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The 13 Greatest Game 7s in the History of the NBA Playoffs

by: Esteban On  Monday, June 3, 2013

best nba game 7s all time

Last year, the Boston Celtics took the powerhouse Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. This year the Indiana Pacers have done the same. Will the outcome in 2013 be different than the outcome in 2012? Will Roy Hibbert and the Pacers oust LeBron and the defending champs? The people of the great state of Indiana sure hope so. However, most non-partisan NBA fans would be satisfied with a really good game. After all, it’s been a few years since we’ve seen a really epic Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs.

Today, in honor of Game 7 between the Pacers and Heat, we’re going to give you a rundown of the greatest Game 7s in NBA history. Will tonight’s tilt eclipse any of these? I kind of doubt it…but I sure as hell hope so. Take a look.


13. Bucks-76ers, 1986 East Semifinals

13 1986 eastern conference semifinals bucks 76ers dr j

Bucks 113, 76ers 112

The 76ers had knocked the Bucks out of the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons, then they drove them to seven games in 1986. However, in a remarkably tight Game 7 that featured such superstars as Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Charles Barkley, the Bucks would finally prevail. How’d it happen? Philadelphia’s Dr. J improbably missed a wide open 15-footer with two ticks left on the clock. Ouch.


12. Lakers-Blazers, 2000 West Finals

12 2000 western conference finals game 7 lakers blazers shaq comeback

Lakers 89, Trail Blazers 84

The Lakers trailed the Blazers by 15 points early in the fourth quarter, so it looked like Portland had things pretty well wrapped up. But then they missed 13 shots in a row and the Lakers went on a 15-0 run to tie the game. Then the Lakers went on another 6-0 run in the final minute and a half to take the lead for good—a run which was capped by a thunderous Kobe-to-Shaq alley oop.

To Lakers fans, this Game 7 is an all-time classic. To Trail Blazers fans, it’s an all-time choke. So for that reason, I’ve decided to split the difference and rank it pretty low on our list.


11. Celtics-Lakers, 1984 NBA Finals

11 1984 nba finals lakers celtics bird johnson

Celtics 111, Lakers 102

What was special about the 1984 NBA Finals? Oh, not much…except for the fact that it was the another meeting between arch rivals and the first of three NBA Finals showdowns between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson—a player rivalry which would basically resuscitate the gasping NBA. Game 7 was close and hard-fought, and the perfect ending to a dramatic series.


10. Lakers-Kings, 2002 West Finals

10 2002 western conference finals lakers kings

Lakers 112, Kings 106 (OT)

Many Kings fans think Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals was one of the greatest conspiracy’s in pro sports, so they probably don’t think all that much of Game 7. However, the rest of us can recognize Game 7 for what it was: an epic battle in which the outmanned and exhausted Lakers nevertheless outwilled Sacramento on their home court to win in overtime. Shaq and Kobe combined for 65 points, while only Mike Bibby really showed up to play for the Kings, scoring 29.


9. Lakers-Pistons, 1988 NBA Finals

9 1988 nba finals game 7 james worthy triple double

Lakers 108, Pistons 105

The 1988 NBA Finals was a fantastic series that yielded a fantastic Game 7. The Lakers were defending champs trying to become the first team to repeat since the 1969 Celtics. The Pistons, with Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Dennis Rodman, were a team on the cusp of greatness. Game 7 was as back and forth as the series—Detroit took held the lead at the half, but the Lakers made a big push in the third quarter and then held on for a three-point victory. The hero? It wasn’t Magic or Kareem, but James Worthy. His only career triple-double (36 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists) couldn’t have come as a more opportune time.


8. Celtics-Lakers, 1962 NBA Finals

8 1962 nba finals lakers celtics

Celtics 110, Lakers 107 (OT)

The Celtics won eight consecutive championships from 1959-66 and 11 in 13 years. However, this dynasty was not without its close calls, and Game 7 of the 1962 Finals against the Lakers was definitely one of them. The game was tied 100-100 in the closing seconds of regulation when Los Angeles got a golden opportunity to win the game; however, Frank Selvy would miss his mid-range jumper. That sent the game to overtime, where the Celtics took advantage of their second life and beat L.A. by three points.


