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12 Greatest NBA Finals Rematches

by: Esteban On  Monday, June 2, 2014


For the second consecutive year, the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat are going to do battle in the NBA Finals.

Some people probably would have preferred to see some fresh faces in the in the Finals. Some would like to have seen Kevin Durant, the league MVP, play on the game’s biggest stage. Some people just really, really hate Miami.

However, even if your heart didn’t want a rematch between San Antonio and Miami, your brain has to admit that is could be pretty awesome. After all, these two teams went seven games last year and gave us one of the greatest Game 6s of all-time, and there is some serious history on the line. If the Spurs win, it will be their fifth championship in six tries, which will cement Tim Duncan’s status as one of the all-time great champions. On the other hand, if the Heat win, LeBron and company will join  just the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls as the only team to pull off the rare championship three-peat.

Of course, it’s way too early to call this one of the greatest championship rematches in NBA history. The Finals haven’t even started yet. But there’s definitely potential here. And today, to get you thinking about history, here are the 12 other Finals rematches (back-to-back only), presented in order of greatness.

Take a look, and get pumped for Thursday night!


12. Lakers vs. Knicks (1972-73)

lakers knicks 1972 - nba finals rematches

1972: Lakers win 4-1
1973: Knicks win 4-1

The Knicks and Lakers also met in the Finals in 1970, which produced one of the NBA’s classic Game 7s. So if this list were counting non-consecutive rematches, then this particular one would rank higher. As it is, the back-to-back Finals between the Knicks and Lakers in 1972 and 1973 were relatively boring 4-1 affairs.

That being said, the Lakers’ victory in 1972 was notable because Lakers legend Jerry West finally got the job done after having his path to a ring blocked by the Celtics for over a decade.

(Obviously, if you know anything about the NBA, then you know to expect a lot of Lakers-Celtics ahead.)


11. Lakers vs. Knicks (1952-53)

lakers knicks 1953 - nba finals rematches

1952: Lakers win 4-3
1953: Lakers win 4-1

Coming in at #11 we have another Finals rematch between the Lakers and Knicks. However, this one is from the 50s, when the Lakers were still in Minneapolis (hence the name) and led by legendary center George Mikan.

The ’52 Finals was a thrilling series. The teams alternated wins throughout, two games went to overtime, and only two games were decided by double-digit point differentials.

The ’53 Finals? That one was a bit more lopsided.


10. SuperSonics vs. Bullets (1978-79)

supersonics bullets 1979 - nba finals rematches

1978: Bullets win 4-3
1979: SuperSonics win 4-1

The 1978 Finals between the Bullets an SuperSonics was a meeting of playoff cinderellas and produced a classic seven-game series.

The 1979 series? They were all close games, but Seattle won four in a row after losing the opener.


9. Lakers vs. Pistons (1988-89)

lakers pistons 1989 - nba finals rematches

1988: Lakers win 4-3
1989: Pistons win 4-0

This one could have been one of the greatest Finals rematches. The Lakers won Game 7 in 1988 by the score of 108-105, and both teams’ rosters were still full of future Hall of Famers (Isiah, Magic, Kareem, Rodman, Worthy, Dumars, Dantley) when they met again in 1989.

However, the series’ potential took a serious hit when the Lakers lost Byron Scott to injury prior to Game 1. Then it went in the dumps altogether when L.A. lost Magic during Game 2. At that point all hope for a Lakers three-peat were lost, and the Pistons went on to sweep and win the first of their two consecutive championships.


8. Lakers vs. 76ers (1982-83)

lakers 76ers 1983 dr j - nba finals rematches

1982: Lakers win 4-2
1983: Sixers win 4-0

The Kareem & Magic Lakers won their first championship in 1980, beating Dr. J’s Sixers in six games. Then they did it again in 1982. However, in 1983, Dr. J was joined by some guy named Moses Malone, and this time they swept the Lakers right out of the finals.


7. Celtics vs. Hawks (1960-61)

celtics hawks 1961 - nba finals rematches

1960: Celtics win 4-3
1961: Celtics win 4-1

Back when the Hawks played in St. Louis and led by Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, they had a pretty great rivalry with the dynastic Boston Celtics.

