The NBA Finals is the championship series of the National Basketball Association, played under a best-of-seven playoff format. The team winning the Eastern Conference Finals earns one of the two berths in the championship round, with the other going to the team that wins the Western Conference Finals. This event has been played at the conclusion of every NBA and BAA season in history, the first being held in 1947.
The series was initially known as the BAA Finals prior to the 1949–50 season when the Basketball Association of America (BAA) merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) to form the NBA. The competition oversaw further name changes to NBA World Championship Series from 1950 to 1985, as well as a brief stint as the Showdown, before settling on NBA Finals in 1986. Since 2018, it has been officially known as the NBA Finals presented by YouTube TV for sponsorship reasons.
The NBA Finals was initially structured in a 2–2–1–1–1 format. In 1985, to ease the amount of cross-country travel, it was changed to a 2–3–2 format, where the first two and last two games of the series were played at the arena of the team who earned home-court advantage by having the better record during the regular season. In 2014, the 2–2–1–1–1 format was restored. The first two games are played the higher-seeded team's home, the following two at the home of the lower-seeded team, and the remaining three are played at each team's home arena alternately.
A total of 19 franchises have won the NBA Finals, with the Los Angeles Lakers winning in 2020. The Lakers and the Boston Celtics hold the record for the most victories, having both won the competition 17 times. The Boston Celtics also won the most consecutive titles, winning eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. The Los Angeles Lakers have contested the NBA Finals the most times, with 32 appearances. The Eastern Conference has provided the most champions, with 38 wins from 10 franchises; the Western Conference has 34, from 9 franchises.
- 1 History
- 1.1 1947–1956: Beginnings and Lakers dynasty
- 1.2 1957–1969: The Celtics dynasty
- 1.3 1970–1979: Decade of parity
- 1.4 1980–1990: Celtics–Lakers rivalry and the Bad Boys Pistons
- 1.5 1991–1998: Bulls dynasty
- 1.6 1999–2010: Lakers' and Spurs' dominance
- 1.7 2011–2019: Heat wave and Warriors dynasty
- 1.8 2020–present
- 2 Finals Appearances
- 3 Franchises with no Finals appearances
- 4 Franchises with no Conference Finals appearances
- 5 Criticism
- 6 Trivia
- 7 External links
As basketball is a major sport in the United States, the Final round has become a large-scale event on the sports calendar, with higher popularity than the concurrent Stanley Cup final in the National Hockey League.
Memorable Finals series include:
- 1955: The Syracuse Nationals faced the Fort Wayne Pistons. Although both markets were small (so little coverage was offered) the series was spectacular. The home team won every game, the Nats taking the series with a free throw by George King at the end of Game 7, breaking a 91-91 tie.
- 1957: The first championship in the Celtics dynasty. A hard-fought series against the Hawks. Jim Loscutoff won the game for the Celtics in double overtime in Game 7 with two free throws.
- 1962: The series to which many ascribe the beginnings of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. In Game 7, the clock was winding down with the score tied at 100, when Frank Selvy missed an easy winning basket for the Lakers. The Celtics then won in overtime.
- 1966: Another Celtics-Lakers classic. In Game 7, Red Auerbach, Boston's coach, lit up his traditional "victory cigar" only to see his team's lead melt away. They held on, however, and won 95-93.
- 1969: For the third time in the decade, a Lakers-Celtics final went to seven games. Chamberlain, Baylor, and West, three of the game's best players, were now all playing for the Lakers. Nevertheless, Celtics player-coach Bill Russell's experience led to an effective counter-attack. In Game 4, with the Celtics trailing 2-1 in the series and 88-87 in the game, Sam Jones hit an incredible buzzer-beater with three seconds left to even the series and preserve the Celtics' dynasty. They won Game 7 by two points in the Forum. Jerry West was named Finals MVP, making him the first (and only) player to win the award despite being from the losing team.
- 1970: Game 3 produced an instant classic. The Lakers trailed 102-100 with three seconds left, but Jerry West scored a basket from 60 feet away to even the game. Although the Knicks eventually won in overtime, the Lakers produced momentum. Unfortunately for them, the injured Willis Reed, who supposedly was out of Game 7, came back in to inspire the Knicks just when they needed it. New York claimed its first title.
- 1976: Chiefly remembered for the fifth game, a classic that was often labelled afterwards as the "greatest NBA game ever". With the series tied 2-2 against the Phoenix Suns, Boston took a huge lead at Boston Garden but could not hold it. The game was marred by several controversies but eventually went to Boston in three overtimes, 128-126. Boston then won Game 6 and took their 13th championship.
- 1980: The Lakers took a 3-2 lead against the Sixers, led chiefly by Abdul-Jabbar. After he sprained his ankle in Game 5, Magic Johnson (then little known) shifted to center and played out a huge game in Game 6, scoring 42 points and netting 15 rebounds as the Lakers clinched the title 123-107. This was the series that Julius Erving executed the behind-the-backboard "Baseline Move".
