The best players versus the best players. The fans at their most rabid. The stakes at their highest.
There’s no shortage of legendary, classic moments from NBA Finals history: Michael Jordan’s shrug, Magic Johnson’s five-position game, Allen Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue. Who could forget Ray Allen’s last-second three or Willis Reed’s heroic return from injury?
Here’s a look at some of the best NBA Finals games of all time. And sure, this list is highly subjective—but we can certainly all agree that these are historic games that will never be forgotten.
25. Game 4, 1978 — Washington Bullets 120, Seattle SuperSonics 116 (OT)
Due to a scheduling conflict, this game was held at the Seattle Kingdome in front of a then-record crowd of just under 40,000 fans. Seattle’s Dennis Johnson and Washington’s Charles Johnson went back and forth to end overtime before Charles Johnson hit three late shots to lead the Bullets to victory.
24. Game 4, 2000 — Los Angeles Lakers 120, Indiana Pacers 118 (OT)
After missing Game 3 of the series with an ankle injury, Kobe Bryant took center stage and showed the world why he would become one of the all-time greats. Bryant hit clutch shot after clutch shot—especially after Shaquille O’Neal fouled out in overtime—on the road to victory, finishing with 28 points, five assists and four rebounds.
23. Game 4, 2008 — Boston Celtics 97, Los Angeles Lakers 91
The Celtics staged a historic comeback to get their first championship since 1986. Boston overcame a 24-point deficit in Game 4 against the Lakers to grab a 3-1 series lead on the way to a six-game series win.
22. Game 5, 2005 — San Antonio Spurs 96, Detroit Pistons 95 (OT)
Robert Horry earned the name “Big Shot Rob” for good reason. Known for his clutch shooting on the biggest stage, Horry nailed a three with 5.9 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Spurs a 3-2 series lead. They won the series in seven.
21. Game 3, 1993 — Phoenix Suns 129, Chicago Bulls 121 (Triple OT)
It was rare to see Michael Jordan come up short in the playoffs, but that’s what happened in Game 3 of the 1993 Finals: Jordan was only 19 of 43 from the field as the Bulls fell to Charles Barkley and the Suns in only the second ever triple-overtime Finals game. Jordan righted the ship, however, putting up 55 points the following game to give Chicago a 3-1 series lead.
20. Game 1, 1992 — Chicago Bulls 122, Portland Trail Blazers 89
Michael Jordan had so many memorable moments that they have their own nicknames. This was “The Shrug.”
Jordan set an NBA record with 35 points in the first half; after his sixth three-pointer, he turned around and shrugged toward the announcers’ table. It was another legendary moment for No. 23.
19. Game 7, 2010 — Los Angeles Lakers 83, Boston Celtics 79
It wasn’t necessarily a masterpiece, but the conclusion of this fantastic series had all the drama and passion you could hope for. With Kobe Bryant (6 of 24) struggling from the field, it was Ron Artest (7 of 18, 20 points) who picked up the slack and hit a big three-pointer with a minute remaining.
18. Game 6, 1988 — Los Angeles Lakers 103, Detroit Pistons 102
Isiah Thomas put forth one of the gutsiest efforts in Finals history, even though the Pistons suffered a one-point defeat at the hands of the Lakers. Even though he suffered a severely sprained ankle in the third quarter, Thomas finished with an NBA-record 25 points in the quarter and a total of 43 points, eight assists and six steals for the game in a memorable performance.
17. Game 6, 1958 — St. Louis Hawks 110, Boston Celtics 109
After a crushing seven-game loss to the Celtics in 1957, Bob Pettit made sure that history wouldn’t repeat itself. The Hawks star put up 50 points—including 19 of his team’s final 21—to lead the Hawks to the championship.
16. Game 3, 1970 — New York Knicks 111, Los Angeles Lakers 108 (OT)
Before Steph Curry made half-court shots seemingly routine, there was Jerry West, who sent Game 3 of the 1970 Finals into overtime by nailing a miracle 60-foot shot and evening the score at 102.
15. Game 3, 2006 — Miami Heat 98, Dallas Mavericks 96
Dwayne Wade turned the 2006 Finals around with 42 points in this dramatic comeback victory. The Mavericks had a 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter—but Wade rallied the Heat with 15 points in the fourth, even while playing most of the quarter with five fouls. Miami won the next three games for their first championship.
