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Ranking the Top 10 Greatest NBA Finals of All Time

Greatest NBA Finals

The NBA Finals series is undoubtedly the grandest stage in the game of basketball. Every player who makes it to the league yearns to play in it because of the fame and stardom that comes along. At the end of each season, the NBA Finals feature two of the best teams in the league facing off against each other in a seven-game series.

For a team to make it to the Finals, it has to have players who have well-defined roles and are at the top of their craft. All the stalwarts of the game like LeBron and MJ have featured on multiple occasions in the Finals, and that is because of their leadership skills and the brilliance they possess every time they step onto the court.

Over the years, the NBA Finals have provided us with some of the finest games that were the perfect amalgamation of intensity and heart. The emotions associated with that series and the prospect of lifting the championship trophy are simply phenomenal, and it shows on the faces of the players who feature in it.

With the advent of the postseason, today we take a look at some of the greatest NBA Finals of all time.

#10. Chicago Bulls vs Phoenix Suns (1993)

1993 was the year when Charles Barkley realized his full potential and took the NBA by storm. He and the Phoenix Suns took on every other opposition in the league and kept their crusade alive. However, they were met by the wrath of an incensed Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals.

MJ and the Chicago Bulls had won the previous two championships and were looking a bit fatigued throughout the league. On the other hand, the Phoenix Suns, led by regular-season MVP Charles Barkley, looked fresh and adopted a newer approach. However, experience counted for the most as the Bulls walked away with an exhilarating 4-2 series victory.

The first two games were played in Phoenix. With home-court support on their side, the Suns were very confident until the Bulls outperformed them in every aspect of the game. In the next two games, Chuck found his form and led the Suns to straight victories, levelling the series at 2-2. The Chicago Bulls won the next two games and clinched the championship for the third time in a row. Michael Jordan was rightfully adjudged as the Finals MVP of the league.

#9. Golden State Warriors vs Washington Bullets (1975)

When you read the final scoreline of 4-0, this series does not look like it deserves a spot on our list. However, when the context is taken into consideration, the whole series looks a whole lot different. In the 1975 season, the Washington Bullets were an all-dominating side and were crushing every team that came in their path. Even in the Eastern Conference finals, they annihilated the Boston Celtics and made their way to the Finals. Therefore, it was all but a certainty that the Bullets would win the championship.

What happened in the Finals has etched itself into the NBA history books. A perfect David vs Goliath scenario went brilliantly sideways as the Bullets capitulated under pressure and the Dubs outperformed them by a country mile. Rick Barry went berserk in all four matches, averaging an astounding 29.5 points and four rebounds per game.

This championship victory is still considered the mother of all upsets. The Warriors were never even considered to be in the running at the start of the season and in the end, they walked away with the biggest honor.

#8. Los Angeles Lakers vs Detroit Pistons (1988)

The Detroit Pistons were the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, unlike their present form. During that time, the entire team was notorious for being physical and hurting opponents to get the win. Moreover, they had Isaiah Thompson, who was one of the best players in the league at the moment. With all of these factors working in their favour, they were considered as the favourites to win the league.

However, that was not to be the case as Magic Johnson and the Lakers found their peak form at the right moment to snatch the series in the final game. Contrary to popular belief, Magic Johnson was not the reason due to which the Lakers won the series. It was James Worthy who was adjudged as the Finals MVP.

Worthy kept producing stellar performances in all six games of the series. However, he blew up during the final one. In that game, he was simply unplayable as he took on the Pistons with remarkable ease and delivered a crucial victory. In the end, the Los Angeles Lakers won the series 4-3, edging the Detroit Pistons to the title.

#7. Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (1962)

This is the series where the iconic Celtics and Lakers rivalry started. Before this series, both teams were considered NBA powerhouses, however, they did not share a mutual animosity towards each other. The series being one of the best Finals in the history of the league, had a slice of everything from drama to flashes of individual brilliance.

Elgin Baylor, an NBA great who passed away recently, dropped a mammoth 61 points in Game 5 of this series. Even with this kind of performances, the Lakers succumbed to pressure in the final game and lost the series 4-3. The kind of stats this game produced is incomprehensible in this day and age. Nevertheless, it must have been a treat to watch so many legends of the game take to the court in one game.

#6. Chicago Bulls vs Utah Jazz (1997)

After the 1995-96 season, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had garnered a reputation of being simply unplayable on their day. Their transitions were smooth as butter and they had players for every position. During the regular season, each player delivered match-winning performances as they cruised along to yet another Finals appearance.

In that season, they were met by the Karl Malone-led Utah Jazz. The Jazz was another team that was lighting up the league with their scintillating performances. Malone led his side from the front as he showcased exhilarating efforts in almost every game of the season. He also won the MVP award that season in honor of his sterling efforts. Even in the finals, Malone was performing at a very high level. However, the Jazz just could not deal with the inevitability of Michael Jordan.

The way Jordan lit up at the advent of a Finals series was something to behold. He was the main player responsible for the Bulls being such a dominating side throughout the season. With Malone performing at the other end, “His Airness” knew that he had to produce something extraordinary. MJ needed to step up and he did so in quite some style by hitting a clutch three-pointer in the famed “food-poisoning” game. Ultimately, the Chicago Bulls walked away with a 4-2 victory to clinch their fifth title in seven seasons.

