LeBron James—Kevin Durant and 10 Most Anticipated Matchups in Finals History

Peter Emerick@@peteremerickSenior Writer IIJune 14, 2012

LeBron James—Kevin Durant and 10 Most Anticipated Matchups in Finals History

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    LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant in the 2012 NBA Finals has the potential to be one of the best player matchups in NBA Finals history.

    It's a battle between two of the premier players in the league, which is reminiscent of other NBA Finals matchups that have come before, like Magic Johnson vs. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Patrick Ewing and Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson.

    Only time will tell where LeBron and Durant's battle in this year's finals will rank in the history of all-time great NBA Finals matchups, but we at least know which finals matchups are the greatest of all-time.

    Ahead are the 10 most anticipated player matchups in the history of the NBA Finals.

Michael Jordan vs. Clyde Drexler in 1992 NBA Finals

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    Does anyone else find it interesting that Clyde Drexler wore No. 22, and Michael Jordan, who was always one step ahead of Drexler, wore No. 23?

    The 1992 NBA Finals gave fans one of the most anticipated matchups in finals history when Clyde "the glide" Drexler faced off against Michael Jordan.

    It was a matchup between two of the most electrifying players in the game—one pursuing his first NBA title and one pursuing his second. Drexler and Jordan would go at each other throughout the longevity of his matchup, but Jordan continually outperformed Drexler.

    Jordan outscored Drexler in five of the six games, including his epic 35-point first-half performance and his 46-point explosion in a pivotal Game 5.

    Drexler and Jordan would never meet again in an NBA Finals, but their matchup in 1992 will always be one of the most anticipated and one of the most memorable player matchups in NBA Finals history. 

Kobe Bryant vs. Paul Pierce in 2010 NBA Finals

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    The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers rivalry entered a new era when Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce faced off against each other in the 2008 NBA Finals.

    Pierce would help the Celtics win their first 17th NBA title, keeping Kobe from winning his fourth title and his first without Shaquille O'Neal.

    That matchup would help set the stage for an extremely anticipated rematch between these two superstars in the 2010 NBA Finals.

    With Kobe seeking his fifth ring, hoping to move just one title away from Michael Jordan's mark and Pierce seeking his second title, inching closer to Bird's total of three, the hype surrounding the rematch was epic to say the least.

    Kobe would go on to absolutely dominate this matchup on the way to winning his fifth ring. Kobe's averages of 28.6 points, eight rebounds and 3.9 assists per game would also earn him his second straight NBA Finals MVP award.

Michael Jordan vs. Karl Malone in 1997 NBA Finals

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    When Karl Malone reached the 1997 NBA Finals, there was just one thing standing in his way of winning his first NBA Title—Michael Jordan and his four rings.

    This matchup was steeped in comparisons of Malone and Jordan's careers, based on the number of titles that each players had and how that subsequent number would impact each player's legacies.

    While Jordan wouldn't guard or truly face off against Malone, there's no doubt that their individual production per game was the focus of the series.

    In his first NBA Finals appearance, Malone would average a double-double, with averages of 23.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, but that wouldn't be enough to overcome Jordan and his amazing 32.7 points per game average.

    With three of the six games of the series being decided by four points or less, this series would set an epic stage for the 1998 finals that would feature Malone trying desperately to win his first title, and Jordan ending that dream in classic Jordan fashion. 

Jerry West vs. John Havlicek in 1 of Their 5 NBA Finals

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    John Havlicek and Jerry West certainly aren't strangers to facing off against each other in the NBA Finals.

    Hondo and Mr. Clutch squared off in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1969, which is among the most times any two players met in NBA Finals history.

    The most interesting statistic from these players' five meetings is that West was not victorious in any of those meetings. It took West losing seven NBA Finals before he was able to finally obtain his first and only ring in 1972.

    While Havlicek got the best of West throughout all of their NBA Finals matchups, West ultimately won because after all, he's the guy on the NBA logo. 

Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain in 1969 NBA Finals

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    Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are two of the greatest big men to ever play the game.

    Chamberlain's 100-point game and Russell's 11 NBA championships are two records that certainly will never be broken, and luckily, fans got to see the two titans battle it out three times in the NBA Finals.

    Chamberlain faced off against Russell once in the finals with the San Francisco Warriors and twice with the L.A. Lakers. Unfortunately, Chamberlain was never able to overcome Russell and his Celtics team, as Russell won an NBA title every time the two players faced off.

    What made this 1969 matchup so special was that not only was Russell playing in his final season with the Celtics, but he was also coaching the Celtics. Auerbach retired in 1966.

    Russell's dominant defense on Chamberlain was a major reason why Russell was able to win his 11th NBA title as a player, and his third title as a coach.

    This battle of the two titans of the 1960s solidified Russell as one of the all-time great centers to play in the NBA.      

Shaquille O'Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995 NBA Finals

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    Let's start off by giving a nod to Shaq's awesome haircut in this picture. Classic 1990s mini, flat top.

    With that being said, Shaquille O'Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon was a battle of two all-time great players at two very different times in their careers.

    Shaq was just in the third year of his career, whereas Olajuwon was in his 11th and coming off of a 1993-94 season that ended with him winning his first of two NBA titles.

