It’s all on the line for the 32 teams competing in Yardbarker's NBA "Team of the Century" Tournament, a single-elimination battle to determine who will cut down the virtual nets as the greatest team of the past 20 years. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors and LeBron are well represented in the field. Could the No. 32-seeded 2005-06 Spurs, "only" 63-19 during the regular season, pull off a stunning upset? Will the 2007-08 Celtics and "The Big Ticket" punch their ticket to Final Four? Seeding and teams were determined by a panel of Yardbarker NBA writers.
So suspend reality, and prepare for tip-offs.
1. 2016-17 Warriors (67-15): KD's first season; won title, 16-1 in playoffs.
2. 2015-16 Warriors (73-9): Best regular season in NBA history; lost to Cavs in G7.
3. 2007-08 Celtics (66-16): Year 1 of Big 3 (KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen); won title.
4. 2012-13 Heat (66-16): 27-game winning streak; won second title in a row.
5. 2013-14 Spurs (62-20): "Beautiful Basketball"; cruised to 4-1 Finals win vs. Heat.
6. 2000-01 Lakers (56-26): Won second straight title; went 15-1 in postseason.
7. 2014-15 Warriors (67-15): Year 1 of Warriors' dynasty; won title over Cavs.
8. 2008-09 Lakers (65-17): Kobe's first title without Shaq; beat Magic in Finals.
9. 2010-11 Mavericks (57-25): Dirk exacted revenge, beating Heat, LeBron in Finals.
10. 2006-07 Spurs (58-24): Easily swept LeBron's Cavs in Finals.
11. 2009-10 Lakers (57-25): Second straight title for Kobe-Pau Gasol duos.
12. 2015-16 Cavaliers (57-25): Down 3-1, beat Warriors in Finals for first title.
13. 2018-19 Raptors (58-24): Kawhi's only season in Toronto; beat Warriors in Finals.
14. 2017-18 Warriors (58-24): Third title in four years; swept Cavs in Finals.
15. 2003-04 Pistons (54-28): Superstar-less team upset Lakers in Finals, 4-1.
16. 2017-18 Rockets (65-17): NBA-best record, lost to Warriors in conference finals.
17. 2011-12 Heat (46-20): Heatles first title after lock-out shortened season.
18. 2012-13 Spurs (58-24): Lost Game 7 of Finals to Heat.
19. 2019-20 Bucks (53-12): On pace for 70-win season until recent slump.
20. 2001-02 Lakers (58-24): Three-peat, final title for Shaq-Kobe; sweep Nets in Finals.
21. 2001-02 Kings (61-21): Lost to Lakers in conference finals, 4-3.
22. 2018-19 Warriors (57-25): Lost Durant, Thompson in Finals vs. champ Raptors.
23. 2019-20 Lakers (49-14): Year 1 of LeBron-AD; best record in Western Conference.
24. 2016-17 Cavaliers (51-31): Incredible on offense; lost to Warriors in Finals.
25. 2012-13 Thunder (60-22): Lost in second round after Russell Westbrook injury.
26. 2019-20 Clippers (44-20): Year 1 of Kawhi-PG13; unreal when fully healthy.
27. 2015-16 Thunder (55-27): End of KD-Russ era; lost in conference finals to Warriors.
28. 2006-07 Suns (61-21): NBA's best "O," lost in Rd. 2 to eventual champ Spurs.
29. 2014-15 Cavaliers (53-29): Injury riddled team lost in Finals to Warriors.
30. 2004-05 Spurs (59-23): Best defense in league; beat Pistons in Finals G7.
31. 2005-06 Heat (52-30): DWade-Shaq title team; upset Mavericks in Finals.
32. 2005-06 Spurs (63-19): Lost in Game 7 of second round to Mavericks.
ROUND 1: Plenty of Warriors, LeBron
(1) 2016-17 Warriors over (32) 2005-6 Spurs: The Spurs keep it close for a while, chasing the Warriors shooters off the three-point line while Tim Duncan locks down the paint. But after Bruce Bowen sprains his ankle when Zaza Pachulia slides under him on a three, San Antonio has no one to guard Kevin Durant, who goes off in the fourth quarter as the Warriors run away with the game.
