NBA Playoffs: Ranking the Top 10 Best NBA Finals Player Matchups

Richard Scheuermann@@RJSureCorrespondent IJune 13, 2012

NBA Playoffs: Ranking the Top 10 Best NBA Finals Player Matchups

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    With the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat squaring off in the NBA Finals, every basketball fan is practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the LeBron James—Kevin Durant matchup. It is already being heralded as one of the greatest NBA Finals player matchups of all time, and the series is barely underway.

    As a basketball fan, this is truly what the NBA is all about: the two greatest players in the game facing off against one another in pursuit of the Larry O'Brien trophy. To make it even sweeter, it will be both player's first NBA Championship; if that doesn't get you pumped up to watch this series, you'd probably be better suited catching the latest episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. 

    The James-Durant matchup is almost guaranteed to be a legendary one, but how does it compare to the all-time greats of NBA Finals history?

    Here's a top ten list you really oughta check out.

10. 2012: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant

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    We're giving this matchup the benefit of the doubt, and assuming it will be one of the greatest ever.

    But really, how could it not be?

    The 23-year-old Durant is pressing forward through the league with a head of steam, in hopes of stealing the status of the NBA's best player from "King James."

    James, meanwhile, is under about as much scrutiny as Richard Nixon after "Watergate," and all because he remains ringless.

    Could this be the year Kevin Durant and the uber-talented Oklahoma City Thunder reign supreme and become "America's Team"? 

    Or will James, in the apex of his career, finally silence the 300 million American critics and realize his potential as NBA Champion?

    Either way, it is shaping up to be the best Finals matchup we've seen in a very long time.

9. 1957: Bob Pettit vs. Bill Russell

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    The legend of Bill Russell began in his rookie season in 1957 when he won the first of his 11 rings, but in no way did it come easy.

    St. Louis Hawks center Bob Pettit was game for his matchup against Russell, and aimed to show the rookie that he'd have to go through a great to become one.

    Pettit gave Russell all he could handle with five 30+ point games in the seven game series, including a series-high 39 in Game 7.

    Russell simply wouldn't be denied, though, and gave Boston his best game of the season in timely fashion, pouring in 19 points to go along with 32 rebounds in a thrilling Game 7 victory over the Hawks, 125-123.

8. 1985: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Robert Parish/ Kevin McHale

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    The legendary Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry continued in back-to-back years with the 1985 NBA Finals, and it proved to be yet another physical, hard-fought series.

    Kevin McHale and Robert Parish shared time guarding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, while Abdul-Jabbar helped guard both of the Celtics' greats for the Lakers.

    Parish had a phenomenal defensive performance against Kareem in Game 1, holding the Lakers center to just 12 points and 3 rebounds.

    Abdul-Jabbar simply would not be contained, though, as the big man continued his legacy and went on to take the reigns as all time leading playoff scorer in Game 3, as well as becoming the Finals MVP.

    McHale and Parish did not disappoint, either, with one of the players leading the Celtics in scoring for five of the series' six games. McHale accounted for four and Parish one, but it just wasn't enough as the Lakers avenged their Finals loss from the previous year.

7. 1992: Michael Jordan vs. Clyde Drexler

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    Michael Jordan was clearly the best player in this NBA Finals series starting from Game 1 when, after hitting his sixth three-pointer in the first half, he famously looked at the crowd and shrugged in apparent amazement of his own shooting prowess. 

    Clyde Drexler was no slouch, either.

    Drexler managed to carry the  Portland Trail Blazers to the No.1 seed in the Western Conference, as well as an NBA Finals appearance.

    The matchup of Drexler vs. Jordan pitted two of the best shooting guards in all of basketball, and it did not dissapoint.

    Drexler led his team in scoring in each of the six games of the series, but his supporting cast was unable to give the offensive firepower to compete with Michael Jordan and the dominant Chicago Bulls, and the Trail Blazers were ousted in six.

    MJ and Drexler still remains one of the all time most entertaining NBA Finals matchups, and certainly kept all of America's eyeballs glued to their TV screens.

6. 1994: Patrick Ewing vs. Hakeem Olajuwon

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    1994 marked the year when two of the greatest centers to ever play the game met on center stage in the NBA Finals.

    Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing were household names, and the two battled each other down to the wire in what also happened to be one of the greatest NBA Finals of all time.

    The New York Knicks had two opportunities to knock off the Houston Rockets and become World Champions with a 3-2 series lead, but Hakeem and the Rockets would not be deterred from their goal, as they went on to win Game 6 and 7.

    Olajuwon averaged just under 27 points to go with 9 rebounds a game, essentially winning his matchup against Ewing as well as MVP of the series.