    This matchup featured two of the most dominant centers to ever step foot on the hardwood, and both players wouldn't disappoint, as they both averaged double-doubles throughout the series—a feat that's rarely replicated.

    Olajuwon, however, would teach Shaq a thing or two about the importance of having polish on the offensive end, which would also help the Rockets sweep the Magic. After dominating Patrick Ewing in the 1994 NBA Finals, Olajuwon went on to dominate another all-time great, which solidified himself as one of the best centers to ever play the game.  

Isiah Thomas vs. Magic Johnson in 1988 NBA Finals

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    While Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas would face off in both the 1988 and 1989 NBA Finals, there's no doubt that the 1988 matchup was more anticipated than the latter.

    In 1988, Magic and Isiah were the two premier point guards in the game. Magic dominated with finesse and flair and Isiah dominated with physicality and aggressive play. This would be a matchup of two all-time greats who approached the game in very different ways.

    In all but two of the seven meetings, Magic would account for more assists, with a series average of 13 assists per game. The attention that was placed on stopping Magic in Game 7 of the matchup helped James Worthy piece together one of the best triple-doubles in NBA Finals history.

    With a dominant performance against Isiah and the fifth NBA championship of his career, Magic entered the ranks of the truly elite in the NBA.

    These two players would meet up again in the 1989 NBA Finals, but the matchup wasn't nearly as hyped or exciting. The Pistons swept the Lakers, and that was helped by the fact that Magic was hobbled with a hamstring injury throughout the end of the series.  

Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Patrick Ewing in 1994 NBA Finals

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    Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing are two of the greatest centers in the history of the NBA, and they gave fans one of the most memorable center matchups in NBA Finals history back in 1994.

    With both players in search of their first NBA title—similar to this year's Durant vs. LeBron matchup—Ewing and Olajuwon left absolutely everything on the court.

    In epic fashion, Olajuwon would lead the Rockets in scoring every single game of the seven-game series, with an average of 26.9 points per game, on the way to earning NBA Finals MVP honors.

    This was the closest that Ewing would ever get to winning an NBA title, and what makes this matchup such a disappointing one for Ewing is that he had the Knicks up three games to two heading into Game 6, which was won on an Olajuwon block on John Starks.

    Olajuwon vs. Ewing will go down in history as one of the greatest center battles in NBA Finals history, and the hype leading up to it was second to none. 

LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant in 2012 NBA Finals

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    This matchup, between two of the premiere players currently in the NBA, hasn't had time to develop as the others on this list have, but the hype surrounding it is through the roof.

    Not only are LeBron James and Kevin Durant two of the best players in the game, they also happened to be the players who finished one and two in 2012 MVP voting.

    With LeBron winning the 2012 NBA MVP award and Durant winning the 2012 NBA scoring title, it's clear that these two players are going to be at the top of the game for quite some time. Both players are trying to prove that they are the best in the game, and that they are the future of the NBA.

    It's quite possible that the 2012 NBA Finals matchup between LeBron and Durant is just a preview of the intense matchups we'll see for the next few years in the finals, and that would be great news for NBA fans who love watching the games best players battle it out.

    It's big market vs. small market. Outspoken vs. soft-spoken. Hero vs. villain. The stage is set for one exciting NBA Finals matchup.

Magic Johnson vs. Michael Jordan in 1991 NBA Finals

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    The Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson matchup of the 1991 NBA Finals featured two superstars at the opposite ends of their careers.

    Jordan was in his prime, making his first of six NBA Finals appearances of his career, whereas Magic was in the final years of his career, playing in his ninth NBA Finals, which would also be his last.

    It was a "passing the torch" series, where the magic of the golden age of basketball was passed to Jordan, as he led the Bulls to their first NBA title by outplaying one of the greatest players of all time.

    This matchup was such a special one because no one knew just how dominant Jordan would be in the 1990s, and looking back on his 1991 NBA Finals performance, it's clear that this was a statement series for Jordan.

    The most impressive statistic of this matchup is that Jordan accounted for more assists in three out of the five games, with an average of 11.4 assists per game. Jordan beat Magic by doing what he did best—dominating every aspect of the game. When this series ended, the NBA had officially transitioned form the Magic era to the Jordan era. 

Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson in 1984 NBA Finals

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    The 1984 NBA Finals featured a rematch of a rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson that began in the 1979 NCAA championship game, when Magic's Michigan State Spartans faced off against Bird's Indiana State Sycamores.

    This Bird and Magic showdown was the first of three NBA Finals meetings between the two great players, and it would prove to be one of the most exciting. It was the only NBA Finals series between Bird and Magic that would go a full, seven games.

    In what would turn out to be an all-time great NBA Finals series, Magic would account for three triple-doubles in the seven-game series, with averages of 18 points, 13.6 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game.

    Bird, however, would get the best of Magic on his way to getting revenge for the 1979 NCAA title that Magic took from him. Bird would amass impressive averages of 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game on his way to winning his first of three NBA titles.

    While this Magic vs. Bird rivalry would live on past this matchup, there's no doubt that the 1984 meeting between the two players was more anticipated than the rest.