As the decade comes to a close, it's time to look back at the best teams of the 2010s. Every championship team obviously made the list, but not all seasons were created equal. For instance, 2015-16 was so impressive that it featured four of the best teams this decade. 2009-10, on the other hand, yielded only one team of the decade contender. The end result of the season was obviously the most important factor, but a dominant regular season definitely carried some weight too. And my condolences to Mike Budenholzer, who coached two 60-win teams that won a combined two games in the conference finals — sorry, but neither team made the cut. Maybe you should try playing Giannis more than 34 minutes per game next time your team is in the playoffs!
The skinny: 56-26; lost in second round
Despite an absolute collapse in the second round against the Houston Rockets, the Lob City Clippers deserve a little love when we look back on this decade. For the season, the Clippers had the best offense in the NBA. They also had six players average double figures: Blake Griffin, CP3, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes. After an epic, seven-game, first-round series victory over the defending champion Spurs, the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in the second round in which they infamously blew a 19-point third quarter lead after Houston had essentially conceded by replacing James Harden with the likes of Josh Smith and Corey Brewer.
The skinny: 60-22; lost in second round
Following their shocking trip to the Finals in 2012, the Thunder came back the next season (albeit without James Harden) focused on getting back to the Finals. And for the majority of the regular season, it looked as though we'd have a Thunder-Heat rematch in the championship, as OKC won 60 games (second in the league behind the Heat's 66). Unfortunately in the first round, Rockets guard Patrick Beverley took out Russell Westbrook's knee as he was dribbling toward the sideline to call a timeout and knocked him out of the playoffs. With no Westbrook, Durant was unable to carry the Thunder past the Grizzlies in the second round...and so began a string of poorly timed injuries that eventually left OKC with no titles to show for despite once having three future MVPs on its roster.
The skinny: 62-20; lost in Eastern Conference finals
This worthy Eastern Conference foil to the Miami "Heatles" was probably the toughest team of the decade. It was headlined by Derrick Rose and the unprecedented leap he made that earned him the NBA's MVP Award — the youngest player to win the honor in NBA history. Coach Tom Thibodeau and his help side defensive system took the NBA by storm with staunch, two-way players like Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. While they caught a Heat team when they were rolling in the playoffs, the squad won 62 regular-season games and had the best defense in the league.
The skinny: 53-29; lost in Finals
LeBron James' return to Cleveland was quite an up and down season for the Cavs. Despite trading for Kevin Love and already having Kyrie Irving, the Cavs struggled immensely out of the gate as James looked rusty and out of shape. Then James took a two week mid-season vacation and returned to a new looking team (Dion Waiters and others were dealt for JR Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov). Reinvigorated, the Cavs looked like a buzz saw entering the playoffs before Kevin Love had his shoulder dislocated in the first round and Kyrie Irving broke his kneecap in Game 1 of the Finals. By that point, it was literally all LeBron on offense and some overmatched players like Matthew Dellavedova on defense. No surprise they eventually fell to the Warriors.
The skinny: 61-21; Lost in Western Conference Finals
Another year, another 60-plus win Spurs team. If you recall, this was the year that Kawhi Leonard really broke out and put the league on notice that he was more than just a great cog in the Spurs system — he was a bona fide MVP candidate. For the season, Kawhi averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists and upped that to 27.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists in the playoffs. Unfortunately just when we thought the top team on this list might face a worthy adversary, Zaza Pachulia cheap-shotted Leonard by stepping under his landing space and injuring his ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. The NBA should have canceled Zaza at that point — that guy sucked.
The skinny: 47-19; lost in Finals
This was the "What If" team of the 2010s — a team that people will look back on and wonder how on earth this roster made only one Finals run, as it featured three future MVPs in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The Baby Thunder made the Finals much sooner than anyone ever expected as Durant, Westbrook and Harden were all under 23 years old. The team also had a 22-year-old Serge Ibaka protecting the rim. After blitzing veteran teams like the Spurs in the Western Conference Playoffs, the Thunder actually won Game 1 of the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Heat and narrowly lost Game 2 before falling apart.
The skinny: 58-24; lost in Finals
The first year of the Miami "Heatles" seemed destined to cruise to the title after destroying Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls and the rest of their Eastern Conference Playoff opponents, four games to one in each series. However, despite going up 2-1 in the Finals, the Heat were unable to win another game against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks, as LeBron James suffered a meltdown midway through the series. While the end to the season will always be this team's legacy, people shouldn't forget how incredible the two-man fast breaks with Dwyane Wade and LeBron were when these two were at their athletic apexes.
The skinny: 67-15; lost in second round
Looking back, the NBA was absolutely stacked in 2015-16, as this Spurs team is the fourth team from that historic season to appear on this list. San Antonio makes it here despite losing in the second round because it quietly (yes, quietly) won 67 regular-season games! The Spurs also had the best defense and the fourth-best offense in the league. If it weren't for the Warriors winning 73 games, we'd probably remember this dominant Spurs regular season a lot differently.