- 1984: The long-awaited rematch of the Lakers and Celtics after their rivalry was revived in 1980 with the Johnson-Bird pair entering the league. The Lakers almost swept the Celtics but a crucial steal in Game 2 led to a tie game and the Celtics were able to win in overtime to tie the series. The Lakers won Game 3 easily and almost won Game 4, but were again thwarted. Now tied 2-2, the Lakers and Celtics each held serve at their home court to send the series to Boston for Game 7. Game 5 was a classic, with Bird coming up with a huge game in one of the (literally) hottest games ever in non-air conditioned Boston Garden. Game 7 was a close game, but eventually went to the Celtics, breaking the Lakers' hearts once again. It marked the Celtics' eighth consecutive NBA Finals victory over the Lakers. The 1984 championship series was one of the most watched in history, with soaring TV ratings.
- 1987: The Lakers and Celtics clashed again. Johnson beat the Celtics on a buzzer-beater in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead and swing the momentum towards the Lakers. Los Angeles won in six.
- 1994: The Knicks took a 3-2 lead on the Houston Rockets and had a chance to clinch it in Game 6 but John Starks' final shot was blocked by Hakeem Olajuwon. The Rockets would win game 7 and win their first NBA Championship. During Game 5 (June 17, 1994) most NBC affiliates (with the noted exception being WNBC-TV out of New York) split the coverage of the game between NFL Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson's low speed freeway chase with the LAPD. A visibly confused and distraught Bob Costas (NBC's anchor for their NBA Finals coverage) said during the telecast from Madison Square Garden that the Simpson situation was "not just tragic but now surreal."
- 1997: In Game 5, aka "The Flu Game", Michael Jordan, the star player on the Chicago Bulls, was sick and weakened due to a stomach virus. But that didn't matter to Jordan as he still managed to score 38 and lead the Bulls to victory and a 3-2 series lead. Soon, Michael would capture his fifth NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award, bringing the Bulls to their fifth title in seven years.
- 1998: The Chicago Bulls raced to a 3-2 lead but nearly lost Game 6 until Michael Jordan made two key baskets for a one-point win and the championship. It would be Jordan's last season with the Bulls.
- 2000: The Los Angeles Lakers new coach Phil Jackson led the team to a 67-15 regular season and then led them to the Final to play against Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to their 12th championship while winning the Finals MVP trophy averaging 38 point and 16.6 rebounds the Lakers could have easily have gone to a Game 7 but Shaq and Kobe scored a combined of 67 points to win Game 6 116 to 111.
- 2005: The defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons faced off against the San Antonio Spurs. The first four games were blowouts for the home team, but Game 5 was a very tight game (a scene reminiscent of 1976). Robert Horry shot a three-pointer at the end of the first overtime for a 96-95 win. The Spurs thus took a 3-2 lead going home and although losing Game 6 narrowly, could not be kept from clinching the championship in Game 7.
- 2006: The Miami Heat, fresh off their four games to two victory over the rival Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, lose the first two games to the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas only to come back and sweep the middle three games in Miami and win the series 4-2 in game six in Dallas. The Heat thus became only the third team in NBA history to win the finals after being down 2-0, following the 1969 Boston Celtics and the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers. This series was also notable for being the first championship won by veterans Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, and Antoine Walker, as well as finals MVP Dwyane Wade.
1947–1956: Beginnings and Lakers dynasty
|Year||Western Champion1||Margin||Eastern Champion|
|1947||Chicago Stags||4–1||Philadelphia Warriors|
|1948||Baltimore Bullets||4–2||Philadelphia Warriors|
|1949||Minneapolis Lakers||4–2||Washington Capitols|
|1950||Minneapolis Lakers||4–2||Syracuse Nationals|
|1951||Rochester Royals||4–3||New York Knicks|
|1952||Minneapolis Lakers||4–3||New York Knicks|
|1953||Minneapolis Lakers||4–1||New York Knicks|
|1954||Minneapolis Lakers||4–3||Syracuse Nationals|
|1955||Ft. Wayne Pistons||4–3||Syracuse Nationals|
|1956||Ft. Wayne Pistons||4–1||Philadelphia Warriors|
During the 1940s and early 1950s decades, the NBA Finals were nothing but a minor highlight on the calendar. Franchises which had previously been in the National Basketball League tended to dominate, especially the Minneapolis Lakers.
