For basketball fans nothing encapsulates the sheer excitement of the sport quite as much as the annual NBA Finals.
It’s the opportunity for the teams from the Western and Eastern Conferences to battle it out to prove who are the season’s best team. And, to get there, we’re guaranteed some very dramatic and surprising games.
While every set of playoffs offers its distinct highlights, some years throw up truly extraordinary encounters. Sometimes these completely defy the NBA Finals odds, others include truly outstanding individual performances.
A prime example of the latter came in the 1986 first round game between the Chicago Bulls and this year’s favorites, the Boston Celtics. In the tense game that saw the Celtics win by 135-131 Michael Jordan – who else? – scored 63 of the losing side’s points.
But, in terms of overall classics, even that game doesn’t make it into the top five. Read on and you’ll soon see why.
1976: Game 5 – Boston Celtics 128, Phoenix Suns 126
For our first game we’re going back very nearly half a century, This was only the second ever playoff appearance for the Suns but they fought like veterans. With the series tied 2-2 they travelled to Boston in the hope of taking the lead. And, while the game didn’t deliver for them on that front, there was no shortage of drama.
The game is still regarded as the closest in NBA history, requiring no less than three overtimes to deliver a result. At the end of the second one it seemed like John Havlicek had seized victory but there were still two seconds on the clock. The Phoenix’s Curtis Perry then overtook a two-point lead to force the third overtime, but Boston eventually prevailed.
1980: Game 6 — Los Angeles Lakers 123, Philadelphia 76ers 107
This was the decade in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the undoubted pillar around which the whole Lakers team was built. So deep into their playoff encounters with the 76ers his ankle injury was seriously bad news for the team. Fortunately, they had a not-so-secret weapon in the form of a certain 20-year-old rookie called Magic Johnson.
He soon imposed his 6’9” frame all over the game and announced to everyone that here was a major new talent. In the course of the game he scored 42 points and finished with 15 rebounds and seven assists. He was also instrumental in taking the Lakers to their first title win in eight years.
Game 3, 1993 – Phoenix Suns 129, Chicago Bulls 121
You might expect any game in which Michael Jordan played to see him as the conquering hero. But this certainly wasn’t the case in this epic game from the 1993 finals. Lasting a full 3 hours and 20 minutes and being the other three OT match in our list, it seemed like it might never end.
Going into the game the Bulls were 2-0 up and the Suns were determined to fight back. Star of the match was Charles Barkley who scored 25 points and 19 rebounds. Also instrumental in their success was Kevin Johnson who played for an exhausting 62 minutes in total. But, while it was a great individual victory for the team, the Bulls went on to win the series by the end of Game 6.
2013: Game 6 – Miami Heat 103, San Antonio Spurs 100
This was year in which the Heat were hotly-tipped to become champions. However, they were trailing 2-3 by the time that this game came around. Things were looking bleak at the end of the third quarter with the Spurs opening up a ten-point lead. Up stepped LeBron James on his way to recording a game total of 32 points, 11 assists and ten rebounds.
While this put the Heat in a better position, they still trailed by three points in the final seconds of the game. So Ray Allen’s shot of his career couldn’t have been better timed as, with 5.2 seconds, left he forced an overtime. This gave Miami the breathing space they needed to dominate and eventually win.
2016: Game 7 – Cleveland Cavaliers 93, Golden State Warriors 89
It would be fair to say that this game led to the greatest moment in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ history, the one and only time they have won the title. At one point in the series they were trailing the Warriors 1-3 which made their eventual victory even more remarkable.
It was a truly see-sawing game which saw the leaders change no less than 20 times with he score being tied 11 times. At half time the Cavaliers were losing by seven points at 42-49. But the second half saw them score 51 points to the Warriors 40 as well as closing down the game for the opponents in the dying minutes of the game.
As to this year’s finals, fans everywhere will be hoping to see another game to match or, better still, exceed these examples. So let’s hope it really does happen.