The skinny: 54-28; lost in Finals
The final year of the LeBron James era in Miami had all the signs of a crumbling dynasty — Dwyane Wade's knees began to fail him and forced him to constantly miss games (only playing 54 of 82 games), the team became overreliant on James, and the savvy veterans like Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen suddenly started to look washed. Yet this team was still great in its own right and may have three-peated had the Spurs not turned off the air conditioning in Game 1 of the Finals and then proceeded to play the most beautiful basketball anyone had ever seen in Games 3, 4 and 5.
The skinny: 57-25; lost in Finals
The "disease of more," complacency and Father Time have ended most dynasties throughout NBA history. The Warriors dynasty, however, ended due to an overreliance on stars. Having five stars (Durant, Curry, Thompson, Green and Cousins) allowed this Warriors team to set the all-time NBA record with a 115.9 offensive rating in the regular season but also meant that the Warriors didn't have the type of depth necessary to make up for a catastrophic injury, which is exactly what happened when Kevin Durant, who was playing the finest basketball of his career, in the second round vs. the Rockets "strained" his calf. To their credit, the Warriors showed the championship resolve needed to beat the Rockets and then sweep the Blazers and take the Raptors to six. The final dagger was Klay Thompson's torn ACL in Game 6.
The skinny: 65-17; lost in Western Conference finals
Year 1 of the James Harden and Chris Paul experiment in Houston was a magical one that lived by the three and died by the three. The Rockets set a then-NBA record (which they broke the next season) by attempting 3,470 three-pointers on their way to the then-11th best offensive rating in NBA history (114.7). They also sported the sixth-best defense in the NBA that season, which helped them to an NBA-best 65-17 record. Sadly, in the final minutes of a stunning Game 5 victory to give them a 3-2 series lead against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, Chris Paul pulled his hamstring and missed the rest of the series. The Rockets took the lead into the half in both games but simply couldn't hit enough threes to pull the series out, missing 27 consecutive threes at one point in Game 7.
The skinny: 58-24; lost in Finals
Along with the 2015-16 Warriors, this Spurs team came excruciatingly close to winning the title, only to have it slip away at the hands of LeBron James (and, in the Spurs' case, Ray Allen). After taking a 3-2 series lead against the Heat in the Finals, a 36-year-old Tim Duncan threw an absolute haymaker in the first half of Game 6, scoring 25 points and dominating the Heat. And despite having a five-point lead in the final minute of the game, the Spurs missed a couple of free throws and failed to grab two rebounds that led to back-to-back three-pointers by the Heat. This certainly wasn't the most dominant of the Spurs teams on this list, but it was definitely a team that deserved to win the championship.
The skinny: 55-27; lost in Western Conference finals
Arguably the most athletically intimidating team of the decade, the 2016 Thunder were minutes away from beating the 73-9 Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before Klay Thompson went supernova in Game 6. The final season of the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook era was equal parts impressive and sad looking back at it in retrospect. Durant, along with Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, were all in their athletic primes and would absolutely bully teams on the boards and around the basket. On the perimeter, Westbrook was literally unstoppable in the open court and when he wanted to get to the rim. The NBA would have been much, much different had things broken right for this team.
The skinny: 57-25; won championship
Kobe Bryant's fifth and final ring came against a surprisingly resistant Celtics team to begin the decade. While the entire season had been set up for a Kobe vs. LeBron James championship, the Celtics shocked the Cavaliers in the second round and met the Lakers in a rematch of the 2008 Finals. The Lakers, led by Kobe and Pau Gasol, exacted their revenge, winning a pretty poorly played Finals in seven games for their second consecutive championship. The most timely contribution came from Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest), who hit a huge three-pointer down the stretch of Game 7.
The skinny: 67-15; won championship
The Warriors' first of five trips to the Finals culminated in a championship — an impressive feat in the grand scheme of NBA history. On one hand, this team was easily the best in the NBA during the regular season. On the other hand, its championship run was aided by a number of injuries and the collapse of the best iteration of the Lob City Clippers. Thus, while this team should absolutely be applauded for unleashing the Lineup of Death in the Finals, the title carries a little less weight than most other titles this decade. Don't feel too aggrieved Warriors fans: You've already got the top three teams of the decade.
The skinny: 51-31; lost in Finals
The 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the best "But For" teams in NBA history. In other words, but for the Warriors, who were easily the best team of the decade, this Cavs team would have been remembered as one of the best teams in recent memory. This team had an all-time great offense with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving at the peak of their offensive powers. Before falling to the Warriors in a closer-than-it-seemed, competitive Finals, the Cavs nearly swept the Eastern Conference, going 12-1 and absolutely eviscerating teams like the Celtics in the conference finals — recall when they beat the Celtics 130-86 in Boston? It was an incredible team — LeBron and Kyrie's last together — that happened to run into a juggernaut in the Finals.
The skinny: 58-24; won championship
I expect NBA historians to look back on this Raptors team in the same manner they do the 2011 Mavericks. However, this Raptors team was even more random of a winner because of its one-year shelf life — a shelf life that was known to every member of the team and organization after they traded for Kawhi Leonard, a superstar on the final year of his contract and the stated desire to play in Los Angeles. The Raptors took the risk, and Leonard's dominance, combined with Pascal Siakam's emergence and Kyle Lowry's timely performances in the Finals, allowed them to end the Warriors destiny that defined the latter half of the decade. Some might consider the championship to have an asterisk because of the Warriors' devastating injuries, but this Raptors team earned this championship all the same.
