NBA Finals 2012: How This Finals Matchup Ranks with Every Other Since 2000

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIJune 16, 2012

NBA Finals 2012: How This Finals Matchup Ranks with Every Other Since 2000

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    Hope you're enjoying the NBA Finals.

    This is a fairly compelling matchup. 

    Two teams—one seeking its first title since relocating, and the other seeking its first title since a highly publicized free-agent spending blitz brought three of the league's best players together. 

    There's a three-time scoring champ with a reputation for making the big shots on one team, and on the other a three-time MVP who is constantly being barraged by questions about his ability to play at his best when it counts the most.

    Every NBA Finals is fairly compelling. After all, the playoffs are long, and the path to the finals is exceedingly difficult. In order to get there, a team has to be pretty good. 

    Even within the sphere of the finals, there are better and worse matchups. Sometimes a team that is lower-seeded sneaks in or sometimes great players become injured. 

    Where does the current matchup rank among the NBA Finals held this century?

No.13: 2003 San Antonio Spurs vs. New Jersey Nets

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    The Matchup: San Antonio Spurs (60-22) vs. New Jersey Nets (49-33)

    Only one team since the turn of the century has made it to the NBA Finals while winning fewer than 50 regular-season games. 

    That's the 2003 New Jersey Nets: a team that won 49 games, then got hot at the right time. That hot streak got the Nets through a weak Eastern Conference and to a meeting with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. 

    The Spurs were not a weak team. They won 60 games, the standard for an exceptional NBA regular season. The team featured league MVP Tim Duncan. 

    The Spurs' 60-22 record put them in a tie for best in the NBA. The other 60-win team was the Dallas Mavericks, whom the Spurs dispatched 4-2 in the Western Conference finals. 

    By the time the Spurs met the Nets, there weren't too many people who gave the Nets much of a shot. The Nets actually performed better than expected, but this isn't about how the finals turned out, as much as it's about what was expected. 

    This had all the trappings of a major mismatch.

No. 12: 2005 San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons

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    The Matchup: San Antonio Spurs (59-23) vs. Detroit Pistons (54-28)

    This was a tough one for the NBA.

    On the one hand, the last two NBA champs were squaring off against each other. On the other hand, the team with the league's best record, the Phoenix Suns, were not in the finals. They were sent packing by the defensive-minded San Antonio Spurs. 

    The Suns not only had the league's best record at 62-20, they also had the league MVP in Steve Nash and they were the highest-scoring team in the league. The Suns averaged 110.4 points per game that season. That was nearly seven more points per game than the second-best offense, the Sacramento Kings'. 

    In the East, the Pistons were the defending champs, but the focus for much of that season was on the new-look Miami Heat, who had acquired Shaquille O'Neal in the offseason when the Lakers broke up the Shaq-Kobe dynasty. 

    Had Shaq been able to return to the finals, the NBA would have been thrilled. Same with showcasing a high-octane offense like the Suns.

    Instead, they got a Spurs team that was methodically lethal. Probably boring, unless you're either a Spurs fan or someone who places a premium on really solid, consistent basketball. 

    The Pistons were a bruising crew that emerged from a terrible early season brawl with division rival Indiana to fight their way out of the Eastern Conference. 

    In the end, the finals became a tough, seven-game affair. Only once did a team score more than 100 points in a single game. Five times a team was held under 80 points. The Spurs emerged as the victors.

No. 11: 2002 Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Jersey Nets

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    The Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers (58-24) vs. New Jersey Nets (52-30)

    This was a rough situation for the NBA. The Western Conference not only had the defending-champion Lakers, it also had the team with the best record—the Sacramento Kings, who finished 61-21. 

    The West also featured the Tim Duncan and David Robinson-led San Antonio Spurs, who won 58 games.

    Back east, the teams were a lot less exciting. The best record was actually held by New Jersey, which was bolstered by the arrival of Jason Kidd in a trade from Phoenix. The team still won only 52 games.

    When the finals started, it was expected to be a mismatch. The teams didn't disappoint. The Lakers swept the Nets in four games.

No. 10: 2009 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Orlando Magic

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    The Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs. Orlando Magic (59-23) 

    Sometimes regardless of how good a matchup is, if it's not what people were expecting or wanting, it's a bit of a letdown. 

