Two of the most storied franchises ever are the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. The Golden State Warriors have had some elite Hall of Fame talent throughout their history, including Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, and Chris Mullin; before current modern superstars, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant changed the game with the franchise. A franchise dedicated to success, the Warriors are also one of the most well-run sports organizations in the world.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are the most successful franchise ever, joining the Boston Celtics with 17 NBA titles. Being a Laker means that flash, style, and expectations are at an all-time high; and many players have not been able to handle that pressure throughout NBA history. But those that managed to meet expectations have gone on to have incredible careers, capturing multiple championships and winning the hearts of NBA fans around the world. But what if we were to picture an all-time great showdown between a legendary Warriors team and a legendary Lakers team? Specifically, who would win between the 2017 Golden State Warrior and the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, two of the best teams in NBA history?
Arguably the best team in Golden State Warriors history has to be the 2016-17 squad that featured the Big Three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, while newly acquired superstar Kevin Durant actually created a Big Four. Durant certainly shocked the world with his decision to join a team that finished with a 73-9 record a year before. But his decision was made, and the Warriors went on to finish with a 67-15 record, which was good for the best record in the NBA, 6 games ahead of the second-place San Antonio Spurs in the same conference. The squad was led by Stephen Curry (25.3 PPG), Kevin Durant (25.1 PPG), Klay Thompson (22.3 PPG), and Draymond Green (10.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.0 APG). In the postseason, the Warriors swept the first three rounds before defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in 5 games.
The Los Angeles Lakers squad in 2001 was terrifying. Superstar Shaquille O’Neal was the best player on the team alongside Kobe Bryant, and the rest of the roster was built around two-way role players with very solid characters. O’Neal posted 28.7 PPG and 12.7 RPG on 57.2% from the field, while Bryant was solid at 28.5 PPG and 5.0 APG on 46.4% from the field. Together, the Lakers knew they had a tandem that was beyond anyone else’s. As expected, the Lakers finished with an excellent record as they went 56-26, which was tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for second in the NBA. In the postseason, the Lakers went 15-1, with their only loss coming at the hands of Allen Iverson in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. They went on to win the series in 5 games, with O’Neal capturing the Finals MVP.
Of course, each team has already spoken about this dream matchup and about who would come out on top. Stephen Curry said the 2017 Warriors would beat the 2001 Lakers.
Unsurprisingly, the answers favored themselves. According to legendary center Shaquille O’Neal, he would score 60 points without the free throws.
Which all-time great team would come out on top in a 7-game series? It is time to pit the Warriors’ incredible team against the Lakers’ side that won the 2001 title in a matchup for the ages, where only one team can come out on top. In a hotly contested series, here is how the series is broken down and who eventually edges the other.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia
Los Angeles Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Rick Fox, Horace Grant, Shaquille O’Neal
The Warriors' starters are stacked with big names and All-Star talent, even more than what the Lakers have. Curry is the best point guard in the series, Durant is the best small forward in the series, and Draymond brings a more versatile skill set than Horace Grant. Their sharpshooting is impressive and also intimidating because they can cut leads in a matter of minutes and also kill a game off with just a few made jumpers. They have that ability, and the star power is truly off the charts.
Not to mention, Steph can create any look he wants on most possessions, and so can Kevin Durant. Speaking of Durant, he will have no issues averaging 30 PPG in the series and even making shots over Rick Fox. KD will shoot 45% from the floor, which is not his typical efficiency, but he will still have a massive impact. Similarly, Curry will create his offense from three and will average 27 PPG in the series to go along with 5 APG and 5 RPG.
Draymond Green often flies under the radar, but he will be critical to what the Warriors do. His ability to scramble for loose balls, poke balls away, and be an irritant will come in handy against the Lakers' bigs. Green will also average the most assists for the Warriors with a series average of 7.3 APG. Overall, Golden State’s starting lineup fits wonderfully together and will be difficult to handle, even for a dominant Lakers squad.
