The Greatest NBA Finals in Basketball History

February 17, 2018 3:49 pm

The NBA post season is where star players fine or when a team steps up together and lead them to glory. The post season ends with the NBA finals where the Western Conference and Eastern Conference Champions face off. The legacy of some of the greatest players are sealed here. So we look at some of the greatest NBA finals in the sport’s history.

10. Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat, 2011

Dallas wins 4-2

This series was significant due to a handful of reason, not the least of which was Dirk Nowitzki’s reprisal following the 2006 Finals collapse against the previous manifestation of the Heat Team.

The series started out with Dallas up in the series by 2 games but lost other 4 games in a row with the help of Dwyane Wade boatload of foul shots.

In 2011, Nowitzki and the Mavs took their revenge with an exactly opposite winning stats lost the first 2 games and won the championship with 1 game in hand.

After the Heats big blowout from the finals this lead to a devastating blow to the Heat and James, who were in their maiden voyage as a newly formed Big three.

This loss of the Heat was dishonored by the media saying that James wasn’t clutch, championships can’t be bought, etc.—plagued James and the Heat until they broke through the following season.

Obscure, but interesting.

9. Chicago Bulls vs. Phoenix Suns, 1993

Bulls won 4-2

Charles Barkley a living legend was riding high after an MVP season and a forceful run through the West, but his Phoenix Suns lost Games 1 and 2 at home to Jordan and the Bulls, which gave rise to one of the greatest anecdotes in NBA history.

This, from Barkley’s appearance on Bill Simmons’ podcast

So, we actually got nervous before Game 1. We struggled. The pressure got to the guys on the team. I played decent, but then I think the other guys were nervous. So Game 2, I’m talking to my daughter.

She said, ‘Dad? Are y’all gonna win tonight?’

I said, ‘Baby, your dad is the best basketball player in the world. I’m going to dominate the game tonight.’ And I remember… I think I had like 46, 47. I played great. And Michael had 52.

And I got home that night, and my daughter was crying, and she said, ‘Dad, y’all lost again.’

I said, ‘Baby, I think Michael Jordan’s better than me.’

She said, ‘Dad, you’ve never said that before.’

I said, ‘Baby, I’ve never felt like that before.’

The Suns actually took Game 3 in overtime at the United Center, but then Jordan exploded for 55 points in Game 4.

For the series, MJ averaged 41 points. And this Finals also featured John Paxson hitting that iconic jumper to clinch things in Game 6.

This win gave Jordan his first three-peat and made sure everyone—including Barkley—knew who the real MVP was.

8. San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons, 2005

Spurs won 4-3

Believe it or not, the 2005 Finals was the only championship series to go seven games in the first decade of the 2000s. In fact, it was the first time the final round had gone the distance since 1994.

That helps the ranking, but probably not as much as Duncan winning his third Finals MVP award, the remarkably underrated Pistons ending their run in typically stubborn fashion and Larry Brown’s last successful stint in the NBA.

This was an absolute slugfest, as both teams traded blowouts with nobody cracking the 100-point barrier until the Pistons notched 102 points in their Game 4 win. That was also the last time either team made it to 100.

Think about that for a second: The Spurs won a ring without scoring 100 points in any contest. That’s incredible, and a testament to both the quality of the defense in this series and the lack of offensive innovation that earlier version of the Spurs possessed.

They sorted out the offensive end in seasons to come.

Bonus points awarded for Manu Ginobili’s flowing locks, Eva Longoria accompanying Tony Parker to games and Brent Barry shooting set shots.

7. Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz, 1998

Bulls won 4-2

The Chicago Bulls make their first entry with a six-game victory over the Utah Jazz that featured a couple of iconic moments and offered us the last we’d ever see of Michael Jordan at a superstar level.

After dropping Game 1 in overtime, Chicago rallied to win three straight, including a 96-54 throttling in Game 3 that still stands as the biggest blowout in Finals history. Somehow, the Jazz bounced back from that shellacking to take Game 5 by a final score of 83-81.