(17) 2011-12 Heat over (16) 2017-18 Rockets: The Rockets lead this one by double digits in the third quarter, and Heat fans begin leaving the building, The game shifts when LeBron starts guarding banana boatmate Chris Paul. Houston’s offense bogs down in a run of missed threes, while the two-man game of LeBron and Wade dominates. Mario Chalmers seals it with three in the final minute, but LeBron yells at him anyway.
(24) 2016-17 Cavaliers over (9) 2010-11 Mavericks: Before the game, Jason Terry gets some ink, reading “Team of the Century” from DeShawn Stevenson’s personal tattoo artist. He immediately regrets it, as Kyrie Irving leaves chemtrails around him on his way to 45 points. Dirk Nowitzki dominates Kevin Love, but this time, 38-year-old Jason Kidd can’t slow down LeBron, even when he spills a soda in front of The King.
(25) 2012-13 Thunder over (8) 2008-9 Lakers: Kobe Bryant scores 40 points, but the older Lakers can’t handle the speed and athleticism of the Thunder. Kevin Durant is too big for Trevor Ariza and too quick for Lamar Odom, Serge Ibaka’s shooting pulls Pau Gasol out of the paint and Russell Westbrook is unstoppable in transition. Interestingly, the Thunder’s 38-year-old Derek Fisher plays L.A.’s 34-year-old Derek Fisher to a draw.
(4) 2012-13 Heat over (29) 2014-15 Cavaliers: The Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh outplays the Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, mainly because 2013 LeBron is so much more confident about his hairline. The big difference is in three-point shooting, where Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova can’t keep up with Mike Miller and Ray Allen off the bench, no matter how many knees Delly dives at.
(13) 2018-19 Raptors over (20) 2001-2 Lakers: No one could stop prime Shaquille O’Neal, but the Raptors combination of Marc Gasol and Ibaka slows him, and Kawhi Leonard and Kobe Bryant basically cancel each other out. What tips the scales is when Fred VanVleet’s wife gives birth to another child two days before this matchup, giving him the superpower of recent fatherhood and inspiring him to seven back-breaking threes in this showdown.
(12) 2015-16 Cavaliers over (21) 2001-2 Kings: The Kings are confident going into this matchup, until they see who the lead official is: Tim Donaghy. LeBron’s so dominant that Cleveland might have won anyway, but it becomes a certainty when Vlade Divac and Chris Webber both foul out early in the third quarter.
(5) 2013-14 Spurs over (28) 2006-7 Suns: The best team of the Seven Seconds Or Less Suns era gets another shot at San Antonio, but unfortunately, it is facing the best team of the Duncan-Leonard Spurs era. Kawhi harasses Steve Nash on defense, Old Boris Diaw torches Young Boris Diaw from deep, and the game gets so out of hand that a frustrated Kurt Thomas hip checks Tony Parker into the scorer’s table, and Old Boris is ejected when he leaves the bench.
(2) 2015-16 Warriors over (31) 2005-6 Heat: The Heat tries to isolate Dwyane Wade and slow down the game, but when the Warriors move Draymond Green to center, they play Shaq and Alonzo Mourning off the court. In fact, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton can’t stay on the court either, and the Warriors run away with the game after a third-quarter scoring explosion from Steph Curry against Jason Williams.
(18) 2012-13 Spurs over (15) 2003-4 Pistons: Tim Duncan beats the Pistons in another low-scoring defensive struggle. Ben and Rasheed Wallace dominate the boards, but the see-saw game swings to San Antonio when Rip Hamilton’s face mask fogs up at the worst moment, allowing Duncan to tip out an offensive rebound to Danny Green for the winning three-pointer.
(10) 2006-7 Spurs over (23) 2019-20 Lakers: If there’s any player who could stand up to the Lakers’ massive, All-Star frontcourt, it’s prime Tim Duncan. Duncan smothers Anthony Davis, Parker and Manu Ginobili score big and Frank Vogel plays Rajon Rondo too many minutes. Still, the Lakers have a chance until LeBron’s famous photographic memory keeps flashing back to getting swept by this team with the Cavs, and he loses hope.
