NBA Finals 2012: Where Heat vs. Thunder Ranks in Greatest Matchups of All Time

Matt Dienstag@MEDdaWorldStagContributor IIIJune 12, 2012

NBA Finals 2012: Where Heat vs. Thunder Ranks in Greatest Matchups of All Time

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    Miami Heat versus OKC Thunder. The most anticipated matchup of the season has finally come to fruition.

    On Tuesday night, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and their respective teams will square off to begin the 2012 NBA Finals, which has the potential to receive its highest television rating in over a decade.

    While the matchup features other All-Stars such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Russell Westbrook, the series winner will depend mostly on the play of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

    Both superstars are competing for their first NBA championship, and not only will the winning team be the best in the NBA, but the outcome will ultimately decide which player is the best in the world.

    The matchup has the potential to be extremely competitive and go the series distance, but where does it rank amongst the greatest NBA Finals of all time?

Honorable Mention: 2000 NBA Finals- Los Angeles Lakers Defeat Indiana Pacers 4-2

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    Although most of the games weren't necessarily close, the series represented a first for many.

    Indiana Pacer shooting guard Reggie Miller finally reached the NBA Finals for the first time in his career and led his team in scoring, averaging 24.3 points per game for the series.

    However, it was Shaquille O'Neal who would steal the spotlight, averaging 38 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Lakers to the NBA title.

    O'Neal would receive Finals MVP honors, and it would be his and teammate Kobe Bryant's first world title. This would be the first title of a three-peat for the Lakers, who would go on to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001 and the New Jersey Nets in 2002.

2006 NBA Finals: Miami Heat Defeat Dallas Mavericks 4-2

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    After trailing 0-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals, Dwyane Wade ferociously led the Heat back to win the series 4-2.

    Wade was sensational in the series, receiving MVP honors as he led the Heat to their first NBA title averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Wade scored over 35 points in each of the Heat's four wins, including 40-point efforts in Games 3 and 5.

    In just his third year in the league, Wade would help teammate and longtime dominant center Shaquille O'Neal win his fourth NBA title. The Heat would become just the third team in NBA history to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the NBA Finals.

1994 NBA Finals: Houston Rockets Defeat New York Knicks 4-3

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    With their backs against the wall, the Rockets would go on to win Game 6 and 7 after trailing 3-2 to the Knicks in the series.

    Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, two of the most dominant centers in the league at the time, went toe-to-toe and led their respective teams in a gritty, defensive final series. No team would score 100 points in any game of the series, marking the first time Finals teams would fail to do so since the beginning of the shot-clock era.

    Olajuwon, the league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year that season, would post 30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6 to force a seventh game. "The Dream" would come up huge again in Game 7 for the Rockets, putting in 25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 blocks en route to the Rockets' first NBA title.

    Olajuwon would be named Finals MVP, while Knicks guard John Starks would forever live in infamy. Starks has long been remembered for his 2-for-18 clunker, including 0-for-11 from 3-point range, in the series' decisive game.

2010 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers Defeat Boston Celtics 4-3

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    For the second time in three years, and 12th time in NBA history, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers would meet in the NBA Finals, but this time the Celtics wouldn't come up on top.

    Facilitated by guard Rajon Rondo, the Celtics and "The Big Three" of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett would take control of the series when they combined to score 75 of the team's 92 points in Game 5.

    However, after traveling back to Los Angeles for Game 6, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers would play with nothing to lose, and would battle back to force a Game 7 and a chance to repeat as NBA champions.

    The series' decisive game would constantly swing back in forth in favor of the other team, but with about a minute to go in the game, Lakers forward Ron Artest would drill a three-pointer to put Los Angeles up six, effectively ending any hope for the Celtics.

    Despite shooting just 6-of-24 in Game 7, Kobe Bryant would be named Finals MVP for averaging nearly 29 points per game in the series. The win gave Bryant his fifth NBA championship, tying Magic Johnson for as many rings and bringing him just one behind Michael Jordan.

2011 NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks Defeat Miami Heat 4-2

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    Five years after their previous showdown, the Mavericks and Heat would once again play for the NBA title.

    The Heat came in as heavy favorites after assembling their own "Big Three" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the beginning of the season.

    But Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks had championship dreams of their own and would shock the NBA world with a 4-2 series victory.

    Nowitzki would be named Finals MVP, averaging 27 points and 9.4 rebounds a game to bring Dallas it's first NBA title. Veterans Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion would finally collect their first rings, and all played pivotal roles in the team's success.

    LeBron James, who orchestrated "The Decision" during the offseason, was heavily criticized for his fourth quarter performances in the Finals. James, normally the focal point of the offense, frequently shied away from the ball in later games of the series.

1957 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics Defeat St. Louis Hawks 4-3

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    The Celtics and Hawks would compete in a thrilling, high scoring, seven-game series filled with two double-overtime games and sensational contributions from some of the league's former best players.

    Hawk's center Bob Petitt would post 30-plus points in five of the seven games of the series, but it was rookie center Bill Russell who would put forth the best effort in the most important game of the series.

    In Game 7, Russell would score 19 points along with an impressive 32 rebounds in Game 7 to give Boston the series win. The championship would start the beginning of the Celtics dynasty during the 50's and 60's, where they would win 11 titles in 13 seasons.

1988 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers Defeat Detroit Pistons 4-3

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    With Isiah Thomas hobbled by a sprained ankle, the Lakers took advantage of the injury to the Hall of Fame guard and came back to win the series in seven games.

    Thomas put forth a valiant effort in Game 6, scoring 25 of his 43 points for the game in the third quarter, but Thomas and the rest of the Piston "Bad Boys" would fall short 103-102 in Game 6.

    The Lakers would once again squeak out a victory in Game 7 behind Magic Johnson's 19 points and 15 assists and James Worthy's triple-double of 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

    Worthy would go on to win the Finals MVP, while the Lakers would win their third championship in four seasons.

2012 NBA Finals: Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    When it's all said and done, this series has the chance to be in the top three of all time considering the amount of talent that will be competing against one another in this series.

    Kevin Durant, the league's scoring champion for the past three seasons, leads the Oklahoma City Thunder into the Finals alongside guards Russell Westbrook and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden.

    LeBron James, this season's league MVP, has brought the Heat back to the Finals for the second consecutive year. James is looking to silence the critics and avenge his poor past Finals performances with the help of his All-Star teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

    Both teams overcame deficits in the Conference Finals to reach the championship round, and this series will be no walk in the park for either of these teams.

    With the Heat and Thunder both young and built to last, this may be the first of many meetings on this stage.

1997 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls Defeat Utah Jazz 4-2

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    After splitting the first four games of the series, Bulls legend Michael Jordan awoke the morning of Game 5 with a severe stomach virus.

    Even after team doctors told Jordan there would be no way he'd be able to play in the game that night, Jordan suited up anyway and turned in one of the more memorable performances in NBA Finals history, better known as "The Flu Game".

    Achy and noticeably fatigued from illness, Jordan rose to the occasion and poured in 38 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out five assists and stole the ball three times to lead the Bulls to a Game 5 victory.

    The Bulls would go on to win Game 6 to wrap up the championship, and Jordan would receive Finals MVP for the fifth time in as many appearances.

1984 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics Defeat Los Angeles Lakers 4-3

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    The 1984 NBA Finals marked the first time that longtime rivals and friends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird would meet in the championship round.

    Bird and Magic didn't disappoint, as the series went the distance in high-scoring fashion. Bird would average 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game in the series, while Magic averaged 18 points and 13.6 assists per contest.

    The Celtics were able to sneak away with a victory in Game 2 thanks to a timely steal by Gerald Henderson in the final seconds of regulation to tie the game. The Celtics would go on to win 124-121 in overtime to tie the series at 1.

    After losing Game 3, Celtic Kevin McHale changed the momentum of the series when he clotheslined Laker forward Kurt Rambis on a breakaway layup. This moment would enforce a more physical environment the rest of the series, and would play to the Celtics advantage.

    Even with no air conditioning on their own home floor in Games 5 and 7, the Celtics were able to come away with victories in both games to win their 15th NBA title. Larry Bird would be named MVP of the Finals.

1970 NBA Finals: New York Knicks Defeat Los Angeles Lakers 4-3

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    The 1970 NBA Finals are best remembered for Knicks' center Willis Reed's gutsy decision to suit up for Game 7 with a torn muscle in his leg.

    Reed was forced to sit out in Game 6 due to the injury, paving the way for Wilt Chamberlain to dominate, as he pummeled the Knicks with 45 points and 27 rebounds to tie the series at 3.

    With the championship just one win away, Reed would take a painkilling injection in his leg and suit up moments before tipoff to inspire the Knicks to a Game 7 victory and their first NBA title. Reed would only score the first two baskets of the game, but his drive and will galvanized his teammates and sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy.

    Perhaps there was no one more inspired by Reed's determination than Knicks guard Walt "Clyde" Frazier, who would put forth one of the most memorable performances in Finals history. Frazier torched the Lakers in the decisive game for 36 points and 19 assists en route to a Knicks 113-99 victory.