As time ticked away in the fourth quarter of Game 6, Jordan took over.

He took Karl Malone’s candy (that’s playground talk for stole the ball, you square) with 21 seconds left, then casually dribbled up the court, sized up Bryon Russell, drove right, shoved him off and buried a jumper to put the Bulls ahead by one with 5.2 ticks remaining.


Utah failed to score and MJ had his sixth ring.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe where things end how they’re supposed to, that would have been the last shot of his career.

6. 1984 NBA Finals: Lakers VS. Celtics

Celtics won 4-3

In terms of score, this one should be farther down the list. But the importance of this series to the league can’t possibly be overstated. This is the series that made the NBA what it is today, drawing in young NBA fans and fuelling the Bird-Magic and Boston-L.A. rivalries.

It wasn’t bad on the court either, with overtime losses in Games 2 and 4 proving especially painful for the Lakers. Up 1-0 after a 115-109 win in Game 1, L.A. lost the second game at home with horrid execution at the end of regulation, as James Worthy threw a bad pass that Gerald Henderson stole and converted for a lay-up and then Magic Johnson inexplicably dribbled out the clock. Game 4 was a series-turning contest, one that also featured Kevin McHale’s now-infamous clothesline of Kurt Rambis. Johnson again struggled in the clutch, missing two big free throws and making a key turnover as L.A. blew a five-point lead in the last minute of regulation.

Boston went on to win the “heat game” in Game 5 — there was no air conditioning in Boston Garden, so the teams were forced to play in 97-degree heat — and unlikely hero Cornbread Maxwell finally led the Celtics to the series victory in the seventh game.


Lakers won 4-3

The year 2010 the year of the Lakers. In 2010 they finally got their opportunity to take the revenge of the 2008 finals 4-2 defeat

Repeated baskets from starters Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Ron Artest brought the Lakers close to victory in Game 1. A record breaking performance from Ray Allen’s eight three-point baskets ensured the Celtics a Game 2 triumph. Derek Fisher’s 11 points in the fourth quarter helped the Lakers win Game 3. The Celtics won Game 4; it didn’t hurt that they netted an excellent performance in baskets by the team’s reserves, while Paul Pierce led the team to a Game 5 win with 27 points on 57% shooting from the floor. The Lakers avoided elimination by winning a decisive Game 6 with 24 points contributed by their bench. Although they trailed the Celtics by 13 points early in the third quarter, the Lakers rallied and won their second consecutive championship by taking over an exciting Game 7 aided by late contributions on offense by Pau Gasol and Artest and rebounding. Bryant was named Most Valuable Player of the Finals for his second consecutive trophy.

This was the first NBA Finals to go the full seven games since 2005 and only the fourth since the NBA Finals returned to a 2–3–2 format in 1985. Los Angeles added its eleventh title in that city to go with its five in Minneapolis to move a step closer to the Celtics’ league-leading seventeen championships and gain revenge for their defeat in 2008.


Boston win 4-3, advance to the 1981 Finals

The 1981 Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers has to be the best of the post-merger era. This one had everything. For starters, both teams won 62 games, tying for the league’s best regular-season record. It had the old rivalry between Boston and Philly, going back to the Russell-Chamberlain days. It had the Bird-era Celtics and the Erving-era Sixers, each yearning for their first championship.

And the games … oh, my. Not only was there the improbable rally from a 3-1 series deficit by the Celtics, one of only eight times in league history that’s happened, but these were all white-knuckle games. Amazingly, five of the seven games were decided by two points or fewer, including each of the last four.

Boston trailed by double digits in each of the final three games, and was down by six with 1:51 left in Game 5, before rallying to win each. The key play of the series was Kevin McHale’s block of an Andrew Toney drive at the end of Game 6, preserving the key road win for the Celtics.

The finale was an especially gruelling battle that featured just one basket in the last three minutes. A crucial missed free throw by Mo Cheeks allowed Boston to escape, 91-90, bookending a series that began with the Sixers’ one-point win thanks to Andrew Toney’s free throws with two seconds left.

3. 1997 NBA FINALS: Utah Jazz VS. Chicago Bulls

Bulls won 4-2

In terms of wins and losses, this was the second-best matchup in playoff history and the best of any on this list. The Bulls (69) and Jazz (64) combined for 133 wins in the 1996-97 regular season, and showed everyone why in a thrilling six-game series that included four games decided by five points or fewer and three that came down to the final shots.

Of course, Michael Jordan took center stage. He made a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to win Game 1 — after Utah’s Karl Malone bricked two free throws — and the series would ultimately come full circle in the clinching Game 6. When Utah went to double-team Jordan to prevent the same shot, he dished to an open Steve Kerr for the game-winning points. Once Scottie Pippen deflected Utah’s inbound pass, the celebration was on.

In between, an ill Jordan gave one of the greatest performances in playoff history in what’s now referred to as “Flu Game.” Barely able to stand up at timeouts, he nonetheless scored 38 points, including the game-winning 3, to rally Chicago from a 16-point deficit and win a pivotal Game 5 in Utah.

Utah had its moments too — most notably the Stockton-to-Malone touchdown pass that gave Utah the lead in Game 4 and tied the series. But the series belonged to Jordan and the Bulls.

2. 1969 NBA finals: Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers

Celtics won 4-3

The Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with 55 wins, compared to 48 of the Celtics. This gave them home court advantage against the Celtics. The acquisition of Wilt Chamberlin meant the Lakers could finally beat the Celtics title run. However, he and Lakers star, Jerry West struggled to mesh. Celtics on the other hand, had player-coach bill Russell suffering from ageing and exhaustion which affected his performance as a player and a coach.

The finals was noted for its intensity and injuries to key personnel in a physical match up. Russell did not double-team Jerry West who punished Celtics as the Lakers roared to a 2-0 lead. The next 2 games, the Celtics did mark West with a double team, and his effectiveness fell as the series fell 2-2. With both teams winning their respective home games at game 5 and game 6, the final deciding match was played with Celtics as the road team. Game 5 saw West pull his hamstring in the dying moments, despite that he soldiered on for the remainder of the series.

Game 7 saw the Lakers owners pre-plan the celebrations as he felt the Lakers would seal it. Jerry West was furious to see the balloons in the net at the top of the arena which were to be dropped when Lakers would win the game. Russell is said to have told West “Those fucking balloons are staying up there”. With the match just 103-102 in the last minute, Celtics capitalized on a desperate shot and costly lakers turnover to win their 11th Championship.

This finals will however be remembered as till date, the only final where the Finals MVP was awarded to a member of the losing team. Jerry West was the recipient.

1. 1957 NBA finals: Boston Celtics vs St. Louis Hawks

Celtics won 4-3.

This finals pitted the first placed teams of the East and Western Conferences who swept their way through the playoffs. This was the first playoffs of NBA legend Bill Russell and marked the start of the Celtic Domination in the NBA.

The teams spliut the first six games. The tension was high throughout the series, with Celtic Coach Auerbach punched his colleague, Ben Kerner in game 3. Russell had tried to stop Hawk star, Bob Pettit in a highly competitive game 7. Celtic’s Henisohn who scored 37 points kept the match tight.

Russell contributed with the famous “Coleman Play”. He ran down the Hawks Guard, Jack Coleman who received a pass from the midcourt and blocked the shot (Russell was standing at his baseline when it was thrown!!). It preserved the slim 103-102 lead for Boston as the match finished even during regulation.

The game 7 went to Second Overtime and both teams faced foul trouble. Hawks only had 7 players left as the rest fouled out. With just a second left, Hawks threw a long alley oop pass to Pettit whose tip in failed to go in, ending the match at 125-123.

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