#5. Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (1969)

Another one of the storied Celtics vs Lakers Finals, the 1969 one was especially memorable because of the animosity that was on display. The sheer quality that was on the court in that series is unimaginable by today’s standard. There were stalwarts like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and John Havlicek on both sides. No matter the direction in which the match went, it was bound to be a tasty affair.

It proved to be so as the Finals were stretched out to seven games. Ultimately, it was the ageing Celtics who used their experience and championship mentality to full effect and pipped the Lakers to a 4-3 victory. However, none of the players was in denial of the brilliance of Jerry West. The Lakers forward torched the Celtics in every game and took home the Finals MVP. This was the only time where a player from the losing side was adjudged to be the MVP.

Even with the likes of Chamberlain and Baylor playing alongside him, West was on another level. He finished the series with an average of 37.9 points and 7.4 assists per game. Apart from his obvious scoring impact, his temperament and demeanour also had a positive effect on his teammates. This might be the only time where a player was praised more than the winning team.

#4. New York Knicks vs Los Angeles Lakers (1970)

Right after the year, they lost the Finals to the Boston Celtics, the Lakers took themselves to the Finals once again on the back of the usual suspects, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. However, they were welcomed by a resurgent Knicks who wanted to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy after a record drought of 17 years.

The series turned out to be quite an even affair with both teams landing significant blows. However, the Knicks had one trump card to which the Lakers simply did not have answers; Willis Reed. The veteran Center proved his worth in the series and probably delivered the most iconic moment in all of Knicks’ history, his iconic walk out of the changing room in Game 7 to a roaring MSG crowd.

That moment has not been forgotten by NBA fanatics because of what happened after. As soon as he stepped out on the court, the game became a battle of the two centres. Wilt Chamberlain was going berserk and had to subdued by someone his size. Reed did that in quite some style, his first two baskets were right in the face of Chamberlain and after that, “the stilt” could not find his bearings. Willis Reed might not have played a lot of minutes in the game, but the impact that Wilt had counted the most as the Knicks won the Championship by 4-3.

#3. Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (1984)

The fact that a Celtics vs Lakers matchup has featured thrice on our list should prove that no other rivalry even comes close. However, this Finals series is probably one of the best among the lot because it featured one of the greatest player showdowns in NBA history; Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson.

This series had a touch of everything ranging from drama to individual brilliance. Tempers flared all over and fistfights kept breaking out, but the quality on display was simply out of this world. Ultimately it was the Boston Celtics who won 4-3, thanks to a sterling effort from Larry Bird.

With the series getting stretched to seven games, the responsibility fell on the stalwarts to deliver. That is why Game 7 of this series is often called the greatest game of basketball. Both Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were going blow-for-blow in their matchups and were almost scoring at will. However, Larry Bird showed greater tenacity than Johnson and took home the championship as well as the Finals MVP honors.

#2. Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors (2016)

Defeating the strongest ever regular season side in the league is a big achievement in itself. Doing it, however, by making a comeback in the NBA Finals is another thing altogether. That is exactly what the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to do when they defeated the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.

Arguably one of the greatest finals of all time, the games had a bit of everything in them. Mutual animosity, technical brilliance, overwhelming emotions, and iconic moments, this series had it all. For anyone who has watched basketball in the last decade, “BLOCKED BY JAMES!” will be a piece of commentary that will stick to their minds for years to come.

What LeBron James and the Cavs managed to achieve was unthinkable at that time. The Dubs looked simply unstoppable as they went on with their crusade to reach the finals. Even in the first two games of the series, the Cavs looked no match for them as they were defeated by a combined total of 48 points. However, the likes of Kyrie, Kevin Love, and LeBron James stitched together an incredible comeback to seal a 4-3 victory for them.

The leadership qualities of LeBron James were well known in 2016. With this victory, the belief was solidified even more. He was even adjudged as the Finals MVP that season. There is no doubt about the fact that the 2016 NBA Finals is one of the best of all time.

#1. Miami Heat vs San Antonio Spurs (2013)

Many action thrillers cannot compare to the level of exhilaration this matchup provided. The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs were undoubtedly the two best teams in the league, and the fact that they met in the Final called for a battle of the ages. The Heat had players like Chris Bosh, D-Wade, LeBron, and Ray Allen. On the other hand, the Spurs had their own set of legends like Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and a young Kawhi Leonard. This series promised to be one for the ages and it did not disappoint.

The whole series was filled with moments that could easily make it to a decade highlight reel. However, Game 6 of this series was something else. With the series poised at 3-2 in favour of the Spurs, Game 6 was a do-or-die situation for the Heatles. As the match commenced, Spurs looked to be the commanding force for almost the entirety of the four quarters. However, the unthinkable happened when Ray Allen made “the shot” to tie the game with seconds remaining.

That shot is considered the greatest three-pointer ever made in the history of NBA finals and rightfully so. When the contextual pressure behind that moment is analyzed, the brilliance and composure of Allen come to the fore. With that, the Heat sent the game into overtime and eventually levelled the series at 3-3.

In Game 7, the Miami Heat had a relatively comfortable ride as they won the game 95-88. With that victory, they clinched the series 4-3 and thus ended probably the greatest NBA Finals in the stories history of this league.

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