The Golden State Warriors were able to come back from a 3-1 series deficit and knock out the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, and avoided going down in history as maybe the biggest disappointment in all of major league sports playoff history. The Warriors set the record for the most wins in NBA history, posting a 72-9 record.
It brought me to think about all of the teams in major league sports that had a great regular season, but for some reason failed to get the job done in the playoffs in the 2000s.
Here is my top 10….
10. 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings
It’s rare that a team can come into a season with a championship or bust mentality a year after losing to the defending champions in the 1st round of the playoffs the year before, but that is exactly how the Sacramento Kings came into the 2001 season. The Kings brought back the same team, and were confident that if they were able to get home court advantage, they would be able to beat the Los Angeles Lakers and win the NBA Championship.
Their determination was evident that season, winning the Pacific Division, and locking up home-court Advantage throughout the playoffs. After defeating the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks in the first 2 rounds, the only obstacle between them and the championship that remained were the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 2002 Western Conference Finals would go down as one of the most controversial, and competitive series in NBA history. The first 5 games were filled with hard fouls, cowbells being ranged behind the Lakers bench while in Sacramento, excessive trash talking and game winning shots. Game 6, infamously known as the “rigged” game, by a lot of NBA fans, and aficionados, after the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the 4th quarter, and a lack of calls against Los Angeles at home.
Game 7 was set in Sacramento, and the Kings felt they had the advantage with their home crowd behind them. The game was back and forth with 16 ties, and 19 lead changes heading into the final seconds of the game. Overtime was needed, and the Kings began to look mentally and physically exhausted, air balling open shots, and missing crucial free throws. The Lakers went on to defeat the Kings 112-106.
9. 2004 Indianapolis Colts
After a 12-4 season ended with a loss in the AFC Championship game, the Colts were determined to get back and finish what they had started. They bounced back with their second straight 12-4 season. Peyton Manning went on to win the MVP award setting the then-record for passing touchdowns. The team had 5 players voted to the pro bowl, and had the luxury of having 3 Wide Receivers that had over 1,000 yards receiving, and 10 touchdowns each.
The Colts began the playoffs with a route of the Denver Broncos in the Wild Card Game, setting them up for a rematch with the New England Patriots. The Colts went into Foxboro looking to build on their hot streak, and revenge their loss from the prior year, but New England had other plans. In a snowstorm game, the Patriots defense dominated the Colts record setting offense, holding them to only 276 total yards and 3 points, their lowest in almost 2 years. The Colts suffered their 2nd straight loss to the Patriots 20-3.
8. 2004 New York Yankees
The Yankees have never been shy in regards to spending money, or pulling off blockbuster deals needed to win a championship. In the Spring of 2004, they did just that, making a trade to sent Alfonso Soriano to the Texas Rangers for superstar Alex Rodriguez. Once again the Yankees were favorites to add another World series title to their collection.
The Yankees dominated the season going 101-61, and sending 7 players to the All Star Game. They also had 4 players in the top 15 in MVP voting (Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez).
The Yankees started the post season with a 3-1 series win over the Minnesota Twins. The ALCS would be a meeting between the Yankees and their biggest rivals, the Boston Red Sox. New York started out dominating the series, and took a commanding 3-0 series lead. At the time no team had ever came back from that type of deficit in MLB history, but Boston would change that after winning 4 straight games on their way to winning the World Series.
7. 2001 Seattle Mariners
In their 25th season in MLB, the Mariners made it a season to remember for their fans. The Mariners tied the MLB record for the most wins ever, at 116. This was also the year that Ichiro Suzuki took the league by storm, winning AL Batting Title, and MVP.
The feeling was that Seattle were on their way to finishing their magical season. Once in the post season the Mariners defeated the Cleveland Indians, but went on to lose in the AL Championship Series 4-1 to the New York Yankees, leaving their championship aspirations unfulfilled.
6. 2006 San Diego Chargers
An apology is due in advance for resuscitating this painful memory. This team was absolutely loaded with talent, bolstering a roster that included 11 pro bowlers. Most in the NFL that year.
2006 was also was the year that LaDainian Tomlinson led the league in rushing with 1,815 yards, and set the NFL record for most rushing touchdowns (28) and total touchdowns (31). He would go on to win the Offensive Player of the Year Award, and MVP.
The Chargers ended the season on a 10 game winning streak and posted the best record in the NFL at 14-2 and going undefeated at home. Heading into the post season, they were the hottest team, and many had them as the favorites to bring home the title.
Heading into the Divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots, the Chargers were a 5 1/2-point favorite at home. The game was competitive, with the Chargers picking off Tom Brady 3 times, the latter proving to be the costliest after Marlon McCree picked off Brady and fumbled after gaining possession with the Chargers up 21-13. the Patriots scored the next 11 points, and went on to win 24-21 and ending the Chargers Championship run.
