May 30, 2010, 3:35 PM EDT
We are staring at another great one. Potentially. These 2010 Lakers and Celtics match up pretty evenly, both are championship tested; both have big stars and thrilling role players. This is going to be fun.
But can it match up to the all-time greats? The best finals series ever? That is one tall mountain to climb. I mean, just look at the competition, the five best NBA finals series ever:
1970, New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games
Everyone kept expecting the Lakers to break through with a title — they had the most talent in the league, but they kept losing to a better team in the Celtics. Now the LA stars were taking on another real team, this one from New York.
This series had a couple of legendary moments. First there was Game 3, where Knicks legend Dave DeBusschere hit what looked like the game winner with three-seconds to go, only to have Jerry West hit a three-quarter court shot to tie it. Maybe the greatest shot in NBA Finals history.
Then there was Game 7, when the Knicks lone star player Willis Reed was not expected to play. But he came out of the tunnel, fired up the fans, and played a few minutes of quality basketball where he fired up his team. And the Knicks won Game 7 and the title on that emotion.
1998 Finals, Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in six games
Michael Jordan’s greatest moment. Which is saying something. But in capping off the second of the two Bulls three-peats Chicago had to beat the best team they had faced in the finals. That Jazz team had Karl Malone and John Stockton at their peaks.
The Jazz won game one, the Bulls Game 2 and then Chicago had a defensive game for the ages in Game 3, holding the Jazz to 56 points. For the game.
But it was the final 30 seconds of Game 6 that had Jordan leaving on top. The Bulls were down one point. First Jordan made a blind-side steal on Malone in the post. Then he made the one of the signature shots of his career — the cross-over (and push off) on Byron Russell, followed by the pure jumper that won the game. And the series. The perfect shot that capped of Jordan’s career.
1976 NBA finals, Boston Celtics defeat the Phoenix Suns in six games
Can one game propel an NBA finals into the best five ever? It can when you are talking about the best game ever.
Game five is legendary. It had been a dramatic game that was tied 95-95 at the end of regulation. Then at 101-101 at the end of the first overtime. In the second overtime the Celtics had a three-point lead late (remember, this was before the three-point shot) and it looked like a win. But then a Suns jumper by Dick Van Arsdale makes it a one-point game again.
Then on the inbound Paul Westphal steals the ball from John Havlicek, and the Suns have life. Curtis Perry missed a jumper but the rebound is taped back out to Perry who doesn’t miss twice. Suns 110-109. But Havlicek is not to be outdone. He gets the ball with five seconds to go and drives down the left hand side and puts up an off-balance runner that falls as time ticks off the clock. Celtics win 111-110, fans storm the court. It’s all over…
Except it’s not. The referees know there should be one second left on the clock. They pull the Celtics out of the locker room for a final play. The Suns have to go the length of the court in one second to get a game winner. But then in a moment of veteran savvy Westphal calls a timeout, when the Suns have none. It’s a technical foul — and Boston hits the free throw to go up 112-110 — but the Suns get to take the ball out at half court.
Gar Heard hit the turn-around jumper near the elbow to tie the game again and send it to a third overtime. Just go watch the shots yourself.
The Celtics won the third overtime handily, and won the series in six. But Game 5 alone made this an all-time great.
1969 Finals, Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games
Lakers fans, you may not want to read this one or compare it to 2010.
The Lakers had the big-name stars in their prime: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Celtics had stars like Bill Russell — who was the player coach — and Sam Jones, but they were both injured. The Celtics were considered too old. They had finished fourth in the East, then surprised everyone in the playoffs.
Game 1 saw Jerry West just go off, to the tune of 53 points. Havlicek answered with 43 in Game 2. Game 4 had Don Nelson (yes, that Don Nelson) hit the game winner on a shot that hit the back of the rim as time expired, go straight up higher than the backboard, then fall back through. We had ourselves a shootout, a series that went seven games.
That Game 7 was in the Fabulous Forum, and no home team had ever lost a Game 7 in NBA finals history. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, because he was sure of victory. What he did was motivate the Celtics, who were angered by the balloons (not as much as West, however) and Boston hit 8 of their first 10 shots and went on to win the title. The balloons never came down.
It was the Celtics 11th title in 13 years. It was also the last one for that dynasty.
1984/1985 NBA Finals, combined, Boston and Los Angeles (Celtics won 1984, Lakers won 1985)
Two different years, but it’s hard not to think of them together, the same way it is hard not to think of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird separately. This was the two titles that may have been their peak.
The Celtics beat the Lakers in 1984 in a physical, hard-fought seven game series. Kevin McHale turned the emotion of this series when he clotheslined Kurt Rambis. That came in Game 4, which was an epic overtime battle that became one of the defining moments of the Bird-era Celtics. It was one of the best Finals games, ever. Boston had to go seven but won a series that validated Bird and his legend and finally gave him a win over Magic in a big game.
Then 1985 it was Magic’s turn. It didn’t look that way at the start, with Boston winning Game 1 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre, a 148-114 thrashing of the Lakers. It was so bad Kareem Abdul-Jabbar apologized to his teammates afterward. And while Magic was Magic in 1985 the Lakers were still Kareem’s team and he took over. He scored 29 in the deciding Game 6 and was the series MVP.
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