The years of title drought between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors amounted to almost a whole century, so when last year’s NBA Finals series had a lot on the line, two MVP’s led the way for their teams as LeBron James and Stephen Curry tore the box scores apart. Although the Warriors won, this matchup had all the makings of a classic so, on that note, we take a look at 15 of the best Finals series in NBA history. Which matchup will the 2015 edition bump out of the list?
15 – Chicago Bulls vs Los Angeles Lakers (1991)
The 1991 finals was not as competitive as others but it signified an important mark in the game’s history as it signaled the passing of the torch from Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan. The Lakers did win the first game but Chicago took the next four, announcing their arrival to the rest of the league. Los Angeles, along with Boston, owned the 80s and it is only fitting that they are the ones who transferred the mantle to Michael Jordan and the Bulls who would later dominate the 90s. We also got to witness another iconic moment in finals history when Michael Jordan drove to the basket against the Laker defense, then switched hands while in mid-air.
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14 – Houston Rockets vs New York Knicks (1994)
Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon became the centers of attraction in the 1994 NBA Finals between New York and Houston. Defense was the main theme of the series as the highest point-total registered by any team was only 93. The Knicks played physical ball with Pat Riley using the bruising frontline of Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason to neutralize Hakeem Olajuwon. The Dream proved undaunted as he still managed to average 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 3.9 blocks over seven closely fought contests.
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13 – Dallas Mavericks vs Miami Heat (2011)
In one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history, the Dallas Mavericks, old but proud, took a brash Miami Heat team that had entered the finals in dominating fashion as they ran roughshod through the East playoffs. Miami established a 2-1 series lead until Dallas came storming back to take the next three games. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, Coach Rick Carlisle, and even Deshawn Stevenson became America’s sweetheart as they defeated the Heat which has been painted as the villain all season long.
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12 – Los Angeles Lakers vs Detroit Pistons (1988)
It was Showtime against the Bad Boys as the Lakers and Pistons fought each other in the 1988 finals. The series went the distance but the first five games were decided by relatively comfortable margins by both teams (14.4 was the average winning margin). The series took a different complexion when Games Six and Seven both had down the wire endings. Isiah Thomas had his finals moment in Game Six when scored an NBA Finals record 25 third quarter points on a badly sprained ankle. The Pistons lost that game by one point and James Worthy sealed their fate in Game Seven with a monstrous 36-point, 16-rebound, and 10-assist monstrous triple double.
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11 – San Antonio Spurs vs Detroit Pistons (2005)
The last two champion teams in the San Antonio Spurs (2003) and Detroit Pistons (2004) faced off in the 2005 finals to further stamp their class in the league and take the recognition as the NBA’s best after the Lakers’ three-peat teams of the early 2000s. Both teams were very well-coached and they had too much discipline that watching the whole series gave heaps of pointers to everyone on how to play the right way. Everyone shared the ball and defended every possession but, unfortunately, something had to give. So when the game was on the line in the deciding seventh game, San Antonio found its savior in a veteran who specializes in these types of moment and he went by the name of Robert Horry who nailed the biggest three pointer of the game to give the Spurs the win and the championship.
The tenth best NBA Finals series is on the next page!
10 – Portland Trail Blazers vs Philadelphia 76ers (1977)
In another classic upset, the Portland Trail Blazers banked on Bill Walton’s career defining moment to break the Philadelphia 76ers` mighty resolve. The Sixers who were then led by Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, Joe Bryant, and Darryl Dawkins flexed their muscle in the first two contests until the Blazers` motley crew of role players rallied to win four straight games, giving Portland its first and only championship to date. Bill Walton shone the brightest in Game Six after producing a monster line of 20 points, 23 rebounds, 8 blocks, and 7 assists.
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9 – Detroit Pistons vs Los Angeles Lakers (2004)
This was perhaps the biggest upset in NBA finals history. Yes, better than the Warriors’ conquest of the Bullets in 1975. Los Angeles was the heavy favorite as they boasted of a Hall of Fame lineup with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton while the Pistons only had a problem child in Rasheed Wallace as their most decorated player. Underdogs and all, the Pistons proved that the matchup on paper did not matter as they played five games of unselfish basketball and elite-level defense to win the title in front of a raucous Detroit crowd. The unheralded duo of Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups simply outplayed Shaq and Kobe to take the Lakers out of their game and back to their homes packing.
The eighth best NBA Finals series is on the next page!