(7) 2014-15 Warriors over (26) 2019-20 Clippers: Kawhi gives the Warriors’ first title team trouble on both ends, but Doc Rivers still hasn’t figured out a way to stop Steph Curry, who burns the Clippers from deep like the money burning a hole in Steve Ballmer’s pockets. Lou Williams and his bench scoring are mitigated by a huge offensive game from Leandro Barbosa. Paul George has a chance to tie at the end but misses his jumper, because that’s what he does in crunch time.
(3) 2007-8 Celtics over (30) 2004-5 Spurs: The Celtics struggle to put away the clearly inferior Spurs in this matchup, because that’s what the 2007-8 Celtics do. The Hawks took them to seven games in Round One! A huge game from Kevin Garnett powers the Celtics to victory, while a distracted Tony Parker falls apart after spotting Brent Barry’s wife in the stands.
(14) 2017-18 Warriors over (19) 2019-20 Bucks: This year’s Bucks are a phenomenal defensive team, with one big weakness in their scheme: They give up a lot of open threes. This burns them when Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson combine for 23 three-pointers, and Thompson burns Milwaukee further when he tells the Lopez Twins that Disney’s new Star Wars Land is inferior to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Eric Bledsoe is so shell-shocked that he flees to a hair salon at halftime.
(22) 2018-19 Warriors over (11) 2009-10 Lakers: Kobe Bryant struggles as the Warriors alternate defenders on him, matching him up with Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant at different times. Andrew Bynum has some success, but he leaves at halftime to bowl at L.A. Live, and Boogie Cousins pours in points in his absence. The game is close, but down the stretch, the Lakers can’t stop the Curry-Draymond Green pick-and-roll.
(6) 2000-1 Lakers over (27) 2015-16 Thunder: The Thunder come out strong early in this one, with Russell Westbrook hitting an early three-pointer and defiantly stepping over Lakers guard Tyronn Lue. Unfortunately this gives Westbrook confidence, and he goes on to take and miss 11 more threes. Shaq and Kobe go for 35 each and by the fourth quarter, Phil Jackson is relaxed and drinking peyote tea on the bench.
SWEET 16: Trash talk from 'The Big Ticket'
(1) 2016-17 Warriors over (17) 2011-12 Heat: LeBron struggles offensively when he must guard Kevin Durant for the entire game, and his teammates can’t pick up the slack. The key factor is JaVale McGee and his five dunks off the bench, plus one spectacular missed dunk that caroms off the rim and knocks off Jimmy Buffett’s hat. Draymond Green finishes with a triple-double and two technical fouls for arguing.
(24) 2016-17 Cavaliers over (25) 2012-13 Thunder: Before the game, Kyrie Irving has a long conversation about UFOs with Thunder superfan Wayne Coyne, singer of the Flaming Lips. Inspired, Kyrie leads a record-setting three-point assault that overwhelms OKC. Meanwhile J.R. Smith outplays Kevin Martin, LeBron gets 12 assists, and Ibaka and Westbrook both suffer injuries in a locker room scuffle over whose turn it was to get hurt in the playoffs.
(4) 2012-13 Heat over (13) 2018-19 Raptors: LeBron James dominates Pascal Siakam on offense, and both Wade and Kyle Lowry get in foul trouble when Lowry tries to draw a charge on every possession. The game goes back and forth, with Ray Allen and Danny Green trading threes and LeBron and Kawhi trading baskets, but the crucial moment comes with two minutes left. As Toronto takes the ball up, Drake pulls his sweater to reveal a LeBron Heat jersey underneath and tries to hit Kawhi with a folding chair. The shaken Raptors are lost after the betrayal of their mascot, and they fail to score again.
(12) 2015-16 Cavs over (5) 2013-14 Spurs: The Cavs get absolutely destroyed in the first half, but when Richard Jefferson comes in for an injured Kevin Love in the third quarter, the tide begins to turn. Cleveland’s aggressive ballhawking disrupts San Antonio’s passing offense, and Manu Ginobili gets ejected after a flagrant foul to LeBron’s groin, following a chasedown block. Cleveland completes the comeback when Love returns and shuts down Tony Parker on a defensive possession and Kyrie hits a game-winner before announcing he’s going to Burning Man next summer.
