NBA Playoffs: The 10 Best NBA Finals Matchups Ever
The anticipation over this NBA Finals matchup between the Lakers and Celtics has been brewing for weeks. In fact, its the only battle big enough to get people to stop talking about where LeBron will be playing next year.
Right now, who cares where the second best player in the Association lands?
All that matters now is green vs. purple and gold, Gasol vs.Garnett, Allen vs. Bryant, Jackson vs. Doc. Where in 2008 the Lakers vs. Celtics battle brought up memories of Bird vs. Magic, this year is all about redemption.
Will the Lakers find a way to erase the memories of the 39-point beat down the Celtics administered two years ago? Or will the Celtics increase their lead for total championships won over the Lakers?
The excitement over this year's NBA Finals stretches from the East Coast to the West. It promises to be one of the greatest NBA match-ups ever, which led me to wonder about the 10 greatest NBA Finals ever.
This year's version might make the list, but for now, here are the top 10 in order.
10 - Chicago vs. Lakers 1991
Earvin Magic Johnson was just starting the downside of his career but still somehow led his team back to the Finals. Michael Jordan was at his peak when his Bulls made their first Finals appearance.
Game One went to the underdog Lakers on a three-point shot by Sam Perkins. After that, it was all Bulls.
It wasn't even close really.
So, why does this make the list? Well, it's simple, it marks the beginning of the Michael Jordan era.
9 - Portland vs. Philadelphia 1977
Only seven years after their inaugural season, the Portland Trailblazers were in the NBA Finals. They were only there, everyone assumed, to lose to the heavily favored Philadelphia 76ers who were led by Julius "Dr. J" Erving.
The first two games followed the script with the Sixers winning at home. It was during game two however that the Blazers flexed some muscle.
A battle for a rebound led to a benches clearing old-school NBA brawl that included everyone including opposing teams' ball-boys.
Once the dust settled two players were ejected and one, new Sixers coach Doug Collins, needed four stitches.
Inspired after the brawl, the Blazers went on to win the next four games in a row to win the championship.
Incidentally, the Sixers bench that year included a 23-year-old stud named Joe Bryant. That's right, Kobe's pop.
8 - Minneapolis Lakers vs. Knicks - 1952
First six games included two overtime battles with none of the games won by more than 12 vpoints. This was a closely contested battle between two very evenly matched teams.
What makes this series unique, other than the start of the first Lakers dynasty led by George Mikan and the fact that the games were all so close was an NBA rules change that went into effect to slow down the Lakers center.
Protests led by Knicks coach Joe Lapchick led the league to double the width of the foul lane.
The rule, known as the "Mikan Rule" would essentially make it harder for the league's skilled big men to operate. Back in 1952, the league had one skilled big man, George Mikan.
Despite the rule change Mikan led his team to a game seven victory. The winning teams per player bounty in 1952 was $7,500.
7 - Bulls vs. Utah - 1998
There was one blowout, one overtime thriller and then four other closely contested games with an average margin of victory of less than three points.
MJ's Bulls were good, but the Jazz, led by John Stockton and Karl Malone were a formidable foe.
Of course, the lasting memory from this series will be MJ's steal of Karl Malone and ensuing jump-shot after a gentle nudge administered to Bryon Russell to create some space.
Hey, if it ain't called, it ain't a foul.
Bulls complete their second three-peat.
6 Celtics vs. Lakers - 1969
Lakers fans in 2010 may want to skip this slide.
In 1969 the Lakers charged into the Finals led by Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.
The Celtics were a surprise and aging opponent having reached the Finals after finishing only as the 4th best team in the East.
The Lakers led in the series 2-0 and 3-2, but they could not put away the Celtics. Game Seven was in Los Angeles, which boded well for the purple and gold. No NBA Finals game seven had ever been won by the road team.
Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, possibly aware of this fact or otherwise just foolishly confident, had thousands of balloons placed in the rafters of the Forum. The anticipation being they would be released when the Lakers won.
Um, problem was, it pissed off the Celtics who went on to victory.
Jerry West became the only Finals MVP from a losing team.
How does that compare to 2010?
Lets see, high scoring player on the Lakers—check.
Celtics team that wasn't supposed to be there—check.
Balloons in the rafters before Game Seven—?
