Share this article

print logo

The Warriors are on the verge of an unprecedented level of perfection in American sports

The Golden State Warriors are two wins (update: one win) from a level of dominance never seen before in American professional sports.

Not like this, at least.

The Warriors entered Wednesday's Game Three in Cleveland with a 2-0 series lead and a sterling 14-0 record in this year's NBA playoffs. (Update: They won Thursday, so they enter Friday's Game Four with a 3-0 lead and 15-0 record.) No team in any major sport – excluding football, which requires the Super Bowl champ to win every playoff game – has ever gone undefeated through the playoffs in their current formats.

Even dating back to earlier years when the playoffs featured fewer rounds, perfection is still rarefied territory. Here's a look at the teams in baseball, basketball and hockey that have come closest to playoff perfection:

MLB

Chili Davis, center, hugs a teammate as the Yankees celebrate their 1999 World Series. (Getty Images)

Major League Baseball didn't introduce the divisional series until 1995. Prior to that, the playoffs were only two rounds, but perfection was still rare.

The 1976 Cincinnati Reds are the only team to win the World Series without losing a playoff game, dating back to 1969, when the playoffs went from just the World Series to two rounds. Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine swept the Phillies in three games to win the NL crown before taking four in a row from Thurman Munson's Yankees to win the World Series.

Since the wild cards entered the fray, 11-1 is the closest any team has come to perfection. That feat was accomplished twice: First by the 1999 Yankees, which repeated as world champions the year after their incredible 114-48 season, and later by Jermaine Dye and the 2005 Chicago White Sox. Both teams dropped one game in the ALCS.

NHL

Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers makes a pass between defensemen Garry Galley #3 and Jay Wells #24 of the Los Angeles Kings circa March 1988 during a game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky fires the puck between defensemen Garry Galley (#3) and Jay Wells (#24) of the Los Angeles Kings circa March 1988 during a game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. (Getty Images)

The NHL has seen a few unbeaten playoff champions, mostly dating back to the 1920s. But since the league went to its current format that requires 16 wins, the closest any team has come to perfection is 16-2, which was achieved by Wayne Gretzky's 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers.

The league hasn't seen an undefeated Cup champion in half a century. Jean Beliveau's 1959-60 Montreal Canadiens went 8-0 in two playoff rounds to win the Cup, as did Gordie Howe's 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings.

The NHL changed the playoff format in 1967-68 to require 12 playoff wins for the Cup, and that increased to 15 and 16 wins in the '80s. The Canadiens went 12-1 on the way to Cup wins twice, in 1967-68 and 1975-76.

NBA

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers stands with Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Three of the 2001 NBA Finals at the First Union Center in Philadelphia (Ezra O. Shaw/Allsport)

The NBA has never had an undefeated playoff champion (and neither did the ABA). But two teams have come close.

Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers have the best playoff record to date. They entered the Finals 11-0 (the first round was best-of-five back then) before dropping Game One to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers rebounded to win the next four games, going 15-1 en route to the title.

The 1982-83 76ers are the only other team to win the championship with one loss, going 12-1 in three playoff rounds. Their only loss was to Milwaukee in the East finals.

Conclusion

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors celebrates a basket with Kevin Durant. (Getty Images)

The Warriors have been in the driver's seat through the first two games of the Finals, but the road gets tougher with the series shifting to Cleveland. (And, if you haven't heard, there was that thing about choking or blowing a 3-1 lead or something in last year's playoffs.)

But the bottom line is that Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the 2017 Warriors have a shot to cement their legacy as the greatest team in postseason history, in any sport, ever. All it takes is two one more wins.

Big thanks to Baseball Reference and its sister sites for being awesome, as usual.

Jerry Sullivan: LeBron, Cavs say they like the pace just fine

NBA Finals notebook: Cavs need J.R. Smith to heat up from three

Story topics: / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment