The NBA and its fans have some of the greatest rivalries in sports history. Teams like the Bulls, Lakers, and Celtics are probably the most involved teams in NBA history, playing in countless playoff series throughout the year. We take a look at the top 10 greatest rivalries in NBA history, starting with number 10:
10. Dallas Mavericks – San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs-Mavs rivalry began before the 21st century in 1980. Dallas joined on as an expansion team and was a pesky thorn in the Spurs side for quite some time. The Spurs and Mavs have met in the playoffs, with San Antonio winning the playoff series in 2003, 2010, and 2014 and Dallas won the other two in 2006 and 2009. From the ejections of Tim Duncan, Eduardo Najera, and Dejuan Blair to the game winner of Vince Carter’s in the playoffs, the Spurs and Mavs have had a long history of battles.
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9. Los Angeles Lakers – Los Angeles Clippers
The Battle of L.A. began in the 1979-80 season when the Clippers moved to L.A. from Buffalo. In the first game of that season, which also happened to be Magic Johnson’s first NBA game. The Clippers were relatively bad compared to the Lakers, and their move to Los Angeles only began the uprising of the Clippers. In 2011, the Lakers traded for Chris Paul, but the deal was vetoed by Commissioner David Stern. The Clippers traded for Chris Paul after the initial Laker attempt, and the Clippers have been the more dominant team ever since. Whether it’s the highlight reel dunks or the superior defense, Los Angeles is now a Clippers town.
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8. Indiana Pacers – Miami Heat
Indiana and Miami first made their appearance in a playoff series back in 2004 when the Pacers defeated Miami 4-1. Since then, they have met numerous times since the 2011 NBA playoffs where LeBron James and his Heat outplayed the Indiana Pacers and heads to the finals four straight times.
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7. Boston Celtics – New York Knicks
This Boston-New York rivalry is more of a city rivalry than a rivalry of any one sport. Fans get into it not just during basketball season, but during football, hockey, and baseball seasons. The Celtics and Knicks met four times in the NBA Finals inf 1951, ’52, ’53, and even knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs in 1955.
The following playoff series these two had was in 1967 and 1969, with Boston winning both. In 2011, Boston swept the Knicks in round 1 of the playoffs, but New York exacted revenge in 2013, where they closed the Celtics in six games.
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6. Los Angeles Lakers – Philadelphia 76ers
The Lakers are probably the biggest Western Conference rival for the 76ers. They met in the NBA finals in 1980, ’82, and ’83, with the Lakers winning the first two and Philly winning the last one. In the 2001 NBA Finals, Philly beat L.A. in surprising fashion during Game 1 on the road, but the Lakers quickly ended the series winning four in a row. Both are now in the midst of major rebuilding phases.
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5. Detroit Pistons – Indiana Pacers
in 2003-04, the Pacers hired Rick Carlisle, who was the Pistons’ coach the previous year. The headlines read “Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and Reggie Miller take on Chauncey Bullups, Rip Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace. Detroit won the 2004 East Finals against the Pacers and also won the NBA championship in the next round.
On November 19, 2004, ‘The Malice At The Palace’ or the “Pacers-Pistons (Brawl) took place. Everyone involved was suspended to certain points while Artest was suspended the rest of the season.
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4. Cleveland Cavaliers – Chicago Bulls
Despite taking a 6-0 season series victory against the Bulls back in the 1988-89 season, Cleveland could not defeat Chicago and Michael Jordan, and Mike hit one of the most memorable shots of his career that night: a jumper over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer that is now called “The Shot.”
In the 1992 playoffs, Cavs guard Danny Ferry punched Michael Jordan as the Bulls won the series 4-2 and a champaionship.
Now, the Bulls and Cavs get into it once again as Joakim Noah and LeBron James rekindle the feud that was on the brink of exploding before LeBron left for Miami.
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3. Chicago Bulls – Detroit Pistons
The Bulls and Pistons probably had some of the most memorable playoff series of the 90’s and even now. That time period was the one that saw Michael Jordan evolve into the NBA’s best player while Detroit and their ‘Bad Boys’ also became championship contenders.
Detroit won back-to-back titles in the 1989 and 1990 NBA Finals after defeating Jordan’s Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals both times.
In the 1991 NBA Playoffs, Chicago used teamwork to finally knock off the Pistons. They would go on to the NBA Finals and defeat the Lakers for their first ever NBA championship.
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2. Chicago Bulls – New York Knicks
The Bulls and Knicks had a very intriguing playoff run in the early 90s. Between 1989 and 1996, Chicago and New York met in the playoffs six times, including four semifinal matchups. Unfortunately for the Knicks, Chicago won every single series in their postseason history except for the 1994 East Semifinals. Despite New York winning, the Houston Rockets came and beat them in an NBA Finals series that went the full seven games.
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1. Boston Celtics – Los Angeles Lakers
This rivalry doesn’t need much to be said about it. The Celtics and Lakers have met an NBA record 12 times in the Finals. The two were always going at one another until Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired. The rivalry picked up in 2008, when the Celtics formed their Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen and defeated the Lakers by 36 points in the deciding game six in Boston. The Lakers would not forget this embarrassment, and would come back to meet the Celtics again in 2010. There, the Lakers and Celtics got to Game 7, where the Lakers won thanks to some big shots from Kobe Bryant’s supporting cast.
Together, the two franchises have combined for 33 NBA Championships (Celtics at 17 and Lakers at 16), which is good for almost half of the NBA’s total champions (68).