Starting a postseason 9-0 does not guarantee a championship.
Neither does 10-0. Or even 11-0, for that matter. But the Cleveland Cavaliers surely aren’t complaining about where they are right now, as their perfect postseason run continues.
Cleveland’s 115-84 victory over Toronto in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night pushed the Cavaliers’ record in these playoffs to 9-0, and they became just the fifth team to start a postseason with that many consecutive wins.
Here’s a rundown of the best starts in NBA playoff history:
11-0, Los Angeles Lakers, 1989 — The Lakers swept the first three rounds of the playoffs (the first round was best-of-five then), storming their way into the NBA Finals. And the title series was also a sweep, albeit of the variety that the Lakers didn’t want. The Detroit Pistons won the series 4-0, ending the Lakers’ reign as NBA champions in what would be the last games for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
11-0, Los Angeles Lakers, 2001 — This time, 11-0 was a precursor to a title. The Lakers swept Portland (3-0), Sacramento (4-0) and San Antonio (4-0) in the Western Conference playoffs. “Custer had no idea. That’s my statement. Figure it out. The roll they’re on is ridiculous,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the West finals ended. The Lakers lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals to Philadelphia, then took the next four to finish 15-1 and as world champions.
10-0, San Antonio Spurs, 2012 — The Spurs ended the regular season on a 10-game winning streak, then won their first 10 games in the playoffs. They swept Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers in the first two rounds, then took the first two games of the West finals against Oklahoma City. And then they promptly lost their next four games, getting ousted by the Thunder in a stunning freefall. The Thunder went to the NBA Finals, falling to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in five games.
9-0, Los Angeles Lakers, 1982 — Pat Riley was in his first postseason, having gotten the job as Lakers coach in an in-season change. Los Angeles had a first-round bye, then beat Phoenix and San Antonio by 4-0 counts to get to the NBA Finals. The Lakers won Game 1 of the title series in Philadelphia to take control, and wound up prevailing in six games for one of what is now nine championship rings as a coach, player and executive for Riley.
9-0, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016 — Want similarities with Riley’s rookie season? Tyronn Lue is in his first postseason as Cavaliers coach, getting the job in an in-season change. (Sound familiar?) And here’s Cleveland, 9-0 and off to the same start as the Lakers were in Riley’s first season. No coach has ever started 10-0 in his playoff career, and that’s the opportunity Lue will have in Game 2 of this series against the Raptors.
The best of the rest, when it comes to hottest postseason starts:
8-0 — Orlando, 2010
8-0 — Cleveland, 2009
8-0 — Miami, 2005