7. Celtics-Lakers, 1969 NBA Finals

7 1969 nba finals (lakers celtics) bill-russell-jerry-west-wilt-chamberlain

Celtics 108, Lakers 106

At number seven we have yet another Game 7 between the Celtics and Lakers. And this time the Lakers didn’t just have Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. They also had some guy named Wilt Chamberlain, who got to go toe-to-toe with the Celtics’ Bill Russell.

Unlike Game 7 in 1962, Game 7 in 1969 wasn’t close all along. Boston actually took a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter. However, in that final quarter the Lakers would make an epic surge and get within two points of victory before a last-minute jumper by Don Nelson sealed victory for the Celtics.


6. Rockets-Suns, 1995 West Semifinals

6 1995 western conference semifinals rockets suns mario elie shot

Rockets 115, Suns 114

En route to their second consecutive championship in 1995, the Rockets had to beat four teams with better records than them. One of those teams were the 59-win Phoenix Suns. Phoenix got out to a 3-1 series lead, but the Rockets clawed their way to a Game 7, which they won by one single point thanks to a three-pointer by Mario Elie with 7.1 seconds left on the clock—easily one of the biggest clutch shots of the 90s.




5. Celtics-76ers, 1981 East Semifinals

5 1981 eastern conference semifinals celtics 76ers bird game 7

Celtics 91, 76ers 90

This brutally physical Game 7 between two powerhouse 62-win teams starred none other than Larry Bird and Julius Erving. The former sank the winning shot with one minute left to play; the latter nearly sank the winning shot on a missed, last-ditch, out-of-bounds alley-oop pass. The game wasn’t really pretty, but it was as competitive as games come, and it was the perfect ending to a series in which five of seven games were decided on the last play.


4. Celtics-76ers, 1965 East Finals

4 1965 eastern conference finals celtics 76ers havlicek steals the ball

Celtics 110, 76ers 109

Coming in at number four is another close call for the 1960s Celtics dynasty. The 76ers were just 40-40 in 1964-65 while the defending champs were 62-18. However, the Sixers put up one hell of a fight, winning all three of their home games to push the series to Game 7 at Boston Gardens—a game that turned out to be pretty incredible.

With just a few minutes left in the game and Boston up seven, legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach decided it was time to light his traditional victory cigar. However, Philadelphia stormed back to make it a one-point game, then got possession in the final seconds of the game before the most famous steal in NBA history—courtesy of John Havlicek—saved the Celtics.


3. Celtics-Hawks, 1988 East Semifinals

3 1988 eastern conference semifinals bird wilkins celtics hawks

Celtics 118, Hawks 116

As you probably have noticed, Larry Bird has been involved in a lot of legendary Game 7s. However, Bird never played in a Game 7 better than the one that decided the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

What made this game special? Well, it didn’t go to overtime or anything. It just featured two teams playing insanely good basketball (combined 59% shooting) led by two superstars having incredible games…that’s all. Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins dropped a ridiculous 47 points, while Bird scored 34—20 of which were int the fourth quarter—to lead Boston to a two-point victory.


2. Mavericks-Spurs, 2006 West Semifinals

2 2006 western conference semifinals game 7 spurs mavericks

Mavericks 119, Spurs 111 (OT)

We’ve had a few years now to let the masterpiece between the Mavs and Spurs in the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals percolate inside our heads. The verdict, seven years later? It’s probably the second-greatest Game 7 in NBA history.

This Game 7 had it all: two 60-win teams (only the third time two such teams met in a Game 7), a huge comeback (the Spurs were down by 20 at one point), overtime, and of course monster performances from two superstar centers (Dirk had 37, Duncan had 41). By the end you almost hated to see one team lose. But someone had to, and in this case it was the Spurs.


1. Celtics-Hawks, 1957 NBA Finals

1 1957 nba finals game 7 (celtics hawks)

Celtics 125, Hawks 123 (2OT)

So what Game 7 takes the top spot? The only Game 7 in NBA Finals history to go to double overtime.

At the end of a remarkably even, back-and-forth game, Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks made two free throws to send the game to overtime. Then, during the first overtime period, the two teams traded baskets again. Finally, during the second overtime period, Boston found themselves with a two-point lead with just a few seconds left on the clock—but with St. Louis in possession of the ball. However, after a last-second Hail Mary-type inbound pass went awry, Boston and rookie Bill Russell won their first of many, many Championships.

Don’t feel too sorry for the Hawks, however. They would prevail over the Celtics the following year, just before the Celtics went on their eight-year run.