The Warriors start their NBA playoffs campaign looking to join an elite group of teams by winning their third successive title.
Golden State is the heavy favorites to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy again this season, with only two teams having achieved a three-peat in the modern era. The Minneapolis Lakers won three in a row from 1952 to 1954, with the Boston Celtics winning eight in a row from 1959 to 1966, though both runs came when the NBA had fewer teams.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was a member of one of those teams in the modern era and now has the chance to do it again in a different role, having played under the man who was the guiding hand behind each of the sides to have done the three-peat.
As the Warriors prepare to face the Clippers in the first round, we take a look back at the teams they will be trying to replicate.
Chicago Bulls 1991-1993
Prior to the 1990-91 season, the Bulls had made six successive trips to the postseason without reaching The Finals, a run that included three consecutive series defeats to the famed “Bad Boys” Pistons team that won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
However, the 1989-90 campaign saw Phil Jackson take over as coach and the Bulls suffer their narrowest playoff loss to the Pistons, going down in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
They put the disappointment of that agonizing loss behind them and built on their evident progress in stunning fashion in the next season, posting the best record in the NBA as Michael Jordan led the league in scoring and won his second MVP award before ending his wait for a title. The Pistons were swept in the Conference Finals before the Bulls cruised to a 4-1 win over Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in their maiden NBA Finals appearance.
It proved the start of a dynasty. Jordan was MVP and Finals MVP for a second successive year as the Trail Blazers were vanquished. The three-peat was then secured as the Bulls came from 2-0 down in the conference finals against the Knicks before MVP Charles Barkley and the Suns were toppled 4-2 in the Finals, in which Jordan averaged a record 41 points per game.
Chicago Bulls 1996-98
The Bulls’ dominance was only interrupted by Jordan’s stunning retirement and brief sojourn in minor league baseball. Their time in the relative wilderness of successive conference semifinal losses was ended by Jordan’s 1995 return.
With Chicago’s frontcourt bolstered by the acquisition of former Piston Dennis Rodman, Jordan’s first year back was marked by a spectacular regular season in which they went 72-10, a record that stood as the best of all time until the Warriors topped it in 2015-16.
The Bulls lost just one game in the playoffs en route to the Finals, where they held off the SuperSonics’ efforts to overturn a 3-0 deficit, Rodman instrumental with 19 rebounds in the decisive Game 6.
The following seasons produced much more dramatic Finals experiences.
Flu Game.#TeamDay | @chicagobulls pic.twitter.com/SOVnb99r8n
— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 6, 2018
After the Bulls surrendered a 2-0 series lead to the Jazz, Jordan produced a performance for the ages in Game 5. Despite being stricken by a stomach virus, Jordan scored 38 points to seal a 90-88 victory in what is now known as “The Flu Game.” Two days later, Kerr hit the crucial shot with five seconds left in Game 6 to seal back-to-back titles.
Karl Malone and the Jazz were haunted by the Bulls again a year later. Chicago held off the Pacers in seven games in the conference finals, and Jordan scored 45 points and hit a now iconic 20-foot jump shot in the final seconds in Game 6 in Utah to make it six titles in eight years.
In the aftermath Jordan retired again and almost every member of the Bulls’ core left for newer pastures. Jackson also left his role but would soon oversee yet another three-peat out west.
Los Angeles Lakers 2000-02
Jackson took over as head coach of a Lakers team in a similar position to where the Bulls were in 1990, full of star talent but unable to climb the mountain.
The Lakers had made the playoffs in five successive seasons but failed to get to the Finals. Once again, however, Jackson had an immediate impact. Led by Shaquille O’Neal and an emerging Kobe Bryant, the Lakers compiled a league-best 67-15 record.
They came through a testing opening-round series with the Kings and a seven-game conference finals series with the Trail Blazers before overcoming the Pacers in six games in the Finals, O’Neal racking up 41 points in the close-out game and adding Finals MVP to his league MVP award.
May 26, 2002: Western Conference Finals. Game 4 vs. Sacramento Kings. Robert Horry wins it at the buzzer.
Legendary Moments in Lakers History, Presented by @Budweiserusa pic.twitter.com/pJFjQpDteB
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 24, 2018
Their second act under Jackson was even more impressive. The Lakers were the second seed in the Western Conference but did not lose a single game en route to the Finals against the 76ers, in which they recovered from defeat in Game 1 to breeze to a second successive title. Their 15-1 playoff record was the best in league history until the Warriors went 16-1 in their triumphant 2016-17 campaign.
Amid strained relations between O’Neal and Bryant, the Lakers completed the NBA’s most recent three-peat in the 2001-02 season, coasting through the postseason until the conference finals against Sacramento.
The Lakers profited from a controversial Game 6 in which they shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter to force Game 7, which they won in overtime to set up a Finals series with the Nets that the Lakers swept.