5. 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers
The decision was conflicting between putting the Dodgers ahead or behind the record setting 2001 Mariners, but when you start the season with a payroll that exceeds $239 million, there are no excuses to get it done
The Dodgers came into the season with high expectations after signing former Cy Young winner Zach Grienke. While in Spring Training one of the major stories was the immergence of Cuban defector Yasiel Puig, who batted .556 during that time in the Cactus League. The Dodgers started out slow, and in June Puig was finally called up to the big leagues and Puig-Mania was born. Puig became a MVP candidate and sparked the Dodgers to go 57-24 over the next 3 months. The Dodgers ended up winning the NL West, making up a 9 1/2 game deficit from June. A major league record.
Taking a 92-70 record into the playoffs with their Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, and one of the most dangerous lineups in the league, the Dodgers were looked at as favorites across the board, even with Matt Kemp being unavailable for the post season due to an injury. The Dodger ultimately loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 6 games with their ace Kershaw going 0-2 in the series and giving up 7 earned runs in the clinching game 6 loss.
4. 2013 Denver Broncos
After a heart breaking playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens the year before, the Broncos made it clear once the off season came that they were all about winning the Super Bowl, spending big money on acquisitions such as Wes Welker, Shaun Phillips, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just to name a few. The Broncos went on the clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs, with a 13-3 record. Peyton Manning went on to win the NFL MVP setting the NFL record for yards (5,447) and touchdowns (55).
The Broncos were able to hold off the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots in two tough playoff games. They were on their way to the Super Bowl to face the Seattle Seahawks and their stout defense. Another close game was expected, but that wasn’t even close to the case. The first play of the game resulted in a safety against the Broncos, and the rest was history. Seattle went on to demolish the Broncos 43-8 with Peyton Manning throwing 2 Interceptions with one being returned for a 69-yard touchdown.
3. 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers
A Hall of Fame coach, and 4 future Hall of Fame players should be a no brainer for a title, right? In this case, not so much. The Phil Jackson Coached Los Angeles Lakers had just won 3 of the last 4 championships, and felt the need to bring in reinforcements after getting ran out of the playoffs the year before in the Conference Semi-finals by the San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers pulled of what many thought was impossible in building a super team, adding Karl Malone, and Gary Payton to team with Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. Malone, and Payton were at the tail end of their careers, but were still playing at All Star caliber levels.
Amidst all of the buzz, before the Lakers were even able to make it to training camp, Kobe Bryant was accused and arrested for sexual assault in Eagle, Colorado, putting the upcoming season in doubt.
The season began with Bryant being able to play despite having to fly back and forth to Colorado for Court Proceedings. The Lakers started off the season going 18-3, then they were bit by the injury bug, when Karl Malone sustained a knee injury and was sidelined for the next 40 games. The big 4 only played in 20 games together, but were able to post the second best record in the league, and went into the playoffs healthy.
The Lakers made it through the Western Conference fairly easy, without losing more than 2 games in any series. In the finals, the Lakers were set to meet longtime rivals the Detroit Pistons were the Lakers were heavy favorites. The Lakers went on to be dominated 4-1, causing the entire team to be broken up the following summer.
2. 2010-2011 Miami Heat
The summer of 2010 changed the entire landscape of basketball at the time. Superstars Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh decided to join forces on the Miami Heat, but not alone. The whole world was watching to see if LeBron James would stay in Cleveland or head elsewhere, and he made his choice on the hour long T.V. special “The Decision”. James shocked and embarrassed the entire Cleveland Cavaliers organization, and fan base, when he announced the he “would be taking his talents to South Beach” to form a super team alongside Wade, and Bosh. This had been the first time in NBA history that three stars decided to sign on the same team while still in the prime of their careers.
From the moment all 3 players signed, the Miami Heat took on public enemy status. Expectations from the entire world were championship or nothing for the team, and they embraced it, promising multiple championships. They set the record in their first regular season game together for the most-watched NBA contest in the history of Cable television. The Heat started off slow going 9-8, but soon found their stride ending the season 58-24. All three of their stars also made the All Star team that year.
Miami went on to make it to the NBA finals, where they would meet the heavily underdog Dallas Mavericks. In one of the biggest upsets ever, the Heat lost in 6 games, but more shocking then the loss was the performance or lack thereof from LeBron James. In a season where he averaged 26 PPG, 7 RPG, 7 APG, his numbers in the finals dropped to 17 PPG, 6 APPG, while shooting only 32% from 3-point range.
1. 2007 New England Patriots
The Patriots came into the season looking to bounce back from their loss in the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts after holding a 21-3 lead. The Patriots made a splash in the off-season by bringing in Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth. The transition was a smooth. The Patriots started off the season scoring 38 points in 3 straight blowout wins, and that would continue, as the Patriots went on to become only the second team ever to go undefeated in the regular season. Setting multiple offensive records, sending 8 players to the Pro Bowl, including star Quarterback Tom Brady who went on to win the MVP, and Offensive Player of the Year award.
The Patriots breezed through the AFC playoffs and reached the Super Bowl where they would face the New York Giants, the team that almost ended their perfect season in a week 17 nail bitter. The Patriots were still favorites to finish off their perfect season, but the Giants defense came to play. The Giants sacked Tom Brady 5 times and didn’t allow the Patriots to find their rhythm. The Giants ended the game on a 12 play 83-yard touchdown drive to end the Patriots undefeated season and win the Super Bowl.