    In 2009, a face-off between two very good teams—a 65-win Lakers powerhouse and a 59-win Orlando Magic team led by Dwight Howard—was overshadowed by two teams that were not in the finals. 

    One was the team with the best record in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers had an outstanding 66-16 record and league MVP LeBron James

    The Boston Celtics also won more than 60 games, going 62-20, and were the defending NBA champions. The Celtics have a historically significant rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Fans were expecting either "Lakers-Celtics" or "Kobe vs. LeBron." 

    Instead, they got Lakers-Magic ,which only lasted five games before the Lakers took home their first title since 2002. 

No. 9: 2006 Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks

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    The Matchup: Dallas Mavericks (60-22) vs. Miami Heat (52-30) 

    The two best records in the NBA in the 2005-2006 regular season were the Detroit Pistons at 62-20 and the San Antonio Spurs at 63-19. Neither team made the finals though. 

    The Pistons were dispatched of in six games by the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. The Spurs didn't even make the conference finals. They were beaten in the conference semis by the Dallas Mavericks.

    Instead of a showdown of the last two NBA champs and the two teams with the best records, the league ended up with a showdown of a 52-win Miami team and a 60-win Dallas team.

    In the end, it was a great series, but it wasn't a matchup that was either anticipated or expected when the playoffs started.  

No. 8: 2007 San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The Matchup: San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)

    The NBA had two great teams in 2007. 

    Unfortunately both were in the Western Conference and neither made the NBA Finals.

    The Dallas Mavericks won 67 games in the 2006-2007 season but were promptly eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors.

    The Phoenix Suns won 61 games and then lost in the Western Conference semifinals to the San Antonio Spurs.

    Meanwhile, the East didn't really produce a powerhouse team.

    They produced a powerhouse player though. LeBron James basically willed the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, bolstered by a memorable 48-point eruption against the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs beat the Pistons, who were the top seed in the East in spite of their 53-29 record.

    Once the Spurs-Cavaliers matchup was set, the conventional wisdom was the the talent, depth and veteran savvy of the Spurs would be too much for Cleveland, which relied very heavily on the talents of LeBron James.

    The conventional wisdom was right; the Spurs won the series in a 4-0 sweep.

No. 7: 2004 Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers (56-26) vs. Detroit Pistons (54-28)

    While the Lakers may have had a star-studded cast of veterans, the team never really clicked when it was most needed over the course of the season. 

    This was a Lakers team that already had Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Before the season began the team added veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton: two future Hall of Fame players searching for the elusive ring. 

    Los Angeles seemed like a good place to go to find one. It didn't work out that way. 

    The Pistons were modeled after the "Bad Boys era" Pistons teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The team played physical basketball, tough defense and didn't score too many points. Good luck scoring on them. 

    Those types of teams never create a ton of anticipation among casual basketball fans. 

    With the Indiana Pacers winning 61 games, it was thought that the Pacers might make the finals. In the West, there was a Minnesota Timberwolves team featuring league MVP Kevin Garnett that presented an intriguing finals possibility. 

    Instead, the Lakers returned to the finals and faced off against the Pistons. 

    In an ironic twist, the matchup was hyped as a major mismatch. The Lakers were big favorites. No one told Detroit, though. The Pistons crushed the Lakers in five games. 

No. 6: 2000 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers

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    The Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers (67-15) vs. Indiana Pacers (56-26) 

    This was a matchup of two teams both hungry for a title. 

    The Lakers had assembled an impressive mix of young stars like Kobe Bryant, solid veterans like Glen Rice and Rick Fox and, of course, a dominant center in his prime—Shaquille O'Neal. 

    The Pacers had spent the better part of the 1990s battling the Knicks, Heat and Bulls. The Pacers had never made the finals, though. 

    In 2000, they finally broke through. 

    The problem was that the Lakers, with their 67-15 record and Phil Jackson installed at head coach, seemed unbeatable. 

    The Pacers actually proved to be a tougher opponent for the Lakers than some thought they'd be, but in the end those that thought this matchup was just a delay of an inevitable Laker title were proven correct.

No. 5: 2001 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers (56-26) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (56-26) 

    This one had some great story lines. 

    The Lakers were attempting to repeat as NBA champions. 

