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3 all-time classic NBA Finals series

By LLM Reporters  |  June 1, 2022
basketball
Image Credit: vverve/Bigstock.com

The legacy of Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors was extended on Friday night, with a 120-110 Western Conference-sealing victory over fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks to clinch a sixth NBA Finals Series berth in the last eight years.

At the time of writing, the Warriors’ Finals opponents are yet to be decided, with the Eastern Conference going to a deciding seventh game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. With their feet up awaiting an opponent in the meantime, you would back the Warriors’ odds to win the NBA Finals at this point.

So while Kerr’s side and Warriors fans count down the days until Thursday’s game one, let’s take a stroll down memory lane to whet the appetite with classic NBA finals showdowns featuring each of this year’s prospective finalists.

2016 – Cleveland Cavaliers 4-3 Golden State Warriors

It was sweet vengeance for Tyronn Lue’s Cavaliers in a re-match of the 2015 finals, which were won 4-2 by Golden State.

Both sides had come off Conference winning seasons, but, perhaps surprisingly, it was the first time since 2008 that the two top seeds from each Conference met in the NBA Finals – and it was a cracker.

Golden State had earned home court advantage courtesy of an incredible 73-9 record over the regular season, and they stormed out to a 2-0 lead with blowout victories on home soil – and you would have been brave to predict anything other than a comfortable championship win for the California-based franchise.

That view did not change drastically as the sides split the next two games played on the Cavs’ home court, giving Golden State a 3-1 lead with three left to play. But things were beginning to bubble up under the surface, as evidenced by a late game tussle between Warriors’ Draymond Green and Cavs star LeBron James, which led to Green being suspended for a momentum-changing game 5 in Oakland.

Cavaliers stars James and Kyrie Irving became the first teammates in NBA Finals history to 40 or more points in the same game, a display of clutch shooting powering the Cavs to a 112-97 win, before James repeated that feat back in Cleveland, scoring 18 consecutive points between the third and fourth quarters in a fiery clash that saw Warriors MVP Steph Curry foul out of the game.

The two teams entered game 7 with a tied aggregate score of 610, and the final game did not disappoint. The lead changed 20 times at the Oakland Arena, with the Cavs coming out on top 93-89 – becoming the first team in history to win a championship series from a 1-3 deficit, and LeBron was crowned MVP, underlining his credentials with a crucial defensive play, which became known as ‘The Block’, to deny Andre Iguodala’s lay-up attempt with the scores tied at 89 each and less than two minutes on the clock.

Scoring the winning points at a basketball game
The NBA Finals is the annual championship series of the National Basketball Association (NBA)

2013 – Miami Heat 4-3 San Antonio Spurs

Featuring among the all-time greatest finals series featuring this year’s contenders was the 2013 vintage, which was again decided in the high-pressure environment of game 7, at the end of a gripping series.

Miami Heat – the first Eastern Conference side to reach three successive finals since the fabled Jordan-era Chicago Bulls side dynasty of the 90s – boasted two previous Finals MVPs in their ranks, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, while the Spurs also had a pair in the form of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

2013 marked the final use of the 2-3-2 pattern of home fixtures. From 2014 onwards, the preferred 2-2-1-1-1 system has been in use.

The first two legs were split in Miami, with Tony Parker capping a fourth-quarter comeback in the opening game to stun the hosts, who struck back with a strong 19-point victory to tie the scores before the three games in San Antonio.

San Antonio put on a shooting clinic in their first home game of the series, blowing Miami away with a 113-77 win that included an NBA Finals record 16 three-pointers – and Spurs fans dared to dream with two further home legs to come – but Miami showed champion mentality to recover from that humbling to win the fourth game just 48 hours later, LeBron James top-scoring with 33. Spurs won the final game at the AT&T Center with another fine shooting display to take a slender lead into the final two legs back in Miami.

And then came game six, which has come to be known by fans as ‘The Headband Game’, a reference to LeBron’s trademark headband being displaced during a slam dunk during the final quarter – and it did not return to the superstar’s head for the rest of the game. With less than 30 seconds on the clock, the Spurs held a five-point lead that led officials to begin preparing for the championship presentation, only for some all-time clutch shooting to force overtime.

In the end, it was James’ triple-double performance that inspired the Heat to an overtime 103-100 victory to tie the series, with LeBron himself saying it was one of the best games he’d ever played in, a view widely shared by the basketball community.

The Heat closed out the series with a seven-point victory in game 7, with James picking up the MVP award.

The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals

1984 – Boston Celtics 4-3 Los Angeles Lakers

A finals series choc-full of Hall of Famers, including Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, played out one of the all-time NBA championship battles in 1984, with Eastern Conference champions the Celtics snatching a dramatic and sometimes controversial series.

An historic rivalry was revived after Bird and Johnson were drafted to the Celtics and Lakers respectively in 1979, and they would both star in 83/84 campaign, culminating in this finale, in which two of the seven games went to overtime.

The Lakers won the first tie at Boston Garden before succumbing back at home in overtime to square the series. Los Angeles looked to be heading to a 2-0 lead before a crucial steal late in the game forced overtime, and the Celtics took full advantage. Nonetheless, Lakers recovered to go 2-1 up, but in a running theme for the series, were unable to make the most of their opportunities, with the Celtics once again snatching an overtime victory to tie the series 2-2, despite trailing by five points with less than a minute to go in regular time.

Game 5 of an incredibly brutal physical series, known as the ‘Heat Game’, saw Larry Bird star in a Celtics victory played in sapping heat at the non air-conditioned Boston Garden, with temperatures soaring to 36 degrees centigrade. Conditions were so challenging that, at one stage, an oxygen tank had to be offered to Lakers star Abdul-Jabbar.

The Lakers responded and bravely battled against the Celtics’ notoriously physical tactics to win game 6, but paid for their inability to close out winning positions in game 7, where the Celtics powered home in a classic.