Ranking Top 10 NBA Finals Series of All Time

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Top Ten NBA Finals of All Time

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA Finals are set to tip off, I thought it be interesting to take a look at finals past. I’ve always studied basketball history but it was interesting to try to rate one finals over another. How do you do it? Do you go by how competitive the games were? How well played they were, or the significance of the series?

All that are listed are subjective and meant to create discussion. I’ve tried my best to eliminate any bias based on favorite teams, players or eras. I tried to imagine that I was writing the history of the NBA. In doing so, which series would get more pages in the book?

In the end, I considered all of these factors and more. It’s interesting to note that the NBA’s two most dominant franchises, dominate the list. The Celtics appear four times on the list, while the Los Angeles Lakers are listed a whopping seven times. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the two teams have combined for a total of 33 championships.

This year’s finals will provide more opportunities for the NBA’s best to create finals memories with the legacies of Tim Duncan and LeBron James hanging in the balance. Can Duncan take home his fifth title, raising to him elite status among the NBA greats? Or can LeBron begin to build his case for being one of the greatest players who ever lived.

That’s the future. Before we go there, let’s take a trip down memory lane at the top 10 NBA Finals series of all time.

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10.1976 Boston Celtics defeat Phoenix Suns 4-2

Greg M. Cooper- USA Today
Greg M. Cooper- USA Today

No series was defined more by two games than this one. Dave Cowens fueled the Celtics’ victories in Boston before Paul Westphal and Alvan Adams helped Phoenix bounce back in Game 3. The Suns would survive overtime in Game 4 to send the series back to Boston Garden for a pivotal Game 5 that would seemingly never end.

Nearly marred by a series of officiating and timekeeping mistakes, Game 5 saw the Suns and Celtics battle back and forth for two overtimes, until John Havlicek sunk what appeared to be the winning basket. However, there were two seconds returned to the Suns, just enough time for Gar Heard to fling in a buzzer beater to force a third OT. The Celtics would eventually secure the victory and a championship in the following game.

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9. 2010 Los Angeles Lakers defeat Boston Celtics 4-3

Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers won Game 1 handily, but a record eight three-pointers from Ray Allen stole the spotlight in Game 2. Derek Fisher's 11 fourth quarter points in Game 3 helped Los Angeles recapture the home court advantage and Nate Robinson along with Big Baby Davis surprisingly led the Celtics to a 2-2 series tie in Game 4.

Game 5 saw Kobe Bryant put on a classic showing in the third quarter, scoring from every conceivable angle, but Boston still prevailed, forcing the Lakers to fight for their lives in back-to-back home games. They would bludgeon the C's in Game 6 and bury them in Game 7, thanks to timely buckets from the artist formerly known as Ron Artest.

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8. 1985 Los Angeles Lakers defeat Boston Celtics 4-2

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Facing off in the Finals for the second straight year, the Lakers got off to an awful start in Boston. Dubbed the "Boston Massacre," Game 1 saw the Celtics demolish L.A., 148-114. The Lakers, however, would not be deterred.

Stealing Game 2 in the Garden and following it up with a 25-point beating of their own at home in Game 3, Los Angeles was left heartbroken again when Dennis Johnson's buzzer beater tied the series for Boston at two games apiece. The Lakers responded with a Game 5 win and squelched any thought of a Celtic revival with a stellar performance from Kareem in Game 6, leading to the first championship celebration by a visitor in Boston Garden.

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7. 1988 Los Angeles Lakers defeat Detriot Pistons 4-3

John David Mercer-USA TODAY SPORTS
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics had begun to fade away and the Lakers were seemingly left without a challenger. But just as one rivalry died out, another one began.

The Pistons would take two of three games at home and narrowly missed their chance to close out the Lakers in Game 6, despite an all-time Finals performance from Isiah. Thomas was already on a one-man run with 14 consecutive points in the third quarter to shave a Laker lead, but then he sprained his right ankle on an ensuing possession.

In an inspiring display of will, Zeke refused to sit and piled on 11 more points in the quarter to set an Finals record with 25 on 11-13 shooting. The game went back and forth over the final minutes until a questionable foul call on Bill Laimbeer sent Kareem to the line for the game winning free throws. Isiah would finish the game with 43 points.

He'd play sparsely in Game 7 and the Lakers took full advantage, building a substantial lead late in the 4th quarter. The Pistons would not go down without a fight though, cutting the lead to just one point with seconds remaining. But it wasn't enough to overcome a majestic showing from James Worthy, who recorded the first triple double in a Finals Game 7 with 36, 16 and 10.