1957–1969: The Celtics dynasty
|Year||Western Champion||Result||Eastern Champion|
|1957||St. Louis Hawks||4–3||Boston Celtics|
|1958||St. Louis Hawks||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1959||Minneapolis Lakers||4–0||Boston Celtics|
|1960||St. Louis Hawks||4–3||Boston Celtics|
|1961||St. Louis Hawks||4–1||Boston Celtics|
|1962||Los Angeles Lakers||4–3||Boston Celtics|
|1963||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1964||San Francisco Warriors||4–1||Boston Celtics|
|1965||Los Angeles Lakers||4–1||Boston Celtics|
|1966||Los Angeles Lakers||4–3||Boston Celtics|
|1967||San Francisco Warriors||4–2||Philadelphia 76ers|
|1968||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1969||Los Angeles Lakers||4–3||Boston Celtics|
For most of the late 1950s and the 1960s, the Celtics always seemed to have the upper hand on Chamberlain's teams. With the establishment of the Celtics dynasty in 1957, Russell instantly became the star of the league. The seventh game of that year's championship was decided on a Celtics basket in the final seconds of the second overtime.
In 1964, Chamberlain, who had moved to California with his team, led the San Francisco Warriors to a Western Conference championship, but again failed to conquer the Celtics. The following season, he was traded back to Philadelphia, to join the 76ers that had moved to cover the vacancy created with the departure of the Warriors.
The year 1966 produced a clash between the two stars in the playoffs, and Boston won 4-1. However, Chamberlain's desire to score was so great that the coach made a famous statement to him to seek to play a team game, not an individual game, to avoid drawing double-teams. His newfound spirit brought his team to a new record of 68 wins the following season, and they defeated the Celtics and then advanced to, and won, the Finals.
In 1968, Boston overcame a 3-1 deficit against Philadelphia to once again arrive in the Finals. Playing against Jerry West's Lakers, they seemed doomed to defeat. Nevertheless, for the sixth consecutive time, they defeated L.A., winning by a four games to two margin. The following year was similarly frustrating, again with the Celtics winning the East and the Lakers winning the West. However, now that Chamberlain had been traded to the Lakers, early estimates had the probabilities going largely in favor of the Lakers. They easily won the first two games at the L.A. Forum. However, when the series shifted to Boston Garden, the Celtics won two close games, by margins of 110-105 and 88-87, respectively, in Games 3 and 4. The fifth game, played into the Forum, returned the advantage to the Lakers, but the sixth game was a massive Celtics win, Chamberlain scoring just two points in the entire duration. Game 7 was held on May 5, balloons being hung up in the arena in anticipation of a Lakers victory. Russell immediately used the balloons as an inspiration for his team, and they raced off to an early start and held off a furious Lakers comeback to win 108-106 and take the series, their eleventh championship in thirteen years. This game represented the final one in this first incarnation of the dynasty.
1970–1979: Decade of parity
|Year||Western Champion||Result||Eastern Champion|
|1970||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||New York Knicks|
|1971||Milwaukee Bucks||4–0||Baltimore Bullets|
|1972||Los Angeles Lakers||4–1||New York Knicks|
|1973||Los Angeles Lakers||4–1||New York Knicks|
|1974||Milwaukee Bucks||4–3||Boston Celtics|
|1975||Golden State Warriors||4–0||Washington Bullets|
|1976||Phoenix Suns||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1977||Portland Trail Blazers||4–2||Philadelphia 76ers|
|1978||Seattle SuperSonics||4–3||Washington Bullets|
|1979||Seattle SuperSonics||4–1||Washington Bullets|
In 1970, a classic final featured the New York Knicks against the Lakers. In the waning moments of Game 3, with the series tied, Jerry West hit a basket from sixty feet away to tie the game, a shot which would become one of the most famous ever. Although the Knicks went on to win the game in overtime, and carried on their momentum for a 4-3 win, the Lakers were still far from defeated. Just two seasons later, the coach introduced a new plan, and it proved effective, as, after losing several games at the beginning, the team won thirty-three games consecutively, the longest such streak in NBA history. By the season's end, they had broken the record for most wins in a season, tallying up 69 wins, one more than the 76ers of 1966-67. The Lakers finally, after a tough playoff season, took home the championship for the first time since the Minneapolis days. The Knicks won the championship again in 1973, using much the same formula, for their second franchise victorious season.
The 1974 championship went back to the Celtics as the remaining players demonstrated excellent teamwork and resilience in the Finals.
The late seventies were characterized by a major breakthrough of the league's western franchises. After compiling a 48-34 regular-season record, the Golden State Warriors swept the heavily-favored Washington Bullets 4-0 in a Finals series where the odds heavily favored the eastern representative. This accomplishment has largely been overlooked, but the history books nevertheless betray this remarkable season, comparable to that of the New York Yankees in 1978.
