The Thunder's Playoff Run Is Historically Unprecedented
The Oklahoma City Thunder may have lost Game 5 of their Western Conference Finals series with the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, but they are still only one win away from returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012 and have a chance to close things out on their home floor on Saturday night.
According to our algorithms, the Thunder currently have a 69.04% chance of winning this series. Their 3-2 series lead would usually spit out a larger percentage than that (for example, we currently have the Cleveland Cavaliers as 77.56% favorites over the Toronto Raptors with a 3-2 lead), but the 2015-16 Warriors are arguably one of the best regular seasons teams of all-time, winning an NBA record 73 games this year while becoming one of only 10 teams in league history to finish a season with an average Margin of Victory (MOV) north of 10.
The Thunder are an excellent team in their own right, but their winning this series would still qualify as one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.
According to WhoWins.com, should the 55-27 Thunder advance, the 18 games that separate them and the 73-9 Warriors would represent the second-biggest win differential ever overcome by an underdog in winning a best-of-seven NBA playoff series (with the 25 games between the 2006-07 Golden State Warriors and the 67-win Dallas Mavericks team they defeated in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs being the largest).
But that only scratches the surface of just how difficult Oklahoma City's path to a potential Finals appearance has been.
In NBA history, there have only been 12 teams to win at least 67 games in a regular season, and two of them were this season's 73-9 Warriors and 67-15 San Antonio Spurs (the first time there has ever been two teams with 67-plus wins in the same year).
|1||1966-67||Philadelphia 76ers||68-13||Won Title|
|2||1971-72||Los Angeles Lakers||69-13||Won Title|
|3||1972-73||Boston Celtics||68-14||Lost to NY|
|4||1985-86||Boston Celtics||67-15||Won Title|
|5||1991-92||Chicago Bulls||67-15||Won Title|
|6||1995-96||Chicago Bulls||72-10||Won Title|
|7||1996-97||Chicago Bulls||69-13||Won Title|
|8||1999-00||Los Angeles Lakers||67-15||Won Title|
|9||2006-07||Dallas Mavericks||67-15||Lost to GS|
|10||2014-15||Golden State Warriors||67-15||Won Title|
|11||2015-16||Golden State Warriors||73-9||Down 3-2 to OKC|
|12||2015-16||San Antonio Spurs||67-15||Lost to OKC|
Of the remaining 10 teams with a minimum of 67 wins, only the aforementioned 2006-07 Mavericks and the 1972-73 Boston Celtics failed to win the championship in their respective seasons. The 2006-07 Warriors that beat the Mavericks failed to reach the NBA Finals, but the 1972-73 New York Knicks that eliminated a 68-win Celtics squad went on to win the title that year.
In other words, those Knicks stand as the only team in league history that had to get through an opponent with 67 or more regular season wins on their way to an NBA Finals. If the Thunder manage to topple the 73-win Warriors and advance, they'll become the second team to get through one 67-plus-win team on their way to the finals and the first to get through two, as they already took down the 67-win Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
As if that doesn't legitimize their playoff run as one of the most challenging of all time, consider Margin of Victory.
There have only been 10 teams in NBA history to finish a regular season with an average MOV above 10:
|1||1970-71||Milwaukee Bucks||12.26||Won Title|
|2||1971-72||Los Angeles Lakers||12.28||Won Title|
|3||1971-72||Milwaukee Bucks||11.16||Lost to LAL|
|4||1991-92||Chicago Bulls||10.44||Won Title|
|5||1995-96||Chicago Bulls||12.24||Won Title|
|6||1996-97||Chicago Bulls||10.80||Won Title|
|7||2007-08||Boston Celtics||10.26||Won Title|
|8||2014-15||Golden State Warriors||10.10||Won Title|
|9||2015-16||San Antonio Spurs||10.63||Lost to OKC|
|10||2015-16||Golden State Warriors||10.76||Down 3-2 to OKC|
Before this year, every team that has finished an NBA regular season with an average MOV over 10 has either gone on to win the title or at least lost to another member of the club (the 1971-72 Bucks -- the only non-title team of the bunch before this year -- lost to the Lakers directly above them in this table).
When the Spurs lost to the Thunder in the last round, they became the first team ever to finish a regular season with a double-digit MOV and to be eliminated from the playoffs by a team with one under 10 (the Thunder had a 7.28 MOV this year). The Warriors are now one loss away from becoming the second.
The Thunder aren't there yet, but if they can close out Golden State and advance to the NBA Finals, their playoff run will stand as one of the most challenging and improbable in league history.
They might not ultimately go on to win the title or ever be considered in the pantheon of the best teams of all time themselves, but getting through two of the best squads ever in the 2015-16 Spurs and now possibly the 2015-16 Warriors will be a very noteworthy footnote on a surprising postseason performance from the Thunder this year.