The Lakers roster has two names that stick out: Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Shaq will be the single most dominant force in the series, and he will have a monster series on both ends of the floor in terms of points, rebounds, and blocks. The center is simply too large for any Warriors player to handle, and he will get his numbers. Shaq will struggle to defend the “Death Lineup”, but he will have his way in the half-court. Phil Jackson will make sure that Shaq eats in the post as much as possible.
The next big name is Kobe Bryant, the most talented perimeter player in the series. Sure, he gives up a few inches to KD and also can’t shoot the three like Curry or Thompson, but his two-way play is simply elite. Kobe’s ability to create his own offense and make difficult shots will put the Warriors under pressure at moments throughout the game. Bryant’s desire to win will also give the team a chance to share the wealth because he will have games where his playmaking will give Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, and Robert Horry some clean looks.
The rest of the Lakers roster is built with two-way players who are tough and willing to do the dirty work. Derek Fisher lacks star talent, but he is tough and will make big shots when needed most. The same goes for Rick Fox, although he will be tasked with defending Kevin Durant for the majority of the series and will only average 5 PPG in the series as a result. Horace Grant is stable and efficient and will do his part defending the rim and also rebounding.
Both sides have complete starting lineups, and the series will come down to the finest of details. With both starters confirmed, it is time to look at the benches.
Golden State Warriors: Shaun Livingston, Ian Clark, Patrick McCaw, Andre Iguodala, Matt Barnes, James Michael McAdoo, David West, JaVale McGee
Los Angeles Lakers: Ron Harper, Brian Shaw, Tyronn Lue, Isaiah Rider, Devean George, Robert Horry, Mark Madsen, Greg Foster
The Warriors bench is simply more talented because both Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala are good enough to be starters. Livingston is a rare 6’7” point guard with an elite mid-range game and can be used in the post as well. A capable playmaker as well, Shaun will be a critical player off the Warriors bench whenever Steph or Klay need a breather. Similarly, the Warriors' guards are excellent shooters, including the likes of Ian Clark and Patrick McCaw.
No doubt about it, the best player off Golden State’s bench is Andre Iguodala. The swingman is an elite defensive player and also has the talent to make big shots, so he will be the key contributor in the series as a backup. Veterans such as Matt Barnes, David West, and JaVale McGee also bring defense and toughness. No doubt about it, the Warriors have a deeper and more talented bench than the opposing team’s backups.
The Lakers will need to rely on their guards to make shots, especially the ones with a built-in clutch gene, such as Robert Horry. Horry always seems like any other role player on the court, but he always seems to be in the right spots to make the big shots. His shot-making will be critical for the Lakers, alongside the playmaking and experience of Ron Harper, Brian Shaw, and Tyronn Lue. Harper will be especially important, even at his age, because he can defend at an elite level and give the Lakers another option to throw at Steph Curry.
Finally, the Lakers have some guys that can contribute 5-15 minutes per game as required, including Devean George and Mark Madsen. Neither guy will be required to play big minutes or even make shots, but they can step in to give Shaq a breather here and there. Overall, the Lakers understand they will lack the scoring firepower that Livingston and Iguodala can bring, but they have a clutch shot-maker in Horry and some solid two-way guard play.
Steve Kerr vs. Phil Jackson
Steve Kerr is an excellent coach and one of the best to ever do it, make no mistake about it. Kerr has managed to create a deadly “Death Lineup” that features Andre Iguodala at the power forward spot when necessary. The former Chicago Bulls guard is also an excellent tactician because he manages to bring the very best out of Curry, Thompson, and Green while also incorporating Durant seamlessly.
Kerr will continue to employ his three-point heavy approach in this series, forcing the Warriors to drag Shaquille O’Neal out of the post and into the perimeter. Kerr has a way to motivate his guys exceptionally well, and they will not fear an opponent that will have two top-10 players of all time across from them. Again, Kerr is a player’s coach and will get his guys ready to fight over a long and hard-fought series.
Phil Jackson is about winning, and he knows that will need to come from O’Neal and Bryant. The two stars will need to have their heads together, and Jackson will do his best job in that regard. Sure, the stars have been known to butt heads, but they have what it takes to work together against top opponents. Not to mention, Phil is a mastermind at pushing his players’ buttons.
