The battle for the NBA Championship crown is here. The fact the LA Lakers, who hold a 3-1 series lead, are so heavily odds on to triumph over Miami Heat it’s hardly been a classic. Don’t worry though because we’ve put together a list of the five best NBA finals ever – and some of them just go to prove that anything can happen. So read on to see our NBA finals rankings.
5 best NBA finals of all time
5) Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz (1998)
This series was always going to be an interesting watch regardless of what happened on the court. For starters, it’s not often that the same teams face off in consecutive years, with the ’98 finals a repeat of the prior year where the Bulls emerged victorious. Additionally, the holders were on for a hat-trick of titles. It was the Jazz who were seen as the narrow favourites though.
It quickly became clear why the series was predicted to be a tight one. Michael Jordan sank 33 points for the Bulls in the opener but the sides couldn’t be separated and headed into overtime at 79-79. Overtime was all about John Stockton. He hit seven points and assisted another two as the Jazz took a series lead. The advantage didn’t last long though with game two won by the Bulls in the final quarter, as they gained eight points on the Jazz to win 93-88.
Game three proved the odd one out in the series. Why? The Bulls won every quarter to demolish the Jazz 96-54 and take the lead for the first time. Not only was it a demoralising defeat but it also saw the Jazz face the embarrassment of recording the lowest ever points tally in a NBA final against one of the best NBA Finals series performances ever.
Jazz upped their game in match four but still failed to win a quarter, with a Jordan and Dennis Rodman inspired Bulls opening up a 3-1 series lead courtesy of the 86-82 win.
Then game five went the way of the Jazz thanks to Karl Malone. He turned in his best display of the series registering 39 points and nine rebounds during the 83-81 victory. There was no fairytale comeback though, with series MVP Jordan netting 52% of the Bulls 87 points that saw them snatch victory by a solitary point.
4) Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs (2013)
The 2013 build up was as easy as they come for the media previewing the finals. On one hand, you had the Heat in their third final series on the bounce with the prospect of back to back titles on offer after they’d blitzed Oklahoma City Thunder the previous year. The Spurs meanwhile had made the finals four times in their history and held a 100% win rate. When things got underway the series proved an absolute rollercoaster.
LeBron James, at the end of one of the best NBA MVP seasons ever, impressed throughout for the Heat, registering a triple-double to rank first on his side in points, rebounds and assists but even that couldn’t stop the Spurs taking a 1-0 series lead courtesy of a 92-88 win.
In game two, the teams were level deep into the third quarter and the Spurs could sniff a second victory but Miami turned up the – ahem – heat and ran out winners with a 19 point margin.
However it was game three that sent a few shockwaves around the NBA. The Spurs were in sparkling form as they outscored the Heat in every quarter but it was the regularity with which they sank three pointers that really raised an eyebrow. The 16 shots they netted is a finals record whilst the Heat had never tasted such a heavy defeat in the post season.
The Heat weren’t about to be humiliated though and game four saw them turn the tables on the Spurs with James shooting 33 points as a killer second half saw the series pulled back to 2-2 in the series.
Game five though saw the Spurs go in front again. James and Dwyane Wade evenly split 50 points for the Heat in what was a decent enough performance for Miami but everything the Spurs shot turned to basket with a team conversion of 60% on their way to 114 points. 10 more than the Heat scored. With a maximum of two games left in the series and neither side having recorded consecutive wins the omens were looking good for the Spurs.
How tight the series had become was epitomised in game six, with overtime needed to find a winner in a contest that has since gone down in history as one of the best NBA finals games of all time. The Spurs looked like clinching their fifth title as the led by 10 with one quarter remaining. James, who pulled of his second triple-double of the series, had different ideas. He dragged the Heat back into contention before the Spurs re-opened a five point lead with under 30 seconds remaining. The trophy was almost in their grasp. James immediately hit back with a three pointer though and, after a blistering end to end close, OT was needed. The Heat got the job done 8-5 and the finals went to game seven.
The deciding game was never realistically going to live up to previous encounters but the scoring pattern certainly kept everyone guessing as the match was on a knife edge until the final quarter when the Heat’s 23-17 advantage was enough for them to win back to back games for the first time in the series.
3) LA Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons (1988)
In 1987, whilst celebrating their Championship success, coach Pat Riley guaranteed another Lakers title. 12 months later, they had the opportunity to deliver on that promise. It should have been a breeze for the Lakers. It was far from it; instead it became known as one of the best NBA finals in history.
The unfancied Pistons delivered a masterful second quarter in game one that proved the catalyst for a 105-93 victory. Then in game two, the Lakers were simply too good and parity was restored despite the efforts of Adrian Dantley.
Game three took on a similar pattern; the Pistons were scoring well but the Lakers were proving to be an unstoppable beast such was their ability to share the points around and they took a 2-1 lead into game four. Momentum was firmly with the Lakers. Thankfully for the Pistons, their coach Chuck Daly, had a tactical gem up his sleeve.
They went straight for the kill, which forced Johnson to spend most of his energy defending. At the half way mark the Pistons had a seven point lead and Riley made the decision to bench Johnson for fear of fouling. The Pistons capitalised putting a further 11 points between them in the third before killing things off to record a comprehensive 111-86 win. Game five saw another shift in approach, this time from the Lakers who came out swinging. It failed as a long term strategy though as their physicality saw their big players walking a disciplinary tightrope and the Pistons won 104-94 to go 3-2 up.