(2) 2015-16 Warriors over (18) 2012-13 Spurs: The Warriors take this one thanks to their stifling defense and an unconscious shooting performance from Klay Thompson, who hits 10 three-pointers and finishes with 42 points. Small-ball lineups with Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston stymie the Spurs, who just don’t have enough outside shooting to keep up. After the game, Tiago Splitter calls Draymond from the parking lot to tell him he wanted to sign with the Warriors next year.
(7) 2014-15 Warriors over (10) 2006-7 Spurs: The Spurs lead for two quarters thanks to the defense and post play of Duncan, but coach Steve Kerr throws off San Antonio by inserting David Lee into the game. The confused players can’t believe that a crafty, unathletic veteran forward isn’t playing for their team, and the Warriors get some easy steals as a result. Then Steph Curry begins exclusively shooting — and draining — 30-foot shots, and the Warriors cruise to an easy win.
(3) 2007-8 Celtics over (14) 2017-18 Warriors: On paper, the Warriors are the more talented team, but on the court, the seams were starting to show in Durant’s relationship with the team. Against the Ubuntu Celtics, this is a fatal flaw, especially as trash talk maestro Kevin Garnett baits Durant into a technical foul and many long contested jumpers. The Warriors can’t overcome the bad shooting night nor the screaming fight between Draymond and KD at halftime. Doc Rivers also hides $10,000 in the ceiling of the locker room as a motivational technique — but forgets that the teams are switching venues for the Final Four.
(6) 2000-1 Lakers over (22) 2018-19 Warriors: The size and strength of Shaquille O’Neal present problems for the Warriors, especially when DeMarcus Cousins blows out his knee five minutes into the fourth quarter. Then Kevin Durant tears his Achilles doing a TikTok dance at halftime, Klay Thompson crashes into Rick Fox and tears his ACL in the third and Steph Curry breaks both his ankles in a shimmying mishap in crunch time. The Lakers win by three.
ELITE EIGHT: LeBron beats ... LeBron
(1) 2016-17 Warriors over (24) 2016-17 Cavs: An anticlimactic quarterfinal matchup gives the same result as when these teams met in the real Finals – an overwhelming Warriors victory. This time, Durant takes a backseat to Steph Curry, who puts up a gem of a game with 38 points and 11 assists. After the game, he’s dismayed to learn there’s no Elite Eight MVP Award. The Cavs keep it close through halftime when J.R. Smith once again forgets how much time is left, and after collecting an offensive rebound under the basket, he jogs into the locker room. The missed opportunity plus the traveling violation creates a four-point swing, and LeBron spends halftime punching things in the locker room.
(4) 2012-13 Heat over (12) 2015-16 Cavs: LeBron, the last LeBron to win MVP, defeats an older version of himself and a different superteam in a tight battle. Both of these teams made near-impossible comebacks in the Finals, but the difference here comes down to defense. The presence of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier means Young LeBron has much more help locking up Older LeBron, who’s fatigued by having to guard Young LeBron on the defensive end as well. The Cavs team is smarter and craftier but ultimately wears down over 48 minutes, and Wade dices Kyrie up from mid-range down the stretch.
(2) 2015-16 Warriors over (7) 2014-15 Warriors: Another mirror match in the Elite Eight, this one features slightly different Warriors rosters. To best display the differences, Luke Walton coaches the more experienced 2015-16 team for the first half, during which it gets out to a big lead thanks to Steph Curry’s hot shooting and Draymond’s intimidating crotch-kicking defense. After halftime, Steve Kerr takes over and immediately puts Anderson Varejao and Festus Ezeli into his rotation. That lets the 2014-15 team back into the game, and with the game tied and the clock running out, 2015-16 Harrison Barnes attempts the game-winning shot. He misses, because it’s 2015-16 Barnes, but a staggering, spinning Varejao knocks over 2014-15 Draymond and inadvertently tips in the rebound with his wild hair to win it.