Jackson will make adjustments throughout the series whenever the Warriors go on their mini-runs and will also get Shaq angry when the big man is getting outplayed on some occasions. He will also get Shaq, and Kobe leveled when they are playing well because it will take a ton of focus to get past the talented Warriors' side. Dealing with Curry, Thompson, and Durant will be exhausting, but Phil will get his guys ready.
The Warriors will rely on their shooting, unsurprisingly. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt ever, and joining them is Kevin Durant, who is the best scorer on the team. That trio proved that they are nearly impossible to beat when they are all on the floor, and the presence of unselfish bigs, including Draymond Green, will make them even better.
Golden State will struggle to deal with the Lakers’ size, but they will more than makeup for it with shooting and floor-spacing. The Lakers’ losses will come down to their inability to handle the Warriors’ shooting throughout the series because the Warriors will live and die by the three. Specifically, the Warriors will try to run the floor.
As great as Kobe Bryant is on the fast break, he does not have the luxury of having two or three other elite players beside him in that regard. Golden State will be a major force on the fast break because of their ability to come up with misses and create three-point shooting opportunities for guys like Curry, Thompson, and Durant. Durant is also a major advantage because, at nearly 7 feet tall, he can shoot over any defender and can create his own offense as well. Overall, Golden State’s ability on the fast break will be their best advantage.
The Lakers have plenty of size and clutch ability, something that normally results in wins. Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest winners at the shooting guard spot and is also a terrific defensive player, giving him the ability to shoot over Steph and Klay while also playing his part on defense. Not to mention, Kobe is the greatest clutch player in his position after Michael Jordan and will be a big factor as a 6’6” two-way star.
But the biggest advantage has to come in the form of Shaquille O’Neal, the single largest player on the court. There will be no answer for Shaq, with all due respect to Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, and David West. Neither of these guys has the mass, girth, or raw size to compete with O’Neal down low, meaning the Lakers will be a major force in the half-court. The Warriors will try to run, but it won’t be easy because the Lakers have other role players with strong size and length, including Rick Fox and Horace Grant, among others.
Overall, the Lakers have a major size advantage and, in the half-court, will force-feed The Diesel down low. Golden State will give up a ton of paint points and also concede a ton of fouls, which could play in favor of the Lakers. Los Angeles will try to slow the pace down as much as possible, and taking good shots will be key in that regard.
Which Team Wins A Best-Of-7 Series?
Game 1 goes to the Los Angeles Lakers in a difficult 120-119 victory. In the most competitive game of the series, there are 13 lead changes throughout the game, with both sets of stars going off against each other. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson combine for 13 threes made, a big factor in the game. But the Lakers sneak by a victory thanks to an incredible Kobe Bryant game-winner over Klay Thompson with less than 10 seconds to spare. Kobe’s shot gives the Lakers a 120-119 lead, but the Warriors try to answer through Kevin Durant. Rick Fox does a tremendous job denying him the ball before the forward gets into his package with 6 seconds left. A few dribbles and a deep three rims out, giving Los Angeles a significant one-point victory. Credit goes to Rick Fox for keeping close to KD while the rest of the Lakers starters pray for a miss.
The Warriors exact revenge in Game 2, as Durant and Curry, combined for 58 points, and Draymond Green finishes with a near triple-double with 12 points (3-4 from three), 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals. The Warriors get Shaquille O’Neal in foul trouble, thanks to their devastating “Death Lineup” leaving the Lakers to rely purely on Kobe Bryant (33 points). Kobe answers the bell, but he has a difficult shooting night, going 11-27 from the floor. That means Curry and Durant have a chance to dominate, with the forward chipping in 33 points to secure a 110-101 victory. Curry contributes with 7 threes, and Iggy does a fantastic defensive job on Bryant throughout the game. The Lakers play poorly as lapses on defense kill their 4th quarter comeback.