The 1960 series was a classic battle in which the teams traded wins throughout. However, by 1961 the Hawks were on the downward slope of their run while Bill Russell and the Celtics were just hitting their prime. So when Boston opened the Finals with a 129-95 win, it was obvious the Hawks would not be getting revenge.


6. Celtics vs. Lakers (1965-66)

celtics lakers 1966 bill russell - nba finals rematches

1965: Celtics win 4-1
1966: Celtics win 4-3

Coming in at #6 we have the first of four Celtics-Lakers rematches, which should really come as no surprise since these two franchises combined have won half of all NBA titles and have faced each other in the NBA Finals 12 times.

In any case, Jerry West and the Lakers gave the Celtics a run for their money in 1966, but Bill Russell, John Havlicek and company proved too formidable, prevailing 95-93 in the decided Game 7.


5. Bulls vs Jazz (1997-98)


1997: Bulls win 4-2
1998: Bulls win 4-2

Who doesn’t remember these showdowns? Jordan & Pipper vs. Malone & Stockton? This rematch had some serious firepower, and it was actually a lot better than the 4-2 decisions suggest.

The ’97 series featured “The Flu Game” (Game 5), in which Jordan scored 38 points despite suffering from food poisoning. (Hey, he was throwing up all night the night before, so people called it the flu.) Meanwhile, the ’98 series featured Jordan sinking one of his most iconic clutch shots to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead with 5.2 seconds left on the clock.

So the Bulls and Jazz never played seven games, but they were good series nonetheless.


4. Celtics vs. Lakers (1962-63)

celtics lakers 1962 game 7 overtime - nba finals rematches

1962: Celtics win 4-3
1963: Celtics win 4-2

The Celtics didn’t have Havlicek yet, but they had Russell, Cousy, and Heinsohn, and together they prevailed over Elgin Baylor’s Lakers in 1962 and 1963.

Oh, and that seven-game series in 1962? Game 7 was decided in overtime.

It was the second and last time an NBA championship would be decided in overtime. The first time? That’s up next…


3. Celtics vs. Hawks (1957-58)

hawks celtics 1958 - nba finals rematches

1957: Celtics win 4-3
1958: Hakws win 4-2

In 1957, the Boston Celtics made their first ever trip to the NBA Finals and, led by Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Tommy Heinsohn, they prevailed over Bob Pettit and the St. Louis Hawks 125-123 in double overtime in Game 7—a game that would go down as one of the greatest in NBA history.

However, the following year Pettit and the Hawks did something no other team was ever able to do—beat Bill Russell’s Celtics in the NBA Finals.

I said the Celtics and Hawks had a pretty good rivalry, didn’t I?


2. Celtics vs. Lakers (1968-69)

celtics lakers 1969 sam jones game 4 - nba finals rematches

1968: Celtics win 4-2
1969: Celtics win 4-3

The Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, and 1968. However, in 1969 the Celtics dynasty was winding down. Bill Russell was 35 years old and slowing down. The Lakers, who already had Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, had acquired Wilt Chamberlain and won 55 games in 1968-69. This time, they were the favorites to win.

But of course they didn’t. Despite losing the first two games of the Finals thanks to an insane 94 points from Jerry West, the Celtics came back to win Game 3 and 4, and then Games 6 and 7.

After losing another loss to the Celtics in the Finals, 108-106, Jerry West was absolutely heartbroken. He averaged 38 points per game in the series, had a triple-double in Game 7, and was named the MVP of the Finals, but it still wasn’t enough.

However, in a truly great act of sportsmanship, Bill Russell stayed out on the court after the rest of his teammates had run off to the locker room to celebrate. He gave West a big hug and expressed his admiration for his performance.

Three years Later, West finally got the monkey off his back and avoided going down as the greatest player never to win a championship.


1. Celtics vs. Lakers (1984-85)

lakers celtics 1985 jerry buss - nba finals rematches

1984: Celtics win 4-3
1985: Lakers win 4-2

By the early ’80s, the Lakers and Celtics were dynasties again under different superstars. The former had Kareem, Magic, and Worthy; the latter had Bird, Parrish, and McHale. The Lakers beat the Sixers in ’80 and ’82. The Celtics beat the Rockets in ’81.

Finally, in 1984, these teams met in the Finals again, and it ended just like it always had before: with the Celtics winning a classic Game 7.

However, in 1985, these two teams met again. And finally, for the first time, the Lakers prevailed.