In game six, Isiah Thomas starred for the Pistons and they were on the brink of becoming Champions until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put away two free-throws with just 14 seconds left to win the game 103-102. The final match was another that went to the death but this time the Pistons, who had been terrific throughout, gave away a sloppy foul late on and the Lakers came home 108-105 to deliver on Riley’s promise.
2) Boston Celtics vs. LA Lakers (1969)
For the second spot in our best NBA finals ever list we take a walk down memory lane to 1969 – some 50 years ago. Despite how long ago it was, very few NBA Finals series since have delivered entertainment like this one. The Lakers were heavily odds on to emerge victorious having out performed the Celtics in the regular season. Things were far from one sided though as the lead swung from side to side in the first two games, which saw a combined 468 points with the Lakers coming out on top both times. The real talking point was the underdog’s coach Bill Russell. He made the decision to go one for one on Lakers’ Jerry West. West made him pay the ultimate price sinking 53 in game one and a further 41 in the second game as the Lakers went 2-0 up.
Needless to say, the opening two matches did little to turn neutrals off the Lakers but a tired looking West struggled to impose himself in match three after the Celtics finally doubled up on the scoring machine. The Celtics took full advantage and won the game 111-105 to make it three games on the spin where both sides had hit over 100 points. When game four rolled around the quality on display was somewhat lacking compared to the incredibly high standards that had been set. Thankfully, there was plenty of drama at hand in the 89-88 Celtics win with the most nail-biting moment a buzzer-beating shot from Sam Jones that rattled off both back and front of the rim before dropping in to mark an incredible series turnaround. 2-2.
The Lakers came out in game five like a wounded animal with their view that the Celtics had fluked their win in the previous match. It certainly did the job as they took a 3-2 lead with a comfortable 117-104 win. They couldn’t maintain their performance though and game six saw things levelled again despite the Celtics not exactly being on their game. Then came the finale.
The Lakers displayed sewer-low levels of class with their pre-arranged ‘celebration plans’, which included balloons and flyers declaring “when” they win the Championship being set up in the arena. Were the Lakers complacent? We’ll never know but they were not on their game and found themselves trailing by three points at half time. Fast forward to the end of the third and that gap had grown to 15. Almost immediately in the fourth, Wilt Chamberlain had to leave the court after racking up fouls. Despite this, they pulled things back to 103-102, Celtics, however, they never got back in front with the Celtics going on to burst their balloons with a 108-106 win.
1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors (2016)
At number one of in our list of NBA Finals ranked, the best NBA finals series ever is the 2016 face off between the Cavaliers – starring James – and the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors were the fancied side having posted a regular season record of an incredible 73 wins. When the series began, it became very obvious why the Warriors were the favourites. They appeared far too strong for the Cavs. Game one had looked like being a close encounter but the Warriors were irresistible in the second half and came through with a 104-89 victory.
In game two, once again, things started off with little between the sides. As the first quarter ended there was just two points between the teams but then the Warriors – and specifically Draymond Green – battered the Cavaliers 33-23, 30-18 and 28-15 to open up a 2-0 series advantage. No team had ever won the opening pair of finals games by such a wide points margin. Of course, when you’re up against a team that boasts James and Kyrie Irving you know that at some point they might come out with a point to prove.
That’s exactly what happened in game three with a hand from Tristan Thompson who took a game high 13 rebounds. A first quarter score of 33-16, Cavs, sent a pretty clear message. The Warriors fought in the second to reduce the gap but James and Irving were scoring at ease. The duo combined for 62 points and the series lead was cut in half as the Warriors lost out 120-90.
It hardly proved the turning point though because game four saw a red-hot Warriors break the Spurs’ three point record from 2013 as they scored 17 to ensure the Cavaliers would have their work cut out to level up the series. Irving did his best but this game was all about Steph Curry who registered 38 points. Not only had the Warriors just broken a 20-year-old record for most wins in a season but they’d gone 3-1 ahead in the series. Never before had a trailing team fought back from such a position. Of course, this Cavaliers team was no ordinary side. The final moments of game four saw Green ‘go’ for James much to James’ annoyance.
If there is a man in basketball you don’t want to annoy, it’s probably LeBron James. Green was suspended for game five and he would have been watching through his fingers as James and Irving took the Warriors apart with an 82 point partnership that saw the deadly duo become the first pair to score over 40 points each in finals history. The Cavaliers were very much alive.
By the end of game six the series was level and all things pointed to a record breaking turnaround. The Cavs were at it from the off with James sinking point after point and Thompson bettering his rebound stats from game three. James wasn’t only making his presence felt in attack though and his block on Curry late in the fourth has become a memorable moment of NBA finals history as the Warriors man reacted badly and was banished from the court. The 115-101 score line was well deserved and, in truth, a Cavs win was never in doubt after a breakneck start.
The decider was a closer affair – the closest in the series in fact. The Warriors led at half time with Green looking to take the last headline of the finals but the second half saw another fightback from the Cavs. Despite that, the Championship was firmly in the balance and the Warriors thought they had it in the bag when Andre Iguodala looked set to score a lay-up only for James to deliver the block. Just a minute later, Irving broke Warrior hearts as he dropped a three pointer in with just 53 seconds on the clock to make it 92-89. Remarkably, the sides had shared 1,398 points in the series up until this point with an exact 50/50 share. The Warriors wouldn’t score again and James had the final say with a free throw to make it 93-89 and win the Cavaliers their first ever NBA Championship. A historic turnaround.
You could earn up to £100 (or currency equivalent) in bonus funds by joining Colossus with our New Player Bonus. Click here to join the action.