The Lakers win Game 3 on the back of a fantastic performance from a focused and rampant Shaquille O’Neal, who controls the pace of the game and finishes with 32 points and 17 rebounds. Kobe Bryant also plays a solid all-around game, contributing 23 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds. Thanks to Shaq’s ability to use his size on defense against the much smaller Warriors, the game is much slower than the first two games and ends in a 100-91 route in favor of Los Angeles. Once again, Durant is efficient with 32 points, but they come in the second half when the first half seemed out of reach with a score of 60-43. Other than Durant, no Warriors player gets hot because Curry and Thompson cannot find the rhythm as they combine for 3-17 from deep.
Golden State bounce back in Game 4 as the shooters find their range again, and the Death Lineup comes into play in spurts. Steph is the player of the game, dropping 33 points on 7 threes made. Derek Fisher and even Kobe Bryant struggle to keep up with Curry, who happens to have the hottest hand in the game. Klay Thompson also contributes 25 points, outplaying the duo of O’Neal and Bryant. Shaq has 21 points and 19 rebounds but is fouled constantly and goes 5-15 from the free-throw line. That simply won’t cut it, and frustration kicks in with the big man getting a technical foul and almost a second one. Bryant has 22 points of his own, but the Warriors attack him with 2 defenders to force him to be a passer. No other Lakers player finds the hot hand other than Tyronn Lue and Rick Fox, who combine 5-10 from three. That keeps them in the game slightly, but the Warriors win 118-103 in a convincing display.
The Lakers feel embarrassed by their putrid showing in Game 4, especially since Bryant and Shaq failed to show up. But they find the hot hands early, combining for 20 points in the first quarter as the duo dominates their matchups. Shaq drops 30 points, and Kobe adds 29 at the end of the game, although the Warriors get a massive boost from their bench. Andre Iguodala chips in 15 points, and Shaun Livingston has 13 of his own, which essentially helps close the gap between the Lakers' superstars. With the game tied 99-99, the Lakers find Kobe with 30 seconds left. The shooting guard drives and kicks to an open Fisher, who nails a three-pointer in the corner with 19 seconds remaining. The Warriors try to answer, and they do with KD faking out Fox and drawing the foul on his jumper. But his foot is on the line, giving him two free throws. He swishes both, and the Lakers have the ball with 4.8 seconds left. Kobe is blitzed, and Fisher is again fouled before draining two free throws. A late Klay Thompson three barely rims out, and the Lakers sneak past a massive Game 5 victory.
Game 6 is a must-win for Golden State, and they respond. Durant is a monster again with 27 points and 11 rebounds, and the “Splash Brothers” duo combine for 10 threes made. With that amount of shooting, the Lakers find little hope besides Bryant’s 34 points and Shaq’s double-double with 20 points and 15 rebounds. The game ends in a 106-101 victory for the Warriors. A Durant three-pointer and a Steph layup prove to be the difference over the last minute of the game, and the Lakers cannot answer as both Shaq and Bryant miss their chances. The Lakers face adversity in Game 6, and Phil seems to realize it is not their night even if the gap is close. The role players, including Fox, Grant, and Fisher, chip in 22 points, but it simply isn’t enough to combat the elite shooting.
The time has come for a Game 7 of the ages. The game is tight until the 3rd quarter before Shaq starts imposing his size. The Diesel drops 15 points in the third quarter, and Kobe Bryant adds another 7 of his own. The Lakers do not attempt a three in the third quarter and force-feed Shaq instead. O’Neal dominates the third, going 6-9 from the field and also blocking 3 shots. The Lakers get very physical, and the referees let them play, meaning Golden State struggles to get their shots off. Terrific defense by the Lakers' wings is very important, as Curry goes 1-5 from the three in the quarter, and Klay goes scoreless. With the score 90-80 to start the 4th, the Lakers seem to be running away with the game. Durant and Curry start making shots, but they are matched by Kobe Bryant and some key shots from Robert Horry, and a surprising 5-points from backup guard Brian Shaw. The Lakers simply show up in Game 7 and close out the Warriors in a 123-117 victory. Shaq is the player of the game with 35 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 blocks and earns Finals MVP honors.
Final Result: 2001 Los Angeles Lakers vs. 2017 Golden State Warriors 4-3
Finals MVP: Shaquille O’Neal