14. Game 2, 2011 — Dallas Mavericks 95, Miami Heat 93
With a 15-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Heat were on the verge of a commanding 2-0 lead before the Mavericks staged a wild comeback, as Dirk Nowitzki led the way with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
13. Game 4, 1987 — Los Angeles Lakers 107, Boston Celtics 106
The third and final meeting between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the NBA Finals featured one of Johnson’s most iconic moments: his game-winning hook shot in Game 4. The Lakers went on to win the series in six games.
12. Game 1, 2001 — Philadelphia 76ers 107, Los Angeles Lakers 101 (OT)
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers ultimately won their second straight championship in 2001, but not before a major scare from the 76ers in Game 1. Allen Iverson exploded for 48 points in the upset win, and his infamous step over a fallen Tyronn Lue sealed his statement to the world.
11. Game 7, 1984 — Boston Celtics 111, Los Angeles Lakers 102
The first of three NBA Finals matchups between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson was as legendary as their rivalry. Even though the Lakers came up short after a fiere rally from a 14-point deficit late in the fourth quarter of Game 7, the series—and the Magic/Bird animosity—injected the NBA with a much-needed adrenaline boost after several down years.
10. Game 7, 1969 — Boston Celtics 108, Los Angeles Lakers 106
The Celtics won their 11th championship in 13 years by defeating the Lakers yet again, but it was not for a lack of effort from Jerry West. The Lakers standout notched a triple-double in Game 7 (42 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists) and became the first Finals MVP from a losing team.
9. Game 7, 1957 — Boston Celtics 125, St. Louis Hawks 123 (Double OT)
The only Game 7 to ever go to double overtime. Tom Heinsohn had 37 points and 23 rebounds to lead Boston to its first of 17 championships.
8. Game 7, 1988 — Los Angeles Lakers 108, Detroit Pistons 106
The Lakers’ second consecutive title capped a frenetic finish to this seven-game series. Los Angeles nearly let a 15-point lead slip away before winning 108-105. James Worthy led the way with his only career triple-double in Game 7 (36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists).
7. Game 7, 1962 — Boston Celtics 110, Los Angeles Lakers 107 (OT)
The Lakers came within inches of ending Boston’s championship reign when Frank Selvy’s shot in the final seconds trickled off the rim. Instead, the game went to overtime, where Boston prevailed with its fourth straight title. Bill Russell tied his own record with 40 rebounds to go along with 30 points.
6. Game 7, 1970 — New York Knicks 113, Los Angeles Lakers 99
Willis Reed gave the Knicks the emotional boost they needed to win their first championship. Against all odds, Reed returned into the starting lineup for Game 7 after missing the previous game with a torn thigh muscle. Even though he wasn’t playing at 100 percent, he drained the first two shots of the game—and the Knicks never looked back.
5. Game 6, 1998 — Chicago Bulls 87, Utah Jazz 86
Michael Jordan’s career with the Bulls appropriately ended in spectacular fashion. With 5.2 seconds remaining, Jordan drove to his right before abruptly stepping back. (Did he push Byron Russell? Probably.) Either way, he nailed the jumper, and the one-point victory gave Chicago its sixth championship in eight seasons.
4. Game 5, 1997 — Chicago Bulls 90, Utah Jazz 88
Three simple words: “The Flu Game.” In the gutsiest performance of his other-worldly career, Michael Jordan put up 38 points while battling both the Jazz and the stomach flu. The 90-88 win gave Chicago a 3-2 series lead after losing the previous two games.
3. Game 6, 2013 — Miami Heat 103, San Antonio Spurs 100 (OT)
Officials had already begun to put yellow rope courtside in preparation of a Spurs trophy presentation, but Ray Allen and the Heat had other plans. Down three points late, Allen drained a three from the right corner with 5.2 seconds left to send it to overtime. The Heat prevailed in OT and won their second consecutive title following Game 7.
2. Game 6, 1980 — Los Angeles Lakers 123, Philadelphia 76ers 107
Magic Johnson lived up to his nickname—and then some—in the finest game of his storied career. With league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sidelined, Johnson—then just 20 years old—started at center in Abdul-Jabbar’s place instead of his usual role at point guard. Johnson went on to play all five positions and put up 42 points in the Game 6 series-clinching victory.
1. Game 5, 1976 — Boston Celtics 128, Phoenix Suns 126 (Triple OT)
Some games just can’t be contained in regular time. The sequence to end the second overtime defies belief. There’s an incredible steal, two of the most clutch shots you’ll ever see, and a clock controversy. At one point, fans rush the court. One attacks the referee. It would take a third overtime for the Celtics to come out on top; they won the series one game later.
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