The next year, 1976, saw the rise of the Phoenix Suns. Only eight years in existence, they overcame a losing record early in the season to build remarkable win streaks to finish 42-40. The events culminated in an upset victory in seven games over Golden State in the Western Conference championship. In the finals against Boston, the teams split the first four games. Game 5 became one of the most memorable games of all. It went into three overtimes but eventually went to Boston 128-126. Two days later the Celtics finished it off for their 13th championship.
The Decline of the NBA
The late seventies were seen by many to be a low point in the history of the NBA. Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the only remaining major stars, and college basketball took over the fans' support, as players who would later become NBA stars were playing. The West continued to dominate in these years, with the Portland Trail Blazers winning the 1977 trophy and the Seattle SuperSonics winning in 1979.
1980–1990: Celtics–Lakers rivalry and the Bad Boys Pistons
|Year||Western Champion||Result||Eastern Champion|
|1980||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Philadelphia 76ers|
|1981||Houston Rockets||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1982||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Philadelphia 76ers|
|1983||Los Angeles Lakers||4–0||Philadelphia 76ers|
|1984||Los Angeles Lakers||4–3||Boston Celtics|
|1985||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1986||Houston Rockets||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1987||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|1988||Los Angeles Lakers||4–3||Detroit Pistons|
|1989||Los Angeles Lakers||4–0||Detroit Pistons|
|1990||Portland Trail Blazers||4–1||Detroit Pistons|
The 1980s saw either the Lakers and the Celtics in the Finals every year, with the Lakers winning 5 times, the Celtics 3, the Sixers and Detroit once.
The 1979 NCAA finals featured Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Michigan State team facing off against Larry Bird's Indiana State team. Michigan State won the game. This meeting has been immortalized, in fact, it attracted the largest ever TV audience for an NCAA game, with 38 percent of all television viewers that night tuned to the game.
Bird had actually been drafted the year before, but later decided to stay in college for one more year, and the two superstars both entered the league that same year, 1979, leading their respective teams to dazzling heights. Johnson's Lakers reached the final in 1980, and took a 3-2 lead, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could not play in Game 6 due to injury. Johnson shifted to center, ended up playing every position on the court and scored 42 points to win his first championship, a remarkable performance in the annals of the sport.
Boston won the 1981 championship against Houston thanks to Bird, and the team continued dominating the league afterwards, taking many Atlantic Division titles.
Philadelphia, led by Moses Malone and Julius Erving, took the 1983 prize, losing only once in the entire playoffs. (Malone had predicted earlier that they would sweep every series.) However, in the 1984 NBA Finals, the Celtics and Lakers met for the first time since 1969, and again, from Bird's performance, the Celtics toppled Johnson's Lakers 4–3. The seventh game of that series attracted the largest TV audience ever for an NBA game, and the second-largest ever for a basketball game, with only the game between the two stars played five years earlier having a larger audience.
In the 1985 championship, the Lakers made amends for their previous eight losses to the Celtics by defeating them in six games. After losing the first game in a rout, 148–114, dubbed the "Memorial Day massacre", they won four out of five, including a clincher in Boston Garden, to finally end the long years of failing to defeat the Boston franchise in the Finals.
The 1986 NBA Finals brought the Celtics back against the Houston Rockets. Boston won in six games, taking their sixteenth championship, with the MVP award going to Larry Bird, his second Finals MVP trophy.
In 1987, the Lakers and Celtics met again for a rubber match. Both sides had won one series, and now a third was being played. The Lakers pounded out two victories, but Boston took the third. Game 4 would be one of the most memorable games ever played. In the waning moments, Magic Johnson scored a skyhook to give the Lakers a 107–106 win, and a 3–1 series lead. They dropped one more, but won Game 6 to take the series. This championship team was recently voted the best in history by the NBA's officials and experts.
In 1988 and 1989, the aging Celtics failed to reach the Finals, with the Lakers and Pistons becoming the best of their conferences. The first contest between the two teams went to Los Angeles in seven games, but the second was a Detroit sweep. The next year, Detroit won it all again, and the name "Bad Boys" became attached to the team for their rough, physical play.
1991–1998: Bulls dynasty
|Year||Western Champion||Result||Eastern Champion|
|1991||Los Angeles Lakers||4–1||Chicago Bulls|
|1992||Portland Trail Blazers||4–2||Chicago Bulls|
|1993||Phoenix Suns||4–2||Chicago Bulls|
|1994||Houston Rockets||4–3||New York Knicks|
|1995||Houston Rockets||4–0||Orlando Magic|
|1996||Seattle SuperSonics||4–2||Chicago Bulls|
|1997||Utah Jazz||4–2||Chicago Bulls|
|1998||Utah Jazz||4–2||Chicago Bulls|
The majority of the 1990s was marked by the rise of the Chicago Bulls dynasty (otherwise known as the "Michael Jordan era"). Coached by legendary head coach Phil Jackson and led by superstar Michael Jordan, the Bulls won six championships from 1991 to 1998. Supported by such remarkable players as Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, Jordan led the Bulls to victory in all NBA Finals series they competed in, and won the Finals MVP award each time. He cemented his position as the best player in the league with dominating performances over superstar Magic Johnson in 1991 and MVP candidate Clyde Drexler in 1992. The Bulls became the second team to sweep games 3 through 5 on the road in Finals history when they did so in the 1991 series against the Lakers (the first being Detroit in 1990). Particularly memorable were the 1993 Finals, which became an offensive showdown between Jordan and regular-season MVP (and close friend) Charles Barkley.
