The 2019 NBA Finals start on Thursday in Toronto, but before we get into that, here is a look at some “under the radar” Finals stats and facts, that I’m sure some of you never knew. Hopefully, players participating this year will break few.
1: Only one, from a total of 68 performances of 60-or-more-points, took place in the NBA Finals. Elgin Baylor dropped 61 points on the Boston Celtics in Game 5 (in 1962). The Los Angeles Lakers would win that game, 126-121, but ultimately lost the series in seven games. Baylor also holds the record for the most NBA Finals appearances without a ring. During his 13-season career, he made eight Finals appearances.
2: The NBA named a Finals Most Valuable Player beginning in 1969, with Jerry West of the Lakers winning the award. West is the only Finals MVP to win the award while playing for the losing team. He was awarded the trophy after his Lakers fell to the Celtics in a Game 7 (where he would account for 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists).
3: Magic Johnson averaged 12+ assists per game in the NBA Finals six times. No other player has accomplished that even once.
4: Last buzzer beater in the NBA Finals was Game 1 of 1997 Finals by Michael Jordan.
5: Darko Milicic is the youngest player to win an NBA championship (he was just 18 years and 361 days old when he won an NBA title with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons), and Robert Parish is the oldest player to win it (43 years of age, 1996-97 Chicago Bulls).
6: During the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James led all players on both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in series. He is the only player in NBA history to lead all players in all five categories for an entire playoff series.
7: Hakeem Olajuwon auctioned his first NBA championship ring due to his Muslim faith, which forbids men to wear gold. After winning again in ’95, the Houston Rockets made his second ring out of platinum.
8: LeBron James is the only player in the top-10 in total points (3rd), rebounds (6th), assists (2nd), steals (2nd) and blocks (10th) in NBA Finals history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fell short in assists – 12th (just 6 assists short), and Magic Johnson fell short in blocks (42nd). James is also the only player to appear in 20+ Finals games with two franchises (he played in 23 games for Miami Heat and 22 for the Cleveland Cavaliers), and the only player in NBA history to reach Finals four times with two different teams.
9: Robert Horry is the only player in NBA history to win multiple championships with three different teams: Rockets – 2 (’94, ’95), Lakers – 3 (’00, ’01, ’02), and San Antonio Spurs – 2 (’05, ’07). Horry also shares the record for most rings by a non-Basketball Hall of Fame member (with Jim Loscutoff). Many fans may be less familiar with Loscutoff, as he was a defensive specialist with the ’60s Celtics (his No. 18 is in the rafters). Both players didn’t have Hall-of-Fame caliber careers but earned each of their seven rings.
10: Michael Jordan scored at least 20 points in every Finals game in which he played (35 games). He was the outright leading scorer in 32 of them, with Scottie Pippen (twice) and Toni Kukoc (once) the only others to lead the Bulls in scoring.
11: Cedric Maxwell is the only NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award winner that was never an All-Star after he led the Boston Celtics to a 1981 championship. He is also the only Finals MVP winner eligible for the Hall of Fame but not voted in.
12: Last year, for the first time in NBA Finals history, four different players averaged at least 25 points per game: Kevin Durant – 35.2, LeBron James – 33.6, Kyrie Irving – 29.4, and Stephen Curry – 26.8.
And now team-related:
13: Only six teams in the 72-year history of the league have made it to four straight Finals:
- Celtics from 1957-66 (going 9-1)
- Lakers from 1982-85 (2-2)
- Celtics from 1984-87 (2-2)
- Heat from 2011-14 (2-2)
- Cavaliers from 2015-18 (1-3)
- Warriors from 2015-19 (3-1)
14: Only five franchises have more than four titles. The Celtics and Lakers lead the pack by a mile with 17 and 16 titles, respectively. The Bulls and Warriors claim six, and Spurs have five. Together, they account for 69.4 percent of the league’s championships.
15: The Lakers and/or Celtics have played in 40 of the 72 NBA Finals series ever played, and have combined for 33 Championships. They have played each other in the NBA Finals 12 times (Celtics won 9 and Lakers 3 times).
16: The 1995 Rockets, the sixth seed with a record of 47–35, were the lowest seeded team to win the NBA Finals. They are also the only team to have won an NBA title without having a home-court advantage at all.
17: … the Rockets defeated four teams that had won 50-plus games during the regular season: Utah Jazz at 60–22 (3-2), Phoenix Suns at 59–23 (4-3), Spurs at 62–20 (4-2) and Orlando Magic at 57–25 (4-0), which had never been done before.
18: The New York Knicks are the only 8th-seeded team ever to reach the NBA Finals. The 1999 Knicks, just 27-23 during the lockout-shortened regular season, fall short against Gregg Popovich’s Spurs (4-1).
19: Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals between the Celtics and Suns, is considered the greatest game ever played. Boston won, 128-126, in triple overtime before taking the title.
20: California and Texas have combined for 22 total titles. California has 13 of the NBA titles, and Texas has 8. Only two California teams have won NBA titles — Lakers (11) and Warriors (3). All three Texas teams have won NBA titles — Spurs (5), Rockets (2), and Dallas Mavericks 1.
21: During the 1975 NBA Finals, Golden State played its home games at the Cow Palace in San Francisco because its regular arena in Oakland was booked. The Cow Palace was not available for certain days during the series, and that forced an unusual 1-2-2-1-1 format.
22: Since 1999 (The Post-Jordan Era), either the Spurs, Lakers, Pistons, Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Warriors, or Cavaliers have won the NBA title.
23: Since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, only five (8%) of the finalists were seeded fourth or lower (4th seed Cavaliers in 2018, 4th Boston Celtics in 2010, 4th Dallas Mavericks in 2006, 8th New York Knicks in 1999, and 6th Houston Rockets in 1995).
24: Six of the current 30 NBA teams have no Finals appearances. Sorry to all the Charlotte Hornets (Bobcats), New Orleans Pelicans (Hornets), Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Grizzlies, and Denver Nuggets fans out there.
Statistics used courtesy of NBA/Stats, Elias Sports Bureau and Basketball-Reference.