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5 Greatest Games 7s in NBA Finals history

Naveen Ganglani
5 Greatest Games 7s in NBA Finals history
As the Cavs and Warriors prepare for a memorable winner-take-all meeting, look back at the greatest Game 7s in NBA Finals history

MANILA, Philippines – The Cleveland Cavaliers have rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals to force a seventh and deciding contest for all the marbles against the Golden State Warriors. With one game to determine which team wins it all, this much is clear: all previous statistics go out the window. 48 minutes – that’s all that matters now. 

Every possession and every second of Game 7 can make or break the outcome. After the remaining 4 quarters of what’s been a really fun NBA season comes to an end, it will be either the team who has completed the dream season having their hands raised in victory, or the other side, led by its liberated King, celebrating on enemy territory.

When the ball is thrown up in the air at the Oracle Arena on Monday, June 20 (Manila time), it will be the 19th Game 7 in NBA Finals history. The home team is 15-3 in previous match ups, with the 1978 Washington Bullets, who beat the Seattle Supersonics 105-99, being the last road team to steal the title in a seventh game. 

If the Cavs beat the Warriors, not only will they be the fourth road team to win a Game 7 in the NBA Finals; they’ll also become the first team in 33 tries to rally from down 1-3 and win the championship. Clearly, stakes are high for a team which represents a city that has been unable to celebrate a pro sports championship since 1964.

Before the biggest game of the season takes place in two days, let’s look back at the 5 greatest and most unforgettable Game 7s in NBA Finals history.

WALK OF FAME. One of the most iconic moments in NBA history took place at The Garden in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Screen grab from YouTube

5. New York Knicks defeat the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-99 (1970)

At first read, you might wonder why this counts in the list considering the large gap in the final score. Truth be told, the Knicks didn’t even give the Lakers a chance to make it a close game.

Why is Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals on the list? Because one of the most iconic moments in NBA history took place to start the game – and very well may have inspired the Knicks’ title-clinching win.

Let’s rewind a bit first. In Game 5 of the series, New York legend and that year’s season MVP, Willis Reed, injured his leg on a drive and missed the remainder of the contest as well as Game 6.

There were questions if Reed, whose ailment was considered serious, could play in Game 7, and it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to do so leading up to the game.

But moments before tip-off, a limping Reed walked onto the floor to the applause of the Madison Square Garden crowd. The big man then hit his first two shots of the game and defended NBA great Wilt Chamberlain for the remainder of the first half, while another Knicks legend in Walt Frazier finished with 36 points, 19 assists, and 7 rebounds to lead New York to the win.

“The Lakers turned around, including Wilt, turned around and saw this and then lost the game right there,” said Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News in a documentary.

Even if they went up against a Lakers team which had Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, New York was able to fight past the injury to its best player and win its first franchise title, with Reed – named the Finals MVP – providing a moment that has been replayed in the decades that followed.

GREAT BIGS. Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Patrick Ewing was one of the NBA's greatest rivalries. Photo by BOB STRONG / AFP

4. Houston Rockets defeat the New York Knicks, 90-84 (1994)

The 1994 NBA Finals is one of the most underrated series in NBA history. Not only did it feature two of the premier big men of the era – Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing – it also included two teams whose depth and toughness were stupendous; an interruption from one of the most iconic car chases – OJ Simpson – in the history of mankind; and a blocked shot from John Starks that many die-hard Knicks fans will remember to their graves.

Both teams split the first 4 games before New York won at home in Game 5 to get within a win of a title. With the Rockets up 86-84 in the dying seconds of Game 6, John Starks called for a screen from Ewing then pulled up for a potential title-clinching 3-pointer. Unfortunately for New Yorkers, Olajuwon blocked the shot.

Here’s something important you have to know about that play: after Ewing had given Starks the screen, he was wide open rolling to the rim and could have forced overtime. Starks went for the clincher, missed, and then had one of the most horrible games in NBA history in Game 7.

While Olajuwon had 25, 10, and 7 in Game 7, Ewing was held to only 17 points in 17 shot attempts. Starks took 18 attempts from the field and made only 2, including going 0-of-11 from the deep.

