Ranking the Top 10 NBA Finals of All Time

It’s that time of year again as the NBA Finals are upon us. This year will be the Toronto Raptors’ first time in the NBA Finals and will also mark the first time an NBA Finals game will be played outside of the United States. This will also be the fifth straight appearance for the Golden State Warriors who are seeking to complete only the sixth three-peat in NBA history. Throughout the years, we have seen some of the most competitive and exciting Finals series with some of the greatest players and teams in NBA history. With the NBA Finals set to begin Thursday May 30th, let’s take a look at the 10 best Finals Series in league history.

10. 1993- Bulls beat Suns 4-2

The 1993 NBA FInals went to six games, but the point differential in this series was exactly zero, meaning both teams scored the same amount of total points in the series. This series saw Michael Jordan’s Bulls take on a deeper Phoenix Suns team that consisted of MVP Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and Danny Ainge. The Bulls won the first two games in Phoenix by scores of 100-92, and 111-108. Michael Jordan scored a combined 73 points in these two games. Phoenix stormed back in Game 3 in Chicago winning in Triple Overtime 129-121, overcoming Jordan’s 44 point outing. Jordan responded big time in Game 4 scoring 55 points and leading the Bulls to a 111-105 victory, and a 3-1 series lead. The Suns won game 5 to cut the series lead to 3-2, after they had three players record over 20 points. This led to one of the most epic games in NBA History: Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals. The Suns held a two point lead with 14.4 seconds remaining. The Bulls came out of a timeout with Jordan inbounding the ball. He passed it to Pippen after advancing past half court, Pippen dished it to Horace Grant cutting on the baseline. Grant found a wide open Paxson for a three pointer on the left wing. Paxson cooly drained the shot and gave the Bulls the third leg of their first three-peat. Jordan was named Finals MVP after turning in one of the greatest finals performances ever averaging 41 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists.

9. 1988- Lakers beat Pistons 4-3

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The Bad Boys of Detroit versus The Showtime Lakers. This series had all of the drama and intrigue that an NBA finals series needs. The Lakers prevailed in 7 games, but this series will always be most known for the otherworldly performance of Isiah Thomas in Game 6. Thomas severely sprained his ankle in the middle of the third quarter, but went on to drop and NBA Finals single-quarter record of 25 points in the third quarter. Thomas finished with 43 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 steals in the greatest offense performance in Finals History, in the Pistons 103-102 loss in LA. The Lakers won game 7 by a score of 108-105, James Worthy was named MVP. The Pistons got their revenge on LA the following season sweeping them in the Finals.

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8. 1994 Rockets beat Knicks 4-3

This Finals series featured two teams led by their superstar centers. Hakeem Olajuwon outplayed Patrick Ewing in this series, and that seemed to be the difference between these two evenly balanced teams. The Rockets won Game 1 on their homecourt 85-78. The Knicks stole homecourt back winning Game 2 by a score of 91-83, having six players score in double figures. Olajuwon was not to be outdone, however, as he rounded out an incredible performance tallying 21 points, 11 rebounds, 7 blocks and 7 assists in Game 3 to lead the Rockets to a 93-89 win in Game 3. The back-and-forth continued in Game 4 as the Knicks struck back with a 91-82 win, despite another huge game from  Hakeem who had 32 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 blocks. The Knicks gained the advantage in the series with a Game 5 victory at Madison Square Garden by a 91-84 margin. However, they were unable to get the job done in Game 6 despite Starks’ 16-point 4th quarter, losing 86-84. Starks followed up possibly his best display in the playoffs with his worst shooting night in a playoff game, going 0-for-11 from 3-point range. If he’d connected on just 2 of those open threes he kept taking, the Knicks would have taken the series. Clutch City won its first NBA championship by a 93-88 margin, and “Hakeem The Dream” deservedly took home MVP honors.

7. 1970 Knicks Beat Lakers 4-3

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Only two games out of seven were decided by seven points or less, but the drama of Game 7 made the series an instant classic. After missing Game 6 with a thigh injury that he suffered in Game 5, Knicks center Willis Reed returned for Game 7. He scored only four points, but gave a huge emotional boost to New York, which prevailed 113-99 on the strength of Walt Frazier’s 36-point performance. The victory clinched the Knicks’ first and only NBA championship.

