Throughout NBA history, there have been plenty of teams who probably should have won championships, but for whatever reason, they just couldn’t close the deal.
Whether it was due to injuries or just bad luck, some clubs had titles ripped out of their hands.
Here are the top five teams that were robbed of NBA championships:
5. 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves
Up until 2018, this was the last time the Timberwolves actually made the playoffs.
This was the year Kevin Garnett won the MVP award. He was clearly the best player in the NBA, and as good as he was during his Boston Celtics days, that wasn’t even close to how dominant he was at his peak in Minnesota.
But unlike most of those Garnett-led Wolves teams, it wasn’t just KG and scrubs this time. The Timberwolves also had Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, forming their only little big three.
The Timberwolves proceeded to win 58 games and finish atop the Western Conference and marched all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they met the Shaq-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers.
The problem was, Minnesota was without Cassell, who suffered a back injury in the second round. It was also without backup point guard Troy Hudson, who was sidelined after persistent ankle issues.
That meant Garnett actually had to play point guard for extended stretches against the Lakers, and the Wolves ultimately fell in six games despite a valiant effort from KG.
Many feel that had Cassell not gotten injured, the Timberwolves would have beaten Los Angeles and won a championship. Based on how dominant Garnett and Co. were during the regular season, it’s hard to argue that point.
4. 2009-10 Boston Celtics
The Celtics met the Lakers in the finals for the second time in three years in 2010, and it almost surely would have been for the third straight year had Garnett not suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the 2009 playoffs.
Boston held a 3-2 lead over Los Angeles in the 2010 series, but during a Game 6 loss, Kendrick Perkins tore his ACL.
The C’s battled without their starting center in Game 7 and even jumped out to a 13-point lead in the second half behind some spectacular play from Garnett. However, in the fourth quarter, the Celtics ran out of gas.
With Perkins gone and KG running on fumes, the Lakers pounded Boston on the glass, creating countless second-chance opportunities as they chipped away at the Celtics’ lead and eventually passed them.
Boston fought until the very end, but it simply could not overcome LA’s effort down the stretch.
Had Perkins been available, the C’s probably would have beaten the Lakers. Heck, had Garnett not injured his knee the year before, the Celtics may have three-peated between 2008 and 2010.
3. 2018-19 Golden State Warriors
The Toronto Raptors topped the Golden State Warriors in six games last June, ending the Warriors’ dynasty. However, if all things were equal, it seems hard to imagine that the Raptors would have won that series.
Kevin Durant missed the first four games of the NBA Finals due to a calf injury, and when he attempted to return in Game 5, he tore his Achilles in the first half.
Klay Thompson was also dealing with a hamstring injury in the early stages of the series, and in Game 6, he tore his ACL. Plus, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney were all banged up.
To be fair, the Warriors had a pretty spectacular and fortunate run between 2015 and 2018, winning three titles and taking advantage of other injured teams along the way.
But that doesn’t change the fact that a healthy Dubs club almost certainly would have beaten Toronto last year, regardless of how dominant Kawhi Leonard was.
2. 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs
This pill is a bit easier to swallow for Spurs fans because of the sweet revenge they got a year later, but man: this was one of the most heartbreaking finals losses ever.
San Antonio held a 3-2 lead over the Miami Heat heading into Game 6 of the NBA Finals. They were leading the Miami Heat by five points with 28.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and for some inexplicable reason, Gregg Popovich decided to pull Tim Duncan—the club’s best player and by far its best rebounder—from the game.
The next Heat possession, LeBron James buried a three-pointer off of an offensive rebound. Duncan re-entered the game after a timeout, and Kawhi Leonard went on to split a pair of free throws to put the Spurs up by three.
But then, once again, Popovich erroneously benched Duncan in favor of the smaller Boris Diaw. James missed a triple to tie the game, but Chris Bosh came down with the offensive board and kicked it out to Ray Allen who buried the game-tying three from the corner. The Heat proceeded to win in overtime and then top the Spurs in a tight Game 7.
Again, San Antonio redeemed itself with a dominant five-game victory over Miami the following year, but there is no doubt that the Spurs let the 2013 championship slip from their grasp.
1. 2001-02 Sacramento Kings
This one has to be the most painful.
The Kings were widely viewed as the best team in the Western Conference in 2002, so when they met the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in the conference finals, many thought they would win.
And they almost did.
Sacramento held a 3-2 lead in the series before the infamous Game 6 at the Staples Center, a game that many insist was fixed. Former referee Tim Donaghy—who spent 15 months in prison due to a gambling scandal—has also long maintained that that Game 6 was, in fact, rigged.
Was it? Who knows, but there is no question that the Lakers got the benefit of the whistle, leading to a series-tying victory. Los Angeles then beat Sacramento on the road in the deciding Game 7.
You will have a tough time convincing Kings fans that their squad—which was led by Chris Webber and Mike Bibby—was not the best team in the NBA that year.