Looking Back at Every Sweep in NBA Finals History

June 12, 2002; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;  (left to right) Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant,  Lindsay Hunter and Shaquille O'Neal hold championship trophies after winning Game 4 of the NBA Finals at The Meadowlands.
June 12, 2002; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; (left to right) Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant, Lindsay Hunter and Shaquille O'Neal hold championship trophies after winning Game 4 of the NBA Finals at The Meadowlands. / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY via Ima

Among the four major North American sports leagues, the NBA has traditionally stood out in the popular imagination as being the league of the dynasties. The Boston Celtics of the 1960s begat the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s begat the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, and so on and so forth.

For this reason, it may surprise you to learn that in the NBA Finals' entire history—from its quaint 1947 origins to the present day—professional basketball's final series has seen just nine sweeps.

Here is a look back at the nine perfect performances in the event's annals. Note before we begin that there were four best-of-five finals sweeps in the history of the National Basketball League, the NBA's immediate predecessor.

1959: Boston Celtics d. Minneapolis Lakers 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Celtics 118, Lakers 115

Game 2

Celtics 128, Lakers 108

Game 3

Celtics 123, Lakers 110

Game 4

Celtics 118, Lakers 113

The very first Finals between Boston and the Lakers, and the only one that took place while the Lakers were located in Minneapolis. The first of the Celtics' run of eight straight championships, the longest streak in the history of the four major North American sports. Boston center Bill Russell averaged 29.5 rebounds per game, which will play.

1971: Milwaukee Bucks d. Baltimore Bullets 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Bucks 98, Bullets 88

Game 2

Bucks 102, Bullets 83

Game 3

Bucks 107, Bullets 99

Game 4

Bucks 118, Bullets 106

The Milwaukee Bucks' first title, and their only title until 2021. The first of six rings for Bucks center Lew Alcindor, the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The most recent of two series, along with the 1956 Finals, played under a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 format in which the two teams alternated home games.

1975: Golden State Warriors d. Washington Bullets 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Warriors 101, Bullets 95

Game 2

Warriors 92, Bullets 91

Game 3

Warriors 109, Bullets 101

Game 4

Warriors 96, Bullets 95

Both the Golden State Warriors (Al Attles) and Washington Bullets (K.C. Jones) had Black head coaches, which hadn't happened before in any league. The Bullets actually took three of four from Golden State in the regular season, anticipating a highly competitive matchup. A 14-5 run late in Game 4 gave the Warriors their last title until 2015.

1983: Philