After an amazing NBA playoffs and yet another conference finals game that ended with a shot in the air to determine the outcome; I am stoked about the NBA Finals. It made me think about the best NBA Finals I ever saw. If you’ve read any of my previous lists, then you know that I only use years that I was old enough to actually watch. I think I can only truly judge the ones I’ve seen with my own eyes. In this instance that begins with the Lakers/76ers series in 1980. It was a good one with Magic taking over after an injury to Kareem, but it wasn’t quite good enough to make the list.
In fact, only 4 NBA Finals since 1980 have gone seven games. I had no idea it had been so few. Six game series look to be the most prevalent. I think that has a lot to do with the 2-3-2 setup. Anytime the higher seeded team comes home up 3-2, it seems they put it away. For you hockey fans, I did a similar blog awhile ago on Stanley Cup Finals. You can look that up by clicking on hockey in my blog categories.
TOP 5 BEST NBA FINALS
5. 1985 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Lakers win 4 games to 2
The Celtics won game one by 34 points and looked to be toying with the Lakers. LA responded with a road victory in game two and went back to the Forum with home court advantage. The Lakers paid back Boston for the game one thrashing, by unleashing a 25 point beating of their own. Boston responded the same way LA did by getting off the canvas and winning game four. The late Dennis Johnson hit a jumper at the buzzer for the 107-105 win. The Lakers won a close game 5, but now had to go to the franchises house of horrors (the Boston Garden) to try to close it out. Close it out they did, behind an MVP effort from Kareeem Abdul Jabbar. His 29 point effort and Michael Cooper’s defense on Larry Bird gave LA their first finals win over Boston in nine tries. It still is the only time an opposing team has won a title inside Boston’s arena.
4. 1998 Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz
Bulls win 4 games to 2
Unlike the year before, Utah came into this series as at least an equal if not the favorite. Utah had the better regular season record and had won both games against the Bulls that year. In addition, the Bulls had barely scraped by Indiana in the previous round. Utah won game one in OT, then the Bulls clamped down on Utah in game two and went home with a road victory. The Bulls dominated game three, but needed free throws from Dennis Rodman ,of all people, to win a close game 4. It looked like the Jazz were done, but Karl Malone scored 39 in game 5 to send it back to Salt Lake City. In game six ,the Jazz had a late lead and looked to be sending it to a seventh game, but Michael Jordan had a layup , a steal, and of course the game winning shot over Bryon Russell. These were his 45th points of the game and gave him his 6th and last NBA title.
3. 2005 San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons
Spurs win 4 games to 3
Some people didn’t like this series because of the defensive oriented nature of the teams. I say, when you have a seven game series between the defending champs and the champs from the year before that; you’ve got something special. The Spurs took care of business at home winning games one and two. Manu Ginobili was the main star, blowing open a close game one in the fourth quarter and putting on a virtuoso performance in game two. Back in Detroit, the Pistons regained their bearings. Led by Chauncey Billups the Pistons played excellent ball for the next two games to even the series at two games a piece. Game 5 was an absolutely wonderful show. There were 18 ties and 12 lead changes. The two biggest stars ,Tim Duncan and Chauncey Billups, both had huge games. Regulation was not enough time as it was tied 89-89. In OT Detroit got the early lead, but then Billups missed a jumper with 8 seconds left that would have iced the game. Big Shot Robery Horry was up to his usual tricks and scored 21 points, all in the second half and OT. The biggest was the three he hit with 5 seconds left to give the Spurs the one point win. Most teams would have been devastated, but the Pistons packed up for San Antonio where they had lost big twice earlier in the series and played a great game. They led for most of the second half, but could never pull away and had to hit some big free throws to send it to Game 7. In that game it was tied after three periods, but Duncan and Ginobili would not be denied and the Spurs closed out their third NBA title in 7 years with a seven point victory.
2. 1988 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons
Lakers win 4 games to 3
Pat Riley had guaranteed a back to back title for LA before the season, but the upstart Pistons were not going to make it easy for them. After finally getting past Boston, Detroit was ready to play. Behind 34 points from Adrian Dantley, the Pistons got a twelve point road win in game one. James Worthy and Magic Johnson had big games to even the series before it headed to Detroit. Detroit had a let down and gave away game three, but came back strong in game four to win by 25. The Pistons played their last game at the Pontiac Silverdome in game 5 and went out in style. After spotting LA a 12-0 lead Dantley and Joe Dumars turned things around for a 104-94 win. Back in LA for game six, the Lakers were against the wall. It made for one of the greatest games of all time. The Lakers were up 8 in the third quarter, when an injured Isiah Thomas got in a zone rarely ever seen. He scored 14 straight points and eventually scored 25 in the quarter. The Pistons took a three point lead into the final minute. Then Byron Scott hit a jumper and finally Bill Laimbeer was called for a foul on Kareem. Jabbar then went to the foul line and hit two shots to give LA the win and ruin Isiah’s 43 point night. Isiah played on a badly sprained ankle in game 7 and the Pistons took a five point lead into halftime. Then Isiah couldn’t get on the floor for the second half and the Lakers went on a big run, pushing out to a 15 point lead. The Pistons made a furious rally to get within two on a Dumars jumper with a minute left and within one after a Bill Laimbeer three with 6 seconds left. Then the Pistons pressed, but lost AC Green who took a length of the court pass and converted a layup to ice the game and the series.
1. 1984 Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Celtics win 4 games to 3
This was it. The first Lakers/Celtics final in 15 years; but more importantly, the first since the arrivals of Magic and Bird. They had danced around each other with Magic taking home the ’80 and’82 rings, and Larry winning in ’81. Now, though, they were together. It was what the basketball world had been waiting for. The Lakers shocked the Celtics in Boston in game one with a 115-109 win. The Celtics had to have game two or they were in big trouble. In Game Two, they did get into big trouble and the Lakers led by two with the ball and only 18 seconds left. Gerald Henderson made a series saving steal and took it in for a layup. The Celtics went on to prevail in OT 124-121. In Game 3 the Celtics played like sissies in the words of Larry Bird and lost to LA 137-104. The Celtics got home court back by winning a hotly contested game four. The Celtics trailed by five with a minute to go, but with a couple of steals and some missed Laker free throws they sent it to overtime. Boston came away with their second OT victory of the series 129-125. Game 5 was played in a non-air conditioned Boston Garden when it was 97 degrees outside. The Lakers were exhausted at games end and Boston took a 3-2 lead with the 121-103 win. The Lakers came back in game 6 119-108 to even it and send it back to Boston for the seventh game we all wanted to see. Led by Cornbread Maxwell’s 24 points the Celtics raced to the lead and held it for most of the game. The Lakers would not give in though, and cut the lead to three with less than a minute to go. With all of the Garden on their feet, Maxwell stole the ball from Magic Johnson and Dennis Johnson hit free throws to seal game seven. This gave Boston their eighth finals victory over the Lakers and gave Larry Bird something to shut Magic up over the 1979 NCAA final.
Like with the hockey list, I just wanted to give an extra tidbit. The WORST NBA Final of my lifetime. In this case that dubious award goes to.
2002 Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Jersey Nets
Lakers win 4 games to zero
The Lakers swept New Jersey, who had no answer for Shaquille O’Neal. The games weren’t blowouts. The Lakers won by 5, 13, 3 and 6. The problem was that the entire series you felt that LA could do whatever it wanted, whenever it decided to. No matter what the scoreboard said, there was no doubt the Lakers would do what it took to win in the end. Jason Kidd played well, but the real finals that year was LA’s seven game conference final with Sacramento.