    Standing in their way was the league MVP—Allen Iverson. The 76ers also had the Defensive Player of the Year—center Dikembe Mutombo. 

    That wasn't enough, though, not even close. It was enough to create some good pre-finals buzz. This was a matchup that a lot of fans wanted to see. The problem was that the Lakers were just too good. Shaquille O'Neal dominated Mutombo. Iverson was great, but not great enough to win on his own. 

    The Lakers would win the series in five games.

No. 4: 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat

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    The Matchup: Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19) vs. Miami Heat (46-20) 

    What NBA fans are watching currently is quite a treat. 

    LeBron James just won his third regular-season MVP award, but he's still a star without a ring. As the criticisms of James as a player who can't win a ring grow louder and louder, the pressure is on James to step up. 

    Oklahoma City has a 23-year-old lanky small forward named Kevin Durant, who just won his third scoring title. Flanking Durant are James Harden, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Award winner, and electrifying point guard Russell Westbrook. 

    This is also the second-consecutive NBA Finals trip for the Miami Heat's Big Three. 

    The trio that was assembled via free agency in the summer of 2010 made it to the 2011 NBA Finals, but came up short. Just getting to the finals this year won't be nearly enough to silence the team's many critics. 

    The two best teams in the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 NBA regular season were the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. 

    The Thunder's youth and endurance proved to be too much for the Spurs, while in the East the Bulls' best player, Derrick Rose, was lost for the playoffs when he tore his ACL toward the end of the the very first playoff game of the opening round. 

    As of now the series is tied 1-1, and looks like it could be a great NBA Finals. 

No 3. 2011 Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat

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    The Matchup: Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. Miami Heat (58-24)

    Fairly or unfairly, everyone loves to be able to pick a side and root for someone. 

    When LeBron James created a public-relations nightmare for himself and his teammates with his ill-conceived "decision" in July of 2010, he became the de facto "bad guy" for many NBA fans. 

    All of a sudden, the Heat were the team that everyone loved to hate. 

    While the Chicago Bulls presented their own compelling storyline with a league MVP and the league's best record, the Heat were the new bullies and everyone wanted to watch them lose. 

    No team wanted to watch them lose more than the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs were on the losing end of the Heat's only finals win, back in 2006.

    Dallas had two battle-tested veterans in Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki, who had both made trips to the NBA Finals but had never won a ring. 

    It was a great matchup and, even though the series only went six games, it turned out to be a pretty entertaining finals, unless you were rooting for Miami. 

No. 2: 2010 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

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    The Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. Boston Celtics (50-32)

    Yankees-Red Sox.


    Michigan-Ohio State.


    Great players, great rivalries, great basketball cities. It's hard to top a matchup of these two franchises. Sure, fans of other teams will gripe about the frequency that the Celtics and Lakers appear in the finals. 

    Let 'em gripe. 

    The simple fact is that when these two franchises meet, head-to-head, in the finals, there are names, history and, most importantly, bragging rights on the line. 

    That's why even when a 50-win Celtics team advances to the finals to face a 57-win Lakers squad, the matchup gets serious hype. 

    Throw in the fact that the Lakers were the defending champs and both teams had multiple future Hall of Famers on their rosters and there were plenty of compelling reasons that this matchup had the league, the fans and the media excited for the showdown. 

    It lived up to its billing as well. The Lakers would win their second-consecutive ring in a seven-game thriller. 

No. 1: 2008 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

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    The Matchup: Boston Celtics (66-16) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)

    The NBA's greatest rivals, one team coming off a drought of more than two decades since their last finals victory. The other reloading after breaking up a previous dynasty and now hoping to start another one. 

    The Celtics had been a huge story all season long. Ever since the summer of 2007, when they acquired both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to help Paul Pierce return the Celtics to glory, there had been serious expectations. 

    Now, the Celtics would face off against their biggest rival, who happened to also have the reigning league MVP on their team.

    Add in that none of the Celtics Big Three had ever won an NBA title before.

    Kobe Bryant had yet to win a ring without Shaquille O'Neal as his teammate.

    These were also the top seeds in the two conferences.

    There were a ton of reasons to anticipate this collision of historically relevant franchises.

    The series didn't really live up to the enormous hype that surrounded it. The Celtics won in six games.The series would have been hard-pressed to live up to its hype.