The NBA Finals are one of the brightest stages in all of sports. Two of the most talented teams in the league face off for the most coveted prize in basketball, the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Legacies are made, dynasties are born, and the high level of competition has brought out the best in some of the all-time greats.
Here are five of the greatest NBA Finals series in the history of the league.
5. Lakers vs. Pistons, 1988
The 1988 championship series marked a clash between two opposite styles of play. The Showtime Lakers were a flashy run and gun offensive powerhouse led by the lovable Magic Johnson and his running mates included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Byron Scott. As for their opponent, the Detroit Pistons were a tough-nosed, defensive-minded squad anchored by notoriously aggressive center Bill Laimbeer while Isiah Thomas orchestrated the offense.
The series lasted seven games as both sides took turns landing blows. It was LA who would come out on top though in the deciding Game 7, as they scraped by with a 108-105 victory thanks in large part to a 36-point triple-double from Finals MVP Worthy. Johnson scored 19 points and Scott chipped in 21 for the Lakers in the team’s most important game of the season. Their 1988 ring marked the Lakers’ second in a row, and they were the first squad to repeat since the 1969 Celtics.
4. Lakers vs. Celtics, 2010
It is usually must-see television whenever the Celtics and Lakers have met in the NBA Finals, and their most recent series proved to be more of the same. The Boston Celtics were hungry for a title that they believed was robbed of them in 2009 due to a season-ending Achilles injury to Kevin Garnett.
Boston was armed with four all-stars in Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce while also owning a deep bench thanks to the likes of Tony Allen, Glen Davis, and Rasheed Wallace. LA did not have the star power of the Celtics but they did have the best player in the world at the time in Kobe Bryant along with Pau Gasol, who brought elite scoring and rebounding skills to the table.
The Lakers took Games 1,3 and 6 while Boston won 2,4 and 5, which ultimately set the stage for a Game 7 to be played in the Staples Center, and it was one for the ages. Pierce and Garnett scored 18 and 17 points for Boston, respectively, but it was not enough to combat the Lakers’ massive rebounding advantage.
LA grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, and Gasol pulled down nine himself, while the Celtics only collected seven as a team. Bryant was named Finals MVP but it was Gasol who was the best player on the floor in Game 7, as he finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds in 42 minutes.
3. Bulls vs. Jazz, 1998
Michael Jordan’s last hoorah as a Chicago Bull had to be included on this list. This series featured a number of Hall of Famers on both sides including John Stockton, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. It was a rematch of the NBA Finals from the year prior in which the Bulls came out on top, and they would do so once again.
Malone and Stockton gave it their all and performed admirably for the entirety of the series, but they did not get enough help from their supporting cast. Jeff Hornacek was the only complementary talent to average double digits in scoring in the Finals for Utah.
The Bulls won the matchup in six games due to an iconic mid-range jumper from Jordan in the final seconds which helped to seal a one-point Game 6 triumph for Chicago. It marked the end of Jordan’s legendary tenure in the Windy City. A storybook finale to one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties.
2. Spurs vs. Heat, 2013
LeBron James’ legacy was on the line in this series. The year after winning his first title against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James faced a more experienced foe, the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich, maybe the greatest coach in NBA history, patrolled the sidelines while Tim Duncan led a team-oriented group comprised of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and a young Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs were well-positioned to come out on top; San Antonio led the series 3-2 and were ahead by five points with just 28.2 seconds remaining in Game 6. But then a miracle occurred. James and Ray Allen each nailed a three-pointer prior to the end of regulation which sent the game into overtime.
Miami ended up scraping by with the win in overtime and forcing a Game 7 in the process. Game 7 was a battle, the lead shifted back and forth between the two teams, and it was the Heat who became the 2013 NBA Champions, winning 95-88. James scored 37 points and grabbed 12 boards in the title-clinching match, which led to him rightly being named the Finals MVP.
1. Cavaliers vs. Warriors, 2016
LeBron’s 2013 title was huge to his legacy, but winning in 2016 as a Cavalier meant even more. The Cavs were the heavy underdogs in this series, as the Golde State Warriors broke the record for most regular-season wins with 73 in 2016. The Splash Brothers of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson manned the backcourt for the Dubs, while Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut held down the fort defensively.
Four games into the series, it seemed as if the 2016 title was coming to the Bay. The Warriors had a commanding 3-1 lead and were heading back to Oracle Arena for Game 5. But to the shock and awe of many, Cleveland won Game 5 handily as James and Kyrie dropped 41 points apiece.
The Cavs destroyed the Warriors at home in Game 6, and with that fans were granted with one of the most entertaining Game 7s in league history. It included 20 lead changes and 11 ties. James’ 27-point triple-double lifted Cleveland to a 93-89 triumph and the franchise’s first championship. Defeating the 73-win Warriors after being down 3-1 will go down as LeBron’s greatest achievement.
His Cavaliers are the only team to ever do so, a fact that emphasizes how special of a talent James is.