6. 2013 Heat beat Spurs 4-3

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 6

In one of the most competitive Finals Series ever, the Spurs were outlasted by Lebron James and the Miami Heat in Games 6 and 7 despite being only one free throw away from victory. The Heat dropped their first game by a 92-88 margin, conceding home court advantage to the Spurs. They won Game 2 by a score of 103-84 on the back of a great overall team performance as Mario Chalmers was the top scorer with 19 points, but they were given a rude awakening in Game 3 in San Antonio  as Danny Green absolutely went OFF for 7 made 3-pointers in the first half. The Heat responded in Game 4, when they stifled the Spurs offense to just 93 points and beat them 109-93 on the road, regaining home court advantage. The Spurs responded to win Game 5 114-104, but the remainder of the series would be played in Miami. Even so, Miami almost messed up their elimination game performance. Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard had the chance to put the game to bed with made free throws, but they missed 3 of their 4 free throws in crunch time to leave a 3-point gap open. Head Coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a play to allow LeBron to get a 3-point shot off, but he missed on his attempt. Chris Bosh gathered the rebound and found Ray Allen in the corner. With Norris Cole jumping up and down on the sideline, Allen made one of the most memorable shots in NBA history, tying the game with 5.2 seconds left. Lockdown defense enabled the Heat to take the game in overtime 103-100, and with it the momentum swung in their favor as they won Game 7 95-88 on the back of a legendary performance by Finals MVP Lebron James.

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5. 2010 Lakers beat Celtics 4-3

The Lakers and the Celtics faced off for the 2nd time in 3 years in the 2010 NBA Finals. The Celtics held the edge with their win in the 2008 Finals, but the Lakers  had become deeper and improved their cohesion. They finished the regular season as the number one seed in the West, and went on to beat the Thunder, Jazz, and Suns en route to the Finals.  The Celtics had to deal with a number of injuries during the regular season and finished with the number 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. But they revved up the intensity in the playoffs to defeat the Heat, Cavaliers, and Magic in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers won Game 1 by a score of 102-89, but gave away home court advantage with a 103-94 loss in Game 2. They took the advantage right back in Game 3 with a hard-fought 91-84 win in Boston , but dropped the next 2 games to go 3-2 down in the series. Kobe and the rest of the Lakers stepped up defensively to hold Boston to just 67 points in Game 6, and they repeated the performance in an ugly Game 7 which was won by the Lakers 83-79. Kobe averaged 28.6 points, 8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, and won Finals MVP honors. This allowed the Lakers to repeat as champions and gave Kobe his 5th and final ring. Neither team shot the ball particularly well as this was a defensive grind through the length of it. The Lakers shot worse than the Celtics from all ranges, but their superior rebounding and defense allowed them to gain extra possessions which was ultimately the difference.

4. 1969 Celtics beat Lakers 4-3

The 1969 NBA Finals featured some of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball. Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West lined up against Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Sam Jones in what was easily the best Finals series at that point. Bill Russell’s decision to not double team Jerry West resulted in the guard going off for 53 points in a 120-118 victory for the Lakers in Game 1. He continued in the same way given Russell’s reluctance to deploy the double-teaming tactic to lead the Lakers to a 2-0 lead with a 41-point haul in Game 2. John Havlicek played through a swollen eye to record 34 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in a 111-105 win for the Celtics in Game 3. The Celtics followed it up with perhaps the most famous ‘Ohio’ play of all time, when a shooter receives a triple ball screen – Sam Jones hit a  buzzer-beater to win the game for the Celtics in a sloppy 88-89 Game 4. The Lakers, fueled by their narrow loss in Game 4, turned it on to race to a 117-104 win. But disaster struck as Jerry West pulled his hamstring with 3 minutes left in Game 5. He had to be carried off on a stretcher, and he never made a full recovery from this injury in the Finals series. West did not let the injury stop him, however. Eager to seal a series win in game 6, he took the court once again to score 26 points, but the Celtics won 99-90 as Wilt coked under pressure making just one field goal on 5 attempts and finishing the game with 8 points. The Lakers, in anticipation of a series win at home, went all the way to suspend celebratory balloons on the roof of their home arena. This rubbed Bill Russell the wrong way, and he said to Jerry West: “Those f***** balloons are staying up there.” The Celtics followed through on Russell’s promise. Moving past another insane performance by Jerry West, who tallied 42 and willed the Lakers back into the game in the 4th quarter, they were trailing by 15 points heading into this period. The Celtics were the ones, however, to have the celebratory balloons with a 108-106 win. Jerry West received Finals MVP honors for his unreal showing through the 7 games – especially in game 7 when he was playing through an injured hamstring. “The Logo” averaged 38 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists for the series, and is the only player in Finals history to win MVP while being on the losing side.

