By Rob Ficiur
Last week the Golden State Warriors completed a nearly perfect playoff run. They captured their second NBA title in three years with a record of 16 wins and only one loss. They won their first fifteen playoff games before losing Game #4 of the finals to Cleveland. The consecutive win streak comes a year after Golden State set a record winning 24 consecutive games from the start of a season. Fans only remember that the 2016 team lost Game #7 of the finals to Cleveland. A long winning streak is only a footnote when you don’t claim the championship.
Is a perfect playoff exciting or boring? Many avid basketball fans were apathetic about the NBA playoffs because no one could be Cleveland or Golden State. A dominating team, winning every game in a playoff run is only exciting if you are cheering for that team. What does a perfect or almost perfect playoff look like?
National Basketball Association:
Golden States’ 16-1 is the best playoff record in NBA history. In 2001, the Los Anegles Lakers won the championship with a 15-1 record. The Shaq / Kobe Lakers only loss came in the finals against Philadelphia. The 1983 Philadelphia 76 ‘ers claimed a championship with a 15-1 record.
National Hockey League
The last NHL team to have a perfect playoff run was the 1959-60 Montreal Canadiens. These Habs won eight straight games as they swept both Chicago and Toronto to claim the Stanley Cup. Since the NHL expanded to 12 and soon to 31 teams, a perfect playoff run has been impossible.
The 1988 Edmonton Oilers hold the current record. On route to their sixteen win championship these Oilers only lost two games. This was the Gretzky Oilers fourth championship in five years. Two months later the Oilers traded #99 to Los Angeles.
Several teams have won the Stanley Cup with only three defeats. The 1985 Oilers and the 1981 New York Islanders won these championships with only three losses. Interestingly these top three teams (1988 Oilers, 1985 Oilers and 1981 Islanders) were teams that had won before)
Four NHL teams have won the Stanley Cup with four losses. These include the 1993 Montreal Canadiens; the 1995 New Jersey Devils; the 1997 Detroit Red Wings and the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.
The 2012 Kings set some perfect records that have never (and may never) be beaten. The 8th seeded Kings won the first three games in all four playoff rounds that year. In all four series, the Kings won the first two games on the road. In the end the Kings nearly perfect run was dramatic and boring at the same time. It was boring in that the Kings never trailed in a series and seemed unbeatable (because they were) in the first three games each round. It was dramatic to see a relatively ordinary regular season team turn on a switch and dominate in ways no team has done before.
Major League Baseball
The last Major League Baseball team to have a perfect playoff is the 1966 Baltimore Orioles. The Frank Robinson led Orioles won all four playoff games they played. Before the 1968 expansion, baseball playoffs consisted of one round the World Series.
Nowadays baseball teams need to win 11 games (or 12 games if you are a Wild Card team) to claim a World Series. Winning 11 in a row (or 12) would be the perfect playoff; so far, now one has done it.
In 2005 Chicago White Sox’s playoff record was 11-1. Those White Sox had an amazing pitching staff. The team’s four World Series wins went one each to their four starting pitchers. All four pitchers went at least seven innings. That is as close to perfect as you can get in modern pitching.
1999 New York Yankees were the only other Major League baseball team to go 11-1. Mariano Rivera was the closer for the Yankees that year. Over 16 seasons, 32 playoff rounds Rivera had a nearly perfect record. He had 42 playoff saves in 43 playoff save opportunities. Rivera’s only blown playoff blown save was in Game #7 of the 2001 World Series. Instead of saving the game (and claiming the World Series) Rivera took the loss as Arizona came back to win the game and series. Rivera’s lack of perfection that day cost his team a championship.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won sixteen playoff games and lost nine times. Twice the Penguins played seventh and deciding games before they moved on to the next round. Their road to a second consecutive championship was bumpier than Golden State’s near perfect path. In the end, Penguins and their fans have already forgotten the set backs. They look back at a perfect playoff run – even if it was not technically perfect.