Jordan decided to retire after the 1993 championship season, in part because of the death of his father. The Bulls soon faltered. Without the Bulls to compete against, the Houston Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, won the 1994 and 1995 NBA championships. The Game 7 between the Rockets and Knicks in 1994, would be the last game 7 of the NBA Finals until the 2005 series between San Antonio and Detroit.
Jordan decided to return to basketball in 1995, after a short stint as a baseball player. Although he failed to lead the Bulls to the Finals in that year, he returned to pre-retirement form the next year and led the Bulls to one of the most memorable seasons ever. The 1995–96 Chicago Bulls finished the regular season with a record of 72–10, which was at the time, the best regular-season record of any team in the history of the NBA. They proceeded to dominate in the conference playoffs, and then went on to defeat Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and the Seattle SuperSonics in 6 games in the Finals to win the franchise's 4th NBA championship.
In 1997 and 1998, the Bulls met with perhaps their most formidable foe, the Utah Jazz. Led by John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz were defeated in both Finals by Jordan's unstoppable play. The Bulls had a cast of characters that proved to be the final pieces to help Michael obtain the ultimate prize. No-names such as Jud Buechler, Randy Brown, Bill Wennington, and Luc Longley were key players that rarely produced an astounding amount of points, but proved vital in the use of intangibles (setting picks, rebounding, creating turnovers, etc.). Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson and Dennis Rodman were all pieces that were added to the puzzle to create the dynasty known as the "Untoucha-Bulls." Before the beginning of the 1999 season, Phil Jackson decided to retire, setting off a chain reaction that resulted in most of the team, including Jordan and Pippen, leaving the Bulls, ending the dynasty. With no foundation of youth to build upon, the Bulls were a shell of their former selves, becoming a lottery-bound team for the next six seasons, and did not make the playoffs again until 2005.
1999–2010: Lakers' and Spurs' dominance
|Year||Western Champion||Result||Eastern Champion|
|1999*||San Antonio Spurs||4–1||New York Knicks|
|2000||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Indiana Pacers|
|2001||Los Angeles Lakers||4–1||Philadelphia 76ers|
|2002||Los Angeles Lakers||4–0||New Jersey Nets|
|2003||San Antonio Spurs||4–2||New Jersey Nets|
|2004||Los Angeles Lakers||4–1||Detroit Pistons|
|2005||San Antonio Spurs||4–3||Detroit Pistons|
|2006||Dallas Mavericks||4–2||Miami Heat|
|2007||San Antonio Spurs||4–0||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|2008||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Boston Celtics|
|2009||Los Angeles Lakers||4–1||Orlando Magic|
|2010||Los Angeles Lakers||4–3||Boston Celtics|
* lockout-shortened 50-game season
In the late 1990s and throughout most of the 2000s, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, both of the Western Conference, dominated the NBA. In the 1998–99 off-season, veteran stars Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley signed with the Houston Rockets, joining Hakeem Olajuwon in an attempt to win the championship, particularly Barkley. Although they were the favorites, the Los Angeles Lakers beat them in the playoffs, and San Antonio Spurs, led by the "Twin Towers" Tim Duncan and David Robinson, won the West and proceeded to end the injury-plagued New York Knicks magical run (they had been the #8 seed) in the NBA Finals.
For the next 3 years, from 2000–2002, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, won the NBA Finals in dominating performances, each year completing the task in one fewer game than the previous Finals. They were particularly dominating in the 2002 Finals, as they kept the lead virtually all the time in every game; only for a short while near the beginning of Game 4 did the New Jersey Nets gain any significant lead in a game. The Lakers sweep of the Nets was the first sweep in the Finals since Houston swept Orlando in the 1995 Finals.
However, the Lakers streak of championships ended when they were defeated by the Spurs in the semifinals of the 2003 playoffs, who proceeded to defeat the New Jersey Nets in the finals.
In 2004, veteran stars Gary Payton and Karl Malone signed with the Lakers, hoping to win a championship that had long alluded them in their careers. Along with Bryant and O'Neal, they formed what many expected to be one of the best teams in NBA history. The Lakers were the clear favorites to win the NBA championship. However, the Detroit Pistons, under coach Larry Brown and led by defensive star Ben Wallace and offensive floor general Chauncey Billups, defeated the injury-and dissension-ridden Lakers in five games to become the first Eastern Conference team since the Bulls in 1998 to win the NBA championship. The Pistons became the first home team to sweep games 3 through 5 in a Finals series (particularly notable because the home team in those games does not have home-court advantage in the series and is usually considered the underdog in the series). Previously three road teams did it (Detroit in 1990, Chicago in 1991 and the Lakers in 2001). Point guard Billups won the Finals MVP award, becoming the first point guard to win the award since Isiah Thomas.
In 2005, for the first time since 1987, the previous two champions met to decide it all, despite neither having played the other in their championship season. The Pistons and Spurs were both considered defensive specialists, having both knocked off offensive-minded No. 1 seeds to reach the Finals. The first four games were blowouts for the home team, but Game 5 produced an instant classic. The game was close throughout: even as the Spurs pulled away in the third quarter the Pistons came back, and the game was tied 89-89 and went into overtime after Tim Duncan missed a potential winning shot for San Antonio. In overtime, the Pistons jumped to a quick 95-91 lead but Robert Horry scored the game-winning 3-point basket with 6 seconds left. This capped an explosive 21-point performance by Horry off the bench, even though Horry had not scored at all until 1 second remained in the third quarter. Horry scored more than a point a minute the rest of the game. This was a capstone to Horry's long career of similarly dramatic game-winning heroics. In Game 6 the defending champion Pistons were given little chance to recover from such a heartbreaking loss but continued a trend of excelling with their 'backs against the wall.' The game was tight throughout until, with a one-point lead and two minutes to play, the Pistons scored the final 8 points of the game to win 95-86. Key to the Detroit win was Rasheed Wallace, who returned to the game to score 7 points and garner a game-clinching steal and rebound, all in the final four minutes. The flamboyant Wallace thus earned some redemption for his gaffe at the end of Game 5 when he left the red-hot Horry unguarded on the game-winning shot. A decisive Game 7 was now set up to conclude this suddenly gripping series, the first Finals Game 7 in 11 years (when Houston defeated New York). The Pistons became the first road team to force a game 7 down 3-2 in the series since the NBA switched to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. The home team was 7-0 previously in game 6 with the 3-2 lead ('86 Celtics, '87 Lakers, '96 Bulls, '97 Bulls, '00 Lakers and '03 Spurs) and home-court for game 7. The 2005 Finals was won by the Spurs 81-74, giving them their third NBA Finals championship in seven years. Tim Duncan won his third Finals MVP award, joining Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal as the fourth player to win three Finals MVP awards. Robert Horry won his sixth NBA title, and became the second player in NBA history to win a title with three different teams (Rockets, Lakers, Spurs).
The 2006 NBA Finals featured the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks. It was the first NBA Finals since 1971 that had both Western and Eastern Conference champions making their first Finals appearance in franchise history. Led by upcoming star and Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, legendary coach Pat Riley and veteran superstar Shaquille O'Neal, the Miami Heat won the championship 4 games to 2 on Dallas' homecourt. The Heat's clinching victory in game 6 was their first win at Dallas in four years, and they became only the third team to ever win the finals after going down 0-2, the first since the 2-3-2 setup after 1985. Most agree that the turning point of the series was in Game 3, when the Heat overcame a 13 point deficit with less than 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to win 98-96. The comeback was led by Dwayne Wade's 12 points in the final six minutes and a clutch outside jumpshot by once-perennial all-star Gary Payton, who was appearing in his third NBA finals. Wade constantly earned high accolades in the form of comparisons to Michael Jordan throughout the series. His points-per-game average was better than what Jordan had in his first championship (34.7 vs. 31.2). And in four games (43, 42, 36 twice), he scored as many as or more than Jordan did in his best game in the '91 Finals (36). One difference that impacted Wade's scoring was the number of times he attempted free throws, which exceeded Jordan's average by nearly five attempts per game. Heat coach Pat Riley became the third coach to win Championships with two different teams (Alex Hannum and Phil Jackson were the first two), and the first to ever do it with two different teams as an interim head coach.
The Lakers returned to the finals in 2008, against the Boston Celtics. Renewing the teams' rivalry, this marked the 11th time that these two teams met in the Finals, the last meeting happened in 1987. The Celtics, who defeated the Lakers 4–2, were led by their "Big Three" superstars of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, who was also named Finals MVP.
The Lakers bounced back from their 2008 loss and returned to the Finals in 2009, where they faced the Orlando Magic, led by Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard in 2009. The Lakers defeated Orlando in five games, with Bryant earning the Finals MVP award. The Lakers met the Celtics once again in 2010, trailing 3–2 before winning the last two at home, marking the first time in the history of the Celtics that they lost a Game 7 in the NBA Finals. Bryant was named Finals MVP, with the triumphs in 2009 and 2010 becoming Phil Jackson's 10th and 11th NBA titles. With these championship victories, Jackson surpassed Red Auerbach's record for most NBA titles of all time. He also passed Auerbach's and National Hockey League coach Scotty Bowman's record for most titles as head coach in any major American professional sport.
