had to contend with the Spurs and Thunder, two elite teams in the West, along with above average teams like the Clippers and Trailblazers.
Jordan's Bulls were the undisputed best team in the NBA and the talent between them and the two next best teams in the East, the Magic (60 wins) and Pacers (52 wins) was a steep drop off.
During the finals — Golden State's second straight seven-game series — the Warriors lost big man Andrew Bogut, and saw a hobbling Andre Iguodala limp to the finish. They also had to vie, at home, without Draymond Green — arguably their best player during the finals in a decisive Game 5 due to a controversial one-game suspension. Many will argue that a full-strength club wins one of those three games. We'll never know for sure.
3. The Cavs
The argument can be made, and will be made, that the '16 Warriors were better than the '96 Bulls, the '16 Cavs beat the Warriors, and therefore both teams are better than the Bulls. Though the third member of Cleveland's Big 3 was mostly a nonfactor, Kevin Love, the other two, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put together two of the most impressive series and playoff runs of all time. The LeBron factor is a big one here and if he winds up at the end of his career as the NBA's best all-time player perhaps both his Cavs and the Warriors were the top two teams ever.
1. The 3-1 lead
The simple fact of the matter is, if the Warriors were the greatest team in NBA history, despite being tired, injured or outplayed at times in the finals, they wouldn't have blown a 3-1 series lead. Golden State was the first team, ever, to relinquish a 3-1 advantage in the NBA playoffs. They had two chances to win it at home (granted, they had no Draymond Green in Game 5), and weren't able to seal the deal. The best performance ever by a team on its home court was meaningless as the Cavs were able to win three times in a row, two in Oakland, to close out the series.
2. Championships matter
Four NBA teams have won 67 games or more and didn't win an NBA title. The 2016 Warriors, who won 73 games, and the Spurs, who won 67, are on that list. Also on the list are the 1972-73 Celtics (68 wins) and the 2006-06 Mavericks (67 wins). The argument that the other teams mentioned are the best ever, or even among them, would be laughable. Winning a title is what makes a team great. Their performance in the regular season is secondary.
3. The Jordan factor
The greatest team ever should have the greatest player ever and the '96 Bulls had Michael Jordan. His squad lost just three games in the playoffs, the Warriors lost nine. Jordan's Bulls had the third best defense, pointwise, during the 1995-96 season. This year's Golden State was 19th. Some other interesting numbers from the two seasons: M.J. played in all 82 games that year and averaged 30.4 points with Dennis Rodman averaging an ridiculous 14.9 rebound per game. Steph Curry, who also won NBA MVP like Jordan, averaged 30.1.
Jordan had, just two years prior, retired from the NBA to play baseball. He was back winning NBA titles like he had never left. Sure, he had Scottie Pippen, another all-time great, but Curry also had Klay Thompson, already one of the greatest shooters in hitory.
Chicago in the late '90s also won multiple titles, with basically the same team. It is yet to be seen whether the Warriors will be able to hoist the O'Brien Trophy more than once.
Time will likely be the key ingredient in this barbershop debate, and perhaps in time we'll have a better overall sense of which team was better. For now, let the debate begin.