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3. 1998 Bulls beat Jazz 4-2

The ’98 finals are known for Michael Jordan’s iconic shot over Bryon Russell, to win his third consecutive championship and the Bulls second three-peat alongside Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson, once again killing all hopes for the Utah Jazz, Karl Malone and John Stockton. The entire series was hard fought. Every game except one-the Bulls blew out the Jazz 96-54 in Game 3–was decided by five points or less. In the decisive Game 6, Jordan’s famous jumper accounted for his 44th and 45th points of the night. Jordan’s memorable jumper to lead the Bulls to the ring was one for the ages, making it reach the bronze spot on the podium of my list.

2. 1984 Celtics beat Lakers 4-3

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The silver spot on the podium of my list goes to the crown jewel from the legendary 1980’s rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers. The 1984 NBA Finals pitted historically the two most successful NBA franchises against each other. The Celtics had home court advantage with a 63-19 record, with the Lakers finishing one game behind them  in the regular season boasting a 62-20 record. Game 1 ended in a Lakers victory as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put up a remarkable 32 point performance to headline a 115-109 scoreline. The Celtics battled back with a close 124-121 victory at home to tie the series at one game a piece. The Lakers put on an amazing all-around show of basketball dominance in Los Angeles in Game 3 to blow the Celtics out 137-104. But the Celtics responded completing a 129-125 victory in overtime, with Larry Bird putting the Celtics on his back tallying an insane 29 point and 21 rebound performance.  Boston used this momentum to close out to a 121-103 victory at home in Game 5. The Lakers refused to give in and Worthy, Magic, Kareem and Michael Cooper all accounted for 20 or more points in Game 6 to give the Lakers the 119-108 victory. All eyes turned to Game 7 at the Garden, and the Celtics came through with a 119-108 win. Larry Bird won Finals MVP, averaging 27.4 points, 14 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

  1. Cavs beat Warriors 4-3

Undisputedly, the 2016 NBA Finals were the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. It pitted the greatest player of all time, Lebron James, against the greatest regular season team of all time, the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers had an easier road to the Finals this time around than in 2015, when they were seeded second and faced tough challenges from the Bulls and the number one seeded Hawks. They owned a 12-2 record, sweeping both the Hornets and the Hawks in the first two rounds before winning the Conference Finals against the Raptors 4-2. They also had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love available in the 2016 finals, making them much more of a challenge for the Warriors. Despite this, the Cavaliers were huge underdogs entering the series. The Warriors proved that they deserved to be heavy favorites blowing the Cavs out in the first 2 games of the series at home, 104-89 and 110-77. The Cavs roared back with a 120-90 blowout of their own in Game 3 at the Quicken Loans Arena, but the Warriors took a commanding 3-1 lead with a 108-97 win in Game 4. No team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. There were circumstances which led to the Warriors being below full strength for Game 5 as Draymond Green was handed a one game suspension for accumulating too many flagrant foul points by the end of Game 4. That proved to be the jump starter for the Cavs, as two 41-point performances from James and Kyrie Irving rained fire on the Warriors’ defense leading the Cavaliers to a 112-97 victory. Things turned from bad to worse for the Warriors as Andrew Bogut suffered a left knee injury and was ruled out for the rest of the series. Steve Kerr was left with no real rim protector for Games 6 & 7, and LeBron’s second 41-point game allowed the Cavs to force a Game 7 with a 115-101 victory in Game 6. Game 7 of the Finals proved to be a back and forth affair. LeBron turned it up as he tends to do in elimination games, finishing with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. However, he was met with fierce opposition from Draymond Green, whose statline of 32 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists would have won the Warriors on a day when the Splash Brothers played at their normal level.  However, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson choked down the stretch going a combined 12-of-36 from the field and finishing with only 31 points together. Harrison Barnes continued to not shoot well going 3-of-10 from the field. Neither team was able to score well in this game. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, LeBron James chased down Andre Iguodala and blocked Iguodala’s layup attempt, ensuring the game remained tied. James considers it to be the defining moment of his career thus far, and his performances across the series is considered to be the best in NBA history. The deadlock late in the 4th quarter was broken by Kyrie Irving’s clutch 3-pointer while being guarded by Steph Curry. Curry missed his shot attempt with Kevin Love smothering him on the defensive end. The Warriors had to foul LeBron, who made a free throw and put the game on ice to cap a historic Finals MVP performance in which he led both teams in all 5 major statistical categories. The Cavaliers had done the impossible and came back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit against the greatest regular season team in NBA history.

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