The skinny: 57-25; won championship
The feel-good champion of the decade was clearly Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks. As a three seed, the Mavericks went out and beat the feisty Blazers in the first round, swept the defending champion Lakers in the second round and beat down the up-and-coming Thunder in the conference finals. Finally, they took down the high and mighty Heat in a stunning 4-2 series that will forever define Dirk Nowitzki's legacy. The Mavs had the perfect mix of veteran role players like Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, all of whom were good enough to contribute at a high level but experienced enough to sacrifice for the greater good. And above all else, they had Nowitzki, who was spectacular in the Finals, averaging 26 points and 10 rebounds per game.
The skinny: 46-20 (lockout year); won championship
LeBron James' first title season with the Heat had a little bit of everything. He reclaimed the MVP Award that Derrick Rose had taken from him the season before. He and Dwyane Wade had to dig deep with Chris Bosh injured during the second round against the up-and-coming Pacers who had taken a 2-1 series lead. Then, down 3-2 against his archnemesis Celtics, LeBron played arguably the most fantastic game of his career, posting a 45-point, 15-rebound, five-assist stat line and ripping the hearts out of Boston fans. Finally, he helped rally the Heat back from an 0-1 deficit against a Thunder team that should have been Miami's foil for years to come.
The skinny: 62-20; won championship
If the Cavaliers' 2016 championship was the feel-good story of the decade, the Spurs' 2014 redemption title was a close second. Instead of falling apart after their gut-wrenching championship loss to the Heat in 2013, the Spurs came back the next season even more motivated to avenge their Finals loss. With the media focused on the aging Big Three (Duncan, Parker and Ginobili), most pundits figured the Finals rematch against the Heat would yield the same result. What they didn't realize was that the Spurs were about to unleash Kawhi Leonard on Miami. This was the first time we'd really seen this version of Leonard, who won Finals MVP after his impressive two-way performance against LeBron James but certainly not the last.
The skinny: 66-16; won championship
The Heat's most impressive season during the LeBron James era was a miracle Ray Allen shot away from ending in a Finals loss. After dominating the regular season and memorably going on a 27-game winning streak (the second-best in NBA history), the Heat struggled with the Pacers in the conference finals before winning in seven and then won another back-and-forth seven-game series against the Spurs in the Finals. This was probably LeBron's athletic apex, as he won his second straight MVP and nearly was arguably the best defensive player in the league.
The skinny: 57-25; won championship
Who could ever forget this team? Trailing 3-1 to the greatest regular-season team in NBA history, the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving went supernova and then some in Games 5 though 7 and ended the 52-year championship drought for the city of Cleveland. This Cavs team thrived in chaos, winning the title despite a somewhat tumultuous regular season that saw them fire David Blatt despite having the top record in the East (30-11) and Blatt having coached Cleveland to the Finals the season before. When the chips were on the line in Game 7, their three best players made the plays of their career: LeBron with The Block, Kyrie with The Shot and Kevin Love with The Stop.
The skinny: 58-24; won championship
Year 2 of the Kevin Durant era in Golden State was an absolute sleep walk of a championship run that peaked in the conference finals when the Warriors had to beat the Rockets in a Game 7 on the road. After suffocating Houston's offense in Game 7, they proceeded to sweep the final iteration of LeBron's Cavaliers. At its peak, this team was just as good as the previous year's team, which tops this list. Yet the 2017-18 team didn't have the same drive as the 2016-17 team as seen by its winning only 58 games and not even cracking the top 10 in regular-season defensive rating. In the playoffs, the Durant and Curry were spectacular, combining to score 55 points per game.
The skinny: 73-9; lost in Finals
Like the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors should be considered among the greatest teams of all time, but as Michael Jordan will tell you, that record-setting regular season "don't mean a thing, if without a ring." In addition to setting a thought-to-be-unbreakable record by going 73-9 in the regular season, this Warriors team won its first 24 games — a record in its own right and the third-longest winning streak in NBA history. Led by Steph Curry, who won the first-ever unanimous MVP Award and set the record for three-pointers in a season (402), Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, this team was essentially broke basketball. It overcame a 3-1 deficit to the Thunder in the conference finals but sadly blew a 3-1 lead of its own in the Finals or else it would be at the top of this and pretty much any list as the greatest team ever.
The skinny: 67-15; won championship
The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were hands down the most talented and best team of the decade and, in my opinion, the best basketball team ever assembled. This team had everything a championship contender could ever ask for: two of the best three players in the NBA (Kevin Durant and Steph Curry); two more All-NBA-level players (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green), both of whom fit perfectly alongside Durant and Curry; top-notch veterans off the bench (Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston); the hunger to reclaim the title after the 73-9 team from the season before had blown a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. The team went 67-15 in the regular season and 16-1 in the playoffs and set the then-NBA record for best offensive rating and had a +11.6 point differential during the season.
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