If there is a game seven in 2010 however, it will be in LA. Things that make you go hmmm. Maybe the Lakers of 2010 aren't out to only erase the memory of 2008, but of 1969 as well.
5 - Lakers vs. Pistons - 1988
This Finals had superstars in Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. It had amazing individual performances like Adrian Dantley's 34-point outburst.
It even highlighted athletes playing through pain like Johnson's 23 while battling the flu and more impressively Thomas' valiant 10 points on a badly swollen ankle in Game Seven.
In addition to all of the above it even went the full seven games. In short, there are plenty of reasons this epic Finals match-up makes the list, but the biggest reason of all had nothing to do with the series at all.
It was the season before, during the Lakers' championship parade that coach Pat Riley predicted, no guaranteed, that his team would repeat.
Does it get any more ballsy than that?
4 - Knicks vs. Lakers - 1970
The Knicks were a team, the Lakers were superstars surrounded by role players. The Knicks were blue-collar, the Lakers wore white.
This was a match-up of flash against substance. Nothing drove that point home more than watching Willis Reed hobble out to the court to offer an emotional lift to his team when they needed it.
The star-free Knicks sent Lakers stars Chamberlain, West, and Baylor home in seven games.
3 - Celtics vs. Lakers - 1984
Magic vs. Bird. 'Nough said.
The duo that saved the NBA were finally meeting on its biggest stage. Sure, basketball is a team game and neither of these two stars would dispute that, but in 1984 when you thought Lakers, you thought Magic, you thought Celtics, you thought Bird.
It's just the way it was.
The two were doing commercials together and had a healthy respect for each other, but they both had that killer instinct that made them amazing competitors.
When the ball was tossed, they would steam roll their mommas if she was between them and the basket.
This was a classic old-school rough and tumble Finals series that went seven with Bird's Celtics winning.
2 - Celtics vs. Suns - 1976
Game Five. Arguably, the best NBA game, ever.
Dude, I mean ever.
Series is tied 2-2 with Phoenix holding the momentum after winning two games in a row. Game Five is in Boston with the Celtics on their heels.
This was a must-win game for both teams.
The game was tied at 95 at the end of regulation and again at 101 at the end of the first overtime. It was during the second overtime that things got crazy.
Boston held a 109-106 lead with twenty seconds left. The Suns Dick Van Arsdale hits a jumper bringing the Suns within a point. The ball is inbounded to John Havlicek who has it stolen by Paul Westphal.
Westphal saves the ball by knocking it to Curtis Perry as he is flying out of bounds. Perry takes a shot but misses, the rebound flies in and out of the Celtics' hands and back to Perry, who takes and hits a jump shot this time.
Suns lead 110-109 with six seconds left.
This game isn't over though, Havlicek somehow drives and puts up a shot that goes in, horn sounds, game over, pandimonium erupts. Fans rush the court, the Celtics retreat to their locker room, but the play is being reviewed.
Turns out, the shot was made with some time left on the clock. Oops. The officials have to order the Celtics back to the court to play out the final second which is added to the game clock.
Just a formality right? What could happen in one second? Plenty, it would turn out. First there was a technical foul shot made by the Celtics.
The Suns were forced to go the length of the court with only one second on the clock. Westphal requested a timeout when the team had none in order to move the ball to midcourt.
The resulting technical foul shot increased the Boston lead to 112-110, but it brought the Suns closer to the hoop. Heady play by a smart player.
It made all the difference in the world. Ball is inbound to Gar Heard who hits the jumper from the top of the key. Amazing!
The Suns would wilt in the third overtime and later in game six, but the series that contained the best game ever has to make this list.
1 - Celtics vs. Lakers - 1985
The Celtics were gunning for a repeat, the Lakers were looking to remove the sour taste of defeat at the hands of the Celtics the year before. Things didn't start out too well for Magic Johnson's team.
Game One has come to be known as the "Memorial Day Massacre." The 148-114 drubbing the Celtics administered to the Lakers was embarrassing.
Captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar even apologized to his teammates after a 12-point, three-rebound performance.
The game proved to be an aberration, however. What started with a massacre and apology, ended with a dominating performance by the aforementioned apologizer.
Abdul-Jabbar's 29 points in Game Six led the Lakers to the first series victory by an opposing team at Boston Garden.