Big shots in the final period by Hakeem, the league’s MVP, and Vernon Maxwell, who had 21 points, sealed the title for the Rockets.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD. Kobe Bryant's final NBA championship came against the Celtics. Photo by EPA/LARRY W. SMITH

3. Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Boston Celtics, 83-79 (2010)

The argument of who is the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time may never have a concrete answer. You could say Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Chamberlain, West, Magic Johnson, or Kobe Bryant and each option deserves consideration. 

But this much is clear: had Bryant never been able to defeat the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, he may not be in the Mount Rushmore of Laker greats.

After losing to the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, the 5-time champion Bryant became obsessed with getting back at the Lakers’ forever rival, and for moments in the 2010 NBA Finals, it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen.

Boston went up 3-2 in the series, but Los Angeles responded with a blowout win in Game 6 (with some help from an injury to Kendrick Perkins) to force a do-or-die. The Celtics, however, went up early and even led by double digits in Game 7. Fortunately for Bryant’s legacy, Los Angeles rallied in the defensive-oriented game to make it a close affair down the stretch.

Bryant, who was named finals MVP, finished with 23 points on 6-of-24 shooting, but did have 15 rebounds. Surprisingly enough, it was a big layup by Pau Gasol and clutch 3-pointer by Ron Artest which proved to be the biggest shots of the game, allowing Kobe to run off, ball in hand, to the screaming and joyful fans in Downtown LA, ready to celebrate banner number 16.

THE KING'S COURT. LeBron James' Game 7 performance clinched Miami's third franchise title. Photo by EPA/LARRY W. SMITH

2. Miami Heat defeats San Antonio Spurs, 95-88 (2013)

For all the criticism he gets, LeBron James and his all-around brilliance will put him in the top 5 of the greatest NBA players of all time discussion once he hangs up his sneakers. Part of his remarkable career include unforgettable individual performances to last a lifetime, but his showing in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs, I believe, is his best masterpiece yet.

Of course, it’s worth noting that James and the Heat wouldn’t be in the position to win back-to-back titles had Ray Allen not saved LeBron’s legacy in Game 6 with the most clutch shot in NBA history, one that will haunt Spurs fans for the rest of their lives:

In the do-or-die contest, LeBron didn’t need Chris Bosh to grab the biggest rebound of his career or Allen to make a miracle. James, dared to shoot jumpers all game long by Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, drilled basket after another and affected the game with his rebounding, playmaking, and defense en route to 37 points, 12 boards, and 4 assists.

The Spurs, resilient as ever, battled neck-and-neck with the Heat with neither team able to establish a comfortable margin throughout the game. Back and forth they went, exchanging haymakers, until a miss by Tim Duncan that could have tied the game at 90 with 46 seconds left provided the opening for the Heat closeout.

With 27 seconds remaining, James drilled a 19-foot J that proved to essentially be the game-winner, leading the way for his second straight Finals MVP award.

It was a series to remember with a storybook-like conclusion.

PARTNERSHIP. Magic Johnson (R) and coach Pat Riley (L) won their final title together in 1988. Photo by RHONA WISE / AFP

1. Los Angeles Lakers defeat Detroit Pistons, 108-105 (1988)

Before the Bad Boys became NBA champions, even they had to go through heartbreak, and there are little NBA Finals series more devastating that the one Detroit had to endure in 1988.

After finally getting past Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics in the East, the Pistons stole Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles before losing Games 3 and 4 then winning the following two at home to go up 3-2. Game 6 seemed like the Pistons would somehow steal the championship on the road, but even Isiah Thomas’ game of a lifetime wasn’t enough.

Thomas, who badly twisted his ankle in the third period, still finished with an NBA Finals record 25 points in the quarter, basically on one good foot. 

The Lakers, however, forced a Game 7 by winning 103-102. 

In the do-or-die contest, LA used a massive 36-21 third period led by James Worthy and Byron Scott to go up by as much as 15. Detroit rallied with a run of its own, getting within two points multiple times.

After Joe Dumars hit a mid-range jumper with 1:17 left in the game to cut the Lakers’ lead to 102-100, Dennis Rodman committed an unnecessary foul that sent Scott to the line, and it all went downhill from there for Detroit.

Worthy was named Finals MVP after a tremendous Game 7 performance with 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Detroit, nonetheless, bounced back the following year by sweeping the Lakers to get its vengeance and first franchise championship, and then won a second straight title in 1990 against the Portland Trail Blazers. –

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