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6. 2011 Dallas Mavericks Defeat Miami Heat 4-2

Steve Mitchell-USA Today Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA Today Sports

LeBron James' infamous "decision" turned the Heat into made-for-TV villains. The Heat coasted to the finals losing a combined three games in the process, and after 94-82 game one victory, it looked as if the Mavericks would suffer the same fate.

The two teams would trade victories in games 2 and 3, giving the Heat a 2-1 series advantage. The Heat wouldn't win another game in the series. Dirk Nowitzski dominated averaging 26 points per game and pulling down 10 rebounds. Nowitzski victory shed his label as a choker, while it cemented (temporarily) LeBron's.

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5. 1998 Chicago Bulls defeat Utah Jazz 4-2

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The teams entered the final minute of Game 6 tied at 83 when Utah guard, John Stockton hit a three with 42 seconds left. After a Chicago timeout, Jordan took the inbound pass and drove the lane for a quick two points to pull the Bulls to within a point, with 37 seconds left.

On the other end, after a feed in the post to Karl Malone, Jordan (who was just behind him while guarding Jeff Hornacek) came around Malone’s blindside and(fouled) stole the ball. Jordan let the clock wind down before infamously pushing off Jazz guard Bryon Russell in route to the game wining shot. It would be Jordan's sixth and last NBA title.

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4.1980 Los Angeles Lakers defeat Philadelphia 76ers 4-3

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

A 20-year-old, 6-foot-9 point guard who went by the name of Magic, replaced his squad’s injured center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had sprained his ankle in Game 5, on the road no less, and registered a stat line that read: 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block.

Up to that point, Abdul-Jabbar had dominated the course of the match-up, averaging 33.4 points, 13.6 boards and 4.6 rejections per contest, while Magic had played the role of all-around contributor, posting a near triple-double with 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and nine assists a game.

But, with their leader and offensive focal point injured, Magic stepped in and wrote the one of the first paragraphs in his legend, upping his offensive output, demonstrating his unparalleled versatility.

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3.1969 Boston Celtics defeat Los Angeles Lakers 4-3

Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 1968-69 Celtics were considered too old to win another title, they limped through the regular season finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, while the Lakers, led by the three-headed attack of Baylor, West and Chamberlain, cruised to a 55-win season

Jerry West turned in a typical Jerry West performance, averaging almost 38 points a game, becoming the first and only player on a losing team to be awarded an MVP honor.

The rivals battled to a seventh game, which took place in Los Angeles. Jack Kent Cooke, the Lakers owner at the time, was so confident of a Game-7 win, he had thousands of balloons placed in the rafters. Bill Russell, the Celtics player-coach at the time, used the preparations as motivation for his aging team as they took game 7, wining the last of an incredible 11 championships in 13 years.

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2. 1970 New York Knicks defeat Los Angeles Lakers 4-3

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks were locked in a tight finals battle, the worst possible horror struck the Knicks in Game 5: NBA MVP and team captain Willis Reed tore a large muscle in his left leg. The Knicks went on to win Game 5, but few gave them a chance to win the series without Reed.

In Game 6, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West made sure that reality sunk in with a 135-113 drubbing of the helpless Knicks. Doom was apparent in the upcoming Game 7, until a seemingly supernatural occurrence transpired: Willis Reed showed up for warm-ups. Willis would go on to score the first two baskets of the game and stressed Wilt Chamberlain into missing seven of his first nine shots.

More importantly, the emotion of his return charged the batteries of the rest of the Knicks as they stormed to a 61-37 halftime lead and never looked back. The historic win earned the Knicks their first ever NBA Championship.

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1.1984 Boston Celtics defeat Los Angeles Lakers 4-3

Steve Mitchell-USA Today Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA Today Sports

Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics met in the NBA Finals, three times in four seasons (also in ’85 and ’87) but this is the only one that went the full seven games.

The Lakers controlled this series early but the momentum changed when Kevin McHale clothes-lined Kurt Rambis in Game 4. That game was the turning point, an epic overtime battle that stands out in the crowded history of Celtics lore as a franchise highlights. Larry Bird scored 20 points in the Celtics’ 111–102 Game 7 win in Boston to bring home another title over the Lakers. Bird averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds a game in winning Finals MVP.