5. 1988: Magic Johnson vs. Isiah Thomas

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    The 1988 Finals matched the "Bad Boys" of Detroit against Magic Johnson's Lakers in one of the great NBA Finals in history.

    Much to the delight of NBA fans, the two best point guards in the NBA were facing off against one another, and the matchup lived up to the hype.

    Each of the players had to battle severe adversity in the series, with Johnson plagued by the flu in Games 2 and 3, and Thomas returning in Game 6 despite a serious ankle sprain. 

    It was a true display of blood and guts, and it was a defining series in both Johnson and Thomas' careers.

    Johnson averaged 21 points and 13 assists in the series, while Thomas averaged 19 points and 9 assists.

    Thomas came through with an iconic 43 point performance in a Game 6 loss, reminiscent of Rajon Rondo's performance in a Game 2 Eastern Conference Finals loss this year.

    If there could be two winners in the NBA in a single season, the  Detroit Pistons and Lakers both would have deserved it after this series.

4. 1969: Jerry West vs. John Havlicek

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    Jerry West and John Havlicek were the two greatest NBA guards in 1969, and their respective teams happened to meet for an epic battle of an NBA Finals series in that same year.

    It was fairly evident that this was going to be one of the best matchups in Finals history after Jerry West scored 53 and Havlicek dropped 37 in Game 1. West carried the Lakers to a victory in Game 1, but it would be a long series for the man on the NBA logo.

    The scoring onslaught between the two continued and Havlicek finished the series scoring 28.3 points per game, while West averaged an astounding 38 points throughout the series.

    West went on to win NBA Finals MVP honors, despite his Lakers losing the series in seven games.

    It was a legendary matchup between two of the greatest players on the two greatest teams in NBA history.

3. 1970: Willis Reed vs. Wilt Chamberlain

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    Sometimes regarded as the best NBA Finals in history, this 1970 matchup included Los Angeles Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain against New York Knicks center Willis Reed.

    Reed looked determined to establish himself as the best center in the game, scoring 37 points while being guarded by Chamberlain in an incredible Game 1 performance.

    The Lakers took Game 2 and Reed exploded for another 38 points in Game 3, where the Knicks were able to emerge victorious despite a 63-foot game-tying buzzer-beater by Jerry West at the end of regulation.

    Reed was able to contain Chamberlain somewhat in Game 4, holding "Wilt the Stilt" to 18 points, but the Knicks were defeated, 121-115.

    Chamberlain took advantage of Reed's absence from Game 6 with a leg injury, and exploded for 45 points to go with 27 rebounds, and the Lakers took the series to a deciding Game 7.

    Despite his torn thigh muscle, Willis Reed emerged from the Knicks tunnel in Game 7 and played the entire game.

    Though Reed was held to just four points, his presence on the court energized his teammates and the Knicks went win the game, 113-99.

    Chamberlain finished the series with averaging 23 points and 24 rebounds, but Reed was named Finals MVP, and deservedly so.

2. 1969: Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain

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    The Bill Russell-Wilton Chamberlain matchup is a rivalry that spanned nearly a decade.

    Russell and Chamberlain first NBA Finals matchup was in 1964, but Chamberlain's San Francisco Warriors were no match for the stacked Boston Celtics lineup.

    In 1969 however, the two battled down low for two of the greatest teams to ever be compiled.

    West vs. Havlicek and Chamberlain vs. Russell in the same series must have been an incredible pleasure for those who had the honor to watch.

    Russell's incredible defense was able to slow the dominant Chamberlain, and the Celtics won the series in seven.

    These were the two greatest centers in NBA history and they played against each other annually.

    Though Russell finished with 11 rings and Chamberlain just two, the title of greatest center of all time is still up for debate.

1. 1984: Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson

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    It would be impossible to ask for a better matchup than "Larry Legend" vs. Magic.

    The rivalry started in college, when Bird's Indiana State Sycamores faced off against Johnson's Michigan State Spartans for the 1979 National Championship, in which Magic Johnson's Spartans went on to win, 75-64.

    The two would meet five years later in 1984, but this time it was for an NBA Championship.

    The teams would alternate wins through the first four games, and the series was tied at two games a piece.

    Larry Bird came up huge in Game 5, scoring 34 points and grabbing 17 boards in a 111-102 Celtics' win.

    Magic served up a 21 point, 10 assist performance in Game 6, and set things up for a series-deciding Game 7.

    The Boston Garden was a blistering 91 degrees for the final game due to a lack of air conditioning, and made the game that much more intense.

    Johnson gave his all, scoring 16 points and dishing 15 assists, but the Celtics team led by Bird was too much, and Boston went on to a 111-102 victory.

    Larry Bird was named the MVP of the series, but it simply fueled the fire for a Magic-Bird rivalry.

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