(6) 2000-1 Lakers over (3) 2007-8 Celtics: Lakers-Celtics is the NBA’s longest-running and fiercest rivalry, so of course they’re meeting in the Team of the Century Tournament. Boston’s main problem in this game is dealing with Shaq, who Kendrick Perkins can’t handle and who gets Kevin Garnett into foul trouble. Still, Ray Allen’s shooting keeps them in the game before disaster strikes: Paul Pierce breaks a fingernail going for a loose ball and has to be carted off in a wheelchair, though it heads for the restroom instead of the trainer’s room. In Pierce’s absence, the Lakers build up a double-digit lead, and the oft-hacked Shaq makes just enough of his free throws to ice the game down the stretch.
FINAL FOUR: Who can stop Shaq?
(1) 2016-17 Warriors over (4) 2012-13 Heat: This semifinal comes down to numbers: A Big Three vs. a Hamptons Five. This Miami Heat team seemed as loaded as any in memory, with three prime All-Stars and future Hall of Famer Ray Allen. But that’s still not as good as four prime All-Stars and a future Hall of Famer in Iguodala. In this matchup, the contributions from Zaza Pachulia and David West swing it for the Warriors, dominating the hapless Miami bigs and freeing up shooters with monster screen after screen. It’s a shootout for most of the game, with each team fast-breaking and launching threes, but when the game tightens up, it’s KD and Curry getting free for open looks, not Wade and James. With the Warriors clinging to a two-point lead, Iguodala hits a three from the corner to wrap things up and send the Dubs to the final.
(6) 2000-1 Lakers over (2) 2015-16 Warriors: The Warriors have an answer for Kobe Bryant in their fleet of long-armed wing defenders. They don’t have one for Shaq, and while going small and living with the consequences seems like the Warriors’ best move, Steve Kerr proved that season that he’d always play his terrible big men. So while the Warriors outshoot the Lakers by a comfortable margin, they send Shaq to the line so often, and Bogut, Varejao, and Ezeli fall down so often that the Lakers have a huge advantage at the line and in turnovers. After Steph Curry ties the game on a four-point play, the game comes down to a final wing jumper from Kobe Bryant. The Mamba Mentality gets the shot off, but James McAdoo, the only center left who hasn’t fouled out, fails to box out and the rebound goes to Robert Horry, who sinks the game-winner.
CHAMPIONSHIP: All hail Kevin Durant!
(1) 2016-17 Warriors over (6) 2000-1 Lakers: The improved big-man rotation in 2017 (West, Pachulia, JaVale McGee) is a big reason that the 2017 Warriors deal with the Lakers better than their predecessor. The much bigger reason? They have Kevin Durant. There’s no one on this Lakers roster suited to guard KD, though Robert Horry comes close. Shaken by his four other defeats in this tournament, Kerr finally abandons his dreams of playing “the beautiful game” and starts running pick-and-rolls for Curry and Durant, over and over. They get a lot of clean looks, but more than that, they force the Lakers bigs to come out to meet shooters over and over. The result? Fewer turnovers, higher-efficiency shots.
Not that the Lakers are a pushover. The aging Iguodala can’t stay in front of 22-year-old Kobe consistently, and he lights it up. Bryant even drastically ups his rate of three-pointers to stay in the game with the Dubs. And Shaq is a beast, dunking relentlessly and dominating the boards. But as the game progresses, Iguodala and Green start having success knocking the ball from Shaq’s hands and disrupting his game. And after three quarters of pick-and-roll defense, the Diesel starts to wear down. The dam breaks with four minutes left when Ian Clark hits a clutch three to stretch the Warriors’ lead to six, because Steve Kerr is still playing an 11-man rotation for some reason. While Klay Thompson struggles in the face of Kobe’s defense, Curry and Durant keep putting up buckets, and by the end, even a hot shooting streak by Robert Horry can’t get the Lakers all the way back, and KD ices the game at the free-throw line.
When the buzzer sounds, the players embrace, and the Warriors celebrate becoming Team of the Century. On Twitter, fans immediately remind them that they blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Shaq and Draymond high-five, Phil Jackson hands Kerr a philosophy book and Durant begins texting his agent about signing with a different all-time team.
Congratulations, Warriors! You’re the Team of the Century — at least until the Lakers load up on free agents this summer.
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