4. 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers
In his first season back in The Land, LeBron James was hoping to lead the Cavs to their first ever championship flanked by All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The trio had their issues during the regular season, but ultimately possessed enough talent to overcome whatever squabbles they may have faced.
It took less than four playoff games for that dream scenario to get squashed. Love separated his shoulder in the first round and would sit out the remainder of the postseason. Upon reaching the Finals, it was Irving whose body betrayed him late in Game 1, forcing him under the knife and out of the series.
The league’s newest Big 3 had been waddled down to a single all-time great entity. James had played up to his usual all-time standard in getting his team to the final round. To do the impossible and add another title to his resume, he’d somehow have to find a way to give more.
As history tells us, the Cavaliers weren’t able to pull off the upset, but they got much farther than anyone could’ve predicted once Kyrie was lost for the series. The remaining pieces on the roster didn’t inspire much confidence, a collection of gritty defensive-minded role players with limited offensive skills.
Cleveland couldn’t keep up with Golden State’s free-flowing 3-point centric offense, not without two of its best scorers. Instead, the Cavs embraced the identity of their remaining players and went to work with what was available.
Their physicality was relentless and their effort unparalleled in holding the Warriors to nearly 10 points below their regular season average. Having started both Tristian Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, they sacrificed spacing for complete control of the boards and pace.
Matthew Dellavedova, a little-known backup point guard prior to the series, became a town legend for his all-out mentality that resulted in a trip to the hospital and an IV drip following Game 3. James did all he physically could in playing all but 14 minutes of the six-game series on his way to a near triple-double average.
It certainly wasn’t the most talented of teams, but it was one that clearly got the most out of what it had. That commitment got them an unexpected 2-1 series lead, one apparently only sixth man Andre Iguodala could pull Golden State out of.