2011–2019: Heat wave and Warriors dynasty
|Year||Western Champion||Result||Eastern Champion|
|2011||Dallas Mavericks||4–2||Miami Heat|
|2012||Oklahoma City Thunder||4–1||Miami Heat|
|2013||San Antonio Spurs||4–3||Miami Heat|
|2014||San Antonio Spurs||4–1||Miami Heat|
|2015||Golden State Warriors||4–2||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|2016||Golden State Warriors||4–3||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|2017||Golden State Warriors||4–1||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|2018||Golden State Warriors||4–0||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|2019||Golden State Warriors||4–2||Toronto Raptors|
The 2010s saw LeBron James make eight straight NBA Finals appearances from 2011–2018, in which he won three NBA championships with two different NBA teams: 2 with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013 and 1 with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
During the 2010 off-season, the Miami Heat re-signed team captain Dwyane Wade and added free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh to form their Big Three. The Heat were then considered the favorites by many to win multiple championships. They appeared in the next four finals, winning two in 2012 and 2013.
The Heat's second appearance in the Finals came in 2011, where they were pitted against the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of the finals from five years earlier. The Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, and Jason Kidd, won the series 4–2, with Nowitzki being named the Finals MVP. The Heat returned to the finals in the following year against an Oklahoma City Thunder team featuring future MVPs Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and 3-time NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant. After the Thunder won Game 1 at home, the Heat won four straight games to win the series 4–1, becoming the first team to win a championship after trailing in three playoff series. James won his first championship and was unanimously named NBA Finals MVP.
The Heat repeated as champions in 2013, this time over the San Antonio Spurs, with the finals being the first since 1987 to feature four former Finals MVPs in the Finals; with Tim Duncan (1999, 2003, 2005) and Tony Parker (2007) for the Spurs, and Wade (2006) and James (2012) for the Heat. The Spurs went up 3–2 in the series, but the Heat bounced back with a Game 6 victory, notable for a game-tying three-pointer by Ray Allen in the closing seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime. The game is considered one of the greatest playoff games in NBA history. The Heat won Game 7, 95–88, to clinch the title. James was named Finals MVP for the second straight year.
Looking for a three-peat, the Heat reached the 2014 NBA Finals and faced the Spurs in a rematch of the 2013 Finals. With James limited in Game 1 due to leg cramps, the Spurs ended the game on a 31–9 run, winning 110–95. The Heat bounced back in Game 2, but that was their only win of the series, as the Spurs won games 3 and 4 in Miami and game 5 at home to win the championship, their first since 2007 and the fifth and final title of Duncan's career. Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP, becoming the third-youngest Finals MVP after Duncan and Magic Johnson.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met in every NBA Finals between 2015 and 2018, becoming the first two teams to meet in four consecutive Finals. Previously, no two teams have appeared in more than two consecutive finals.
After the 2014 Finals, LeBron James became a free agent and returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he teamed up with Kyrie Irving. The Cavs also traded for Kevin Love to form a new "Big Three" in Cleveland. In the 2015 postseason, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs were eliminated in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games while the other 2014 finalist, the Miami Heat, failed to qualify for the playoffs. Golden State, spearheaded by 2014–15 MVP Stephen Curry, achieved a 67–15 record and managed to take the West, while the Cavs won the East as James, along with James Jones who played for both the Heat and Cavaliers, made their fifth straight finals appearance – the first two players to do so since the 1960s Celtics. The Warriors defied conventional wisdom and traditionalist ideas with a small-ball, three-point shooting, fast-paced team. The Cavs were without star Love due to an injury suffered earlier in the playoffs, and also lost Irving to injury in a Game 1 overtime loss in the 2015 NBA Finals. James rallied the Cavaliers to win Games 2 and 3, but the Warriors won the next three games after coach Steve Kerr made the adjustment of inserting the sixth man Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup in place of center Andrew Bogut, thus achieving the desired small-ball offense. The Warriors won the title, with Iguodala becoming the first player to win the Finals MVP award without starting a regular season game that season.
