Cavaliers-Warriors NBA final could rival fantastic five

Celtics legend Larry Bird and Lakers great Magic Johnson staged epic duels for a decade.
Celtics legend Larry Bird and Lakers great Magic Johnson staged epic duels for a decade.  (Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images file photo)  

It remains to be seen where this rubber match between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finalNBA final will fit in the all-time list, but there is a chance it could be epic. Here are five of the best ever, in no particular order, even if the Michael Jordan flu-game series and his final championship-winning shot didn’t make the list:

2013: Miami Heat over San Antonio Spurs in seven

The ropes were up to keep the fans off the floor when … Ray Allen’s epic shot at the buzzer of Game 6 — after a clutch Chris Bosh offensive rebound — gave the Heat life. They went on to win the game in overtime and then ran out the series in Game 7. LeBron James averaged 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in an epic series from Game 1 on, when Tony Parker hit a shot at the buzzer to give the Spurs a win.

1988: Los Angeles Lakers over Detroit Pistons in seven

The biggest and most memorable story came from the losing team when Isiah Thomas scored 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6 while playing on a badly sprained ankle. But the Lakers, nearing the end of a magical decade, rallied to hold off the Bad Boy Pistons in Game 7 and win one last title for the Showtime era. James Worthy’s 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists led to a three-point Game 7 win for the capper.

1984: Boston Celtics over Los Angeles Lakers in seven

For four seasons, basketball fans had to wait for a championship series pitting Boston’s Larry Bird against Magic Johnson of the Lakers, and the wait proved worth it in an epic seven-gamer. Setting up almost a decade of one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history, Bird and Johnson were brilliant, with Bird averaging 27.4 points and 14 rebounds. The Kevin McHale clothesline of Kurt Rambis encapsulated the animosity between the teams.

1980: Los Angeles Lakers beat Philadelphia 76ers in six

With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back home resting a sprained ankle, the youthful exuberance of rookie Magic Johnson came to the fore. In a deciding game in which he piled up 42 points — and a sweeping middle-of-the-lane skyhook that was an homage to the injured captain — Johnson played all five positions in one of his best-ever performances. And long before that, in Game 4, Julius Erving had a highlight for the ages with his iconic baseline reverse layup.

1977: Portland Trail Blazers beat Philadelphia 76ers in six

One of the great “what if?” questions of NBA history is how good Bill Walton could have been had he not been plagued with a series of debilitating injuries. In this the first NBA final after the merger with the ABA, Walton was sublime, averaging 18.5 points, 19 rebounds and three blocked shots in a duel with the legendary Erving. It remains Portland’s only championship, made sweeter by four straight wins to close it out.