8 – Los Angeles Lakers vs Boston Celtics (2010)
The latest installment of the most storied rivalry in NBA history happened in our modern era as the Lakers and Celtics fought against each other for seven games until Los Angeles went away with the championship. Entering the series, the Lakers were already the favorites with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest headlining the show while the Celtics were a team that was trying to squeeze whatever they can off their aging Big Three. Old and battered, Boston surprised everyone as they found themselves on the verge of an upset until the Lakers trashed them in Game Six to keep Los Angeles’ hopes alive. Game Seven was a tight one as both teams had too much pride to simply roll over until Ron Artest’s three-ball sealed the title for LA.
The seventh best NBA Finals series is on the next page!
7 – Chicago Bulls vs Utah Jazz (1998)
The 1998 NBA Finals was the storybook series that fitted the greatest player of all time. Utah leaned on their one-two punch in Karl Malone and John Stockton, backed by the wild Delta Center crowd, to take Game One in a close fight. As the series started in a tight battle, it also ended up in an equally close, but more thrilling manner, as it all went down to the last seconds for the outcome to be decided. Michael Jordan took the spotlight by making huge back-to-back plays on both ends, stealing the ball off Karl Malone and draining the game winning jumper in picture perfect fashion to secure Chicago’s second three-peat in eight years. It was game over for Michael’s Chicago Bulls career.
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6 – Los Angeles Lakers vs Philadelphia 76ers (1980)
The 1980 finals was all about iconic moments and the arrival of a new phenom. Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving served one for the all-time highlight reels with a beautiful one-handed reverse lay-up but the series was to be defined by the Lakers’ gallant stand. In Game Five, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was Los Angeles’ best player at that time, suffered an ankle sprain but spirited himself to come back strong and lead LA to victory. However, he was no longer available for Game Six but a spry rookie in Earvin “Magic” Johnson carried the Lakers on his back as he played every position on the floor to end up with one of the best finals effort in history. Johnson notched 42 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists to give Los Angeles the title.
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5 – Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (1984)
This was Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s first Finals matchup but the love lost between these two teams looked like that of their predecessors’ from the early Lakers-Celtics rivalry. The Lakers embarrassed the Celtics to a point when Bird questioned the heart of his team. Boston responded as they returned to the floor with bad intentions and the heat of the battle was perfectly exemplified by Kevin McHale’s clothesline on Kurt Rambis. It took the Celtics seven mentally and physically grueling games to win the championship as this series eventually defined the decade.
The fourth best NBA Finals series is on the next page!
Kenny Honaker ·
4 – Miami Heat vs San Antonio Spurs (2013)
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs figured in a classic seven game series that featured a team that was bent on establishing a dynasty against a team that has quietly built its own. To start off, Tony Parker stole the show in Miami with a game winning bank shot off pf a broken play in Game 1. The succeeding games saw Danny Green and Gary Neal have their Finals moments from downtown as the Spurs kept themselves in contention until a major collapse in the end game of the sixth contest, starring Ray Allen in what could be the biggest shot of his storied career. It was a see-saw series until Miami won Games’ 6 and 7 to win their second straight title.
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3 – New York Knicks vs Los Angeles Lakers (1970)
It was Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and Walt Frazier against Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor until Reed suffered a leg injury in Game Five which forced him to miss Game Six where the Lakers took advantage of the Knicks’ loss and beat the latter by 22 points. Game Seven was a different story and it will be remembered for that iconic moment when Willis Reed, who was already counted out of this game, walked out of the tunnel to re-join the Knicks and even started the game. He only played a few minutes but it was more than enough to lift the Knicks’ spirit and Walt Frazier took care of the rest, scoring 36 points and dishing out 19 assists, to give the Knicks the title.
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2 – Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (1962)
The 1962 NBA Finals saw the birth of the most storied rivalry in NBA history as the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met in the first of their many finals matchup. At the center of the matchup was the head-to-head battle between two all-time great big men in Elgin Baylor and Bill Russell. Baylor averaged 40.6 points and 17.9 rebounds in the series and he put on a classic display in Game Five where he scored a finals record 61 points while grabbing 22 rebounds. On the other hand, Russell was not to be left out as he saved his best for Game Seven where he notched 30 points and 40 rebounds. The Celtic-legend had a series average of 27.0 rebounds per game.
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1 – Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (1969)
The Boston Celtics` dynasty was about to lose to father time but it looked to grab one last title before turning over a new leaf. However, the Los Angeles Lakers stood in their way as they proudly paraded a menacing lineup that featured a Big Three in Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. After seven games, Celtics playing-coach Bill Russell proved that his team’s spirit was stronger than the Lakers` talent as Boston won their eleventh championship. This series was also a distinct one because the finals MVP came from the losing team as Jerry West had such a great series that was hard to not recognize.