During the 2015–16 season, the Warriors broke the record for most wins in a season with a record of 73–9 and Curry won his second straight MVP award, as well as becoming the first unanimous MVP in history and shattering his own record for three-pointers made in a single season by over one hundred in the process. The Warriors fell to a 3–1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals against a Kevin Durant-led Oklahoma City Thunder team, but won three straight elimination games to take the series and advance to a second straight Finals. The Cavaliers finished the season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and won their first 10 straight playoff games, ultimately defeating the Toronto Raptors 4–2 in the Eastern Conference Finals to ensure the rematch of last year's Finals. In the 2016 NBA Finals, the Warriors got out to a 3–1 lead, but James and Irving led the Cavs to two straight victories to force a deciding Game 7. In a key sequence with two minutes remaining in Game 7, LeBron James made a memorable chase-down block on Iguodala to keep the game tied, while Irving hit a 3-point shot a minute later to take the lead. Cleveland managed to hold on to the lead to win the title and end the city's 52-year championship drought, with James earning his third Finals MVP honor.
In the 2016 off-season, the Warriors acquired Durant through free agency. After finishing 67–15, they became the first team in history to win 67+ games in three straight seasons, they went to the Finals with a 12–0 sweep of the West, the first team to do so since the first round changed to best-of-seven in 2003, and the first team to sweep their way to the Finals since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001. Meanwhile, though the Cavaliers slipped to the second seed going into the playoffs, they only lost one game en route to defeating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up another match against the Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals. The Warriors started strong with a 3–0 lead over the Cavs, eventually winning the series in five games with Durant being named Finals MVP. The Warriors set a playoffs record of 15 consecutive wins and a 16–1 final record, as well as a 13.5-point differential in the Finals. The Cavaliers traded away Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in the 2017 off-season and continued to change their roster throughout the season, while the Warriors largely remained intact. Neither Cleveland nor Golden State earned the top playoff seed in the 2017–18 season. Both teams fell to 3–2 deficits in their respective Conference Finals, before both winning Game 7s to ensure the rematch for a fourth consecutive Finals in 2018. LeBron James appeared in his eighth consecutive NBA Finals since 2011, four each with the Heat and the Cavaliers. The Warriors went on to sweep the Cavaliers, and Durant was again named Finals MVP.
In 2018, James left the Cavaliers and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Without James, the Cavaliers struggled and did not return to the playoffs. The Warriors continued their success and reached their fifth straight Finals in 2019, becoming the first team since the 1960s Celtics to make it to five straight Finals, and the first Western Conference team to ever do so. However, the Warriors lost several key players to injuries throughout the playoffs, and were defeated by the Toronto Raptors 4–2, ending their bid for a three-peat, and the Raptors won their first championship and it was the first NBA title for a team based in Canada. The Raptors' Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP, becoming the first player to win the award while representing teams from both conferences, having previously won it with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014.
|Year||Western Champion||Result||Eastern Champion|
|2020||Los Angeles Lakers||4–2||Miami Heat|
During the 2019 offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers obtained All-Star forward Anthony Davis via trade from the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers went on to claim the first seed in the Western Conference, while the Warriors failed to make the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. The 2019-20 NBA season was suspended in March 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and resumed on a shortened schedule in July 2020 inside the NBA's isolated "bubble" set-up at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat met in the 2020 NBA Finals, marking the first time in NBA history that two teams that missed the playoffs the year before met in the Finals, and the first time that the NBA Finals were played at a neutral site with no spectators. The Lakers won the series 4-2, claiming their seventeenth title to tie the Boston Celtics' franchise record; LeBron James was named Finals MVP for the fourth time in his career.
Franchises with no Finals appearances
- Charlotte Hornets
- Denver Nuggets
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- New Orleans Pelicans
Franchises with no Conference Finals appearances
Controversially, the NBA Finals are often regarded by league officials and U.S. media as a "World Championship," implying that no basketball team in the world could compete with NBA Finalists. This issue has become notable since NBA-based U.S. national teams have been unable to decisively win (or even qualify for the final game) at official international competitions like the 2004 Olympics and the 2002 Basketball World Championship.
- Steve Kerr and Robert Horry had the peculiar distinction of alternating NBA Championships for a decade, and combined to win 11 championships over a twelve-year period. Though neither player was ever selected to the All-Star Game, nor ever played on each other's team, one of the two players was on the roster of every NBA Champion from the 1993-1994 season thru the 2002-2003 season. Kerr's teams were winners in the NBA Finals in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2003. Horry's teams were victorious in the NBA Finals in 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2005. Each won 3 consecutive titles playing for Phil Jackson-coached teams (Horry's Lakers and Kerr's Bulls), and every other championship with a team from Texas (the Spurs and Rockets). Kerr has gone on to coach the Warriors to three more titles (2015, 2017 and 2018).
- The 2001 NBA Finals, between the Lakers and 76ers, after the Lakers win over the Philadelphia 76ers, fans stormed the streets of Los Angeles, in excitement that the Lakers won their 13th NBA title. It resulted in a riot and fans started several bomb fires and flipped several cars, including a news van.
- The Historical Records Section of the NBA official site
- The Greatest Game Ever (Game 5, 1976 Finals)
- NBA.com: Greatest Finals Moments
- NBA Daily Dime