The Greatest Playoff Series in NBA History
The classic series between the Bulls and the Celtics in the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs has been a recent hot topic. Can a first round series be one of the greatest all-time playoff series?
Sports History is all about the numbers, so that is what I do: I crunch the numbers and see. The criterion is as follows:
I had to have seen the series, so this is a back-dated list, with the first series starting in the late '80s.
The series must go the limit of games, be it five or seven.
Cumulative score and road wins are important.
Star power is a plus also.
For a five-game series in the first round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs, this series had a lot going for it. The favored Cleveland Cavaliers had a stronger team, but the Bulls had the amazing Michael Jordan.
The road team won three games, including Game 4 by the Cavs facing elimination and Game 5 by the Bulls on the last-second shot by His Airness.
The Bulls scored 490 points in the five games and the Cavs scored 486. All five games were decided by less than 10 points.
An Instant Classic
This series is what started the nation talking about the great all-time series. It had it all, from big shots to overtimes to triple-doubles to dirty plays.
However, it was missing some star power with the absence of Kevin Garnett.
The Bulls scored 758 total points and the Celtics scored 788. There were two road wins and six of the seven games were decided by 10 points or less.
Charles vs. Hakeem
This one had star power galore.
The Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon, were on their way to the title but the same could be said of the Suns, who pushed this series to seven games. This might have been the de facto NBA Finals if not for the epic series between the Knicks and the Rockets.
This was when Michael Jordan was playing baseball and the entire landscape of the NBA changed for a season and a half.
The Rockets scored 731 points during the series to the Suns' 696. The series was tied 2-2 and no home team had won a game; that's four road wins in the first four games.
There were three games decided by 10 or less points and four by more than ten.
Bird vs. Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins never made a deep run in the NBA Playoffs. This was the Human Highlight Reel's only real claim to post season fame.
The Hawks stole Game 5 in Boston but couldn't close out the series in Game 6 at Atlanta.
Game 7 was an epic battle in which Larry Bird and Wilkins matched each other shot-for-shot.
The Hawks actually outscored the Celtics over the course of the seven games, 754 to 743.
There were five games decided by 10 points or less and two decided by more than ten.
The Knicks/Bulls Rivalry of the '90s
Michael Jordan was never in a seven game series in the NBA Finals. To find his seven game series battles, you have to look at the Eastern Conference playoffs.
This semi-final series against the Knicks launched a rivalry that lasted the entire '90s.
And these games were wars, as both teams brought their most physical play.
The Bulls outscored the Knicks by 27 points over the seven games, 647 to 620.
There were five games decided by 10 or less and two over the ten point mark.
Michael Jordan vs. the Bad Boys
Michael Jordan is 2-1 in all-time playoff series and this was the one loss. The Bad Boys from Detroit used the Jordan Rules to stop the game's best player from beating their team.
There were no road wins in this series and the Pistons outscored the Bulls 672 to 651.
2004 Eastern Conference Finals
Shaq and D Wade would break through the next season, but the duo fell short in this classic battle with the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons made a late comeback in Game 7 to move onto the NBA Finals.
Detroit scored 641 points to the Heat's 618.
Six of the seven games were decided by 10 points or less.
There were two total road wins in the series.
1987 Eastern Conference Finals
This is the series that launched the Pistons' run of the late '80s.
They lost a tough seven game series to the Celtics, but came back to win the East finals the next season. This series was when the younger team lost before they started winning and the Pistons found themselves as the bridge from Boston to Chicago in this regard.
Thanks to a 145-point scoring frenzy in Game 4, the Pistons outscored the Celtics 793 to 767.
Only three of the seven games were decided by 10 points or less and there were no road wins.
Hakeem vs. Ewing
The Knicks found a way past the Bulls (they were missing Michael Jordan) and took the Rockets to the limit in an epic series that was interrupted by the O.J. Simpson saga.
The Knicks outscored the Rockets 608 to 597 over the seven games.
All seven games were decided by 10 points or less.
There were two road wins.
Magic vs. Isiah
This epic seven-game series had all of the star power you could ask for.
Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson seemed to go at each other one-on-one for quarters at a time. The Lakers took home the title thanks to their homecourt advantage.
The Pistons again scored the most points in a series, 709 to 691, but wound up losing.
Three of the seven games were decided by 10 points or less.
There were two road wins.
The Battle for California
This was the best I ever saw.
There was bulletin bound fodder. There was a suspected case of food poisoning. There were clutch shots. This was the NBA Finals of 2002 and the Lakers found a way to to go into Sacramento and win Game 7 in overtime.
The Kings outscored the Lakers by three points over the seven games: 698 to 695.
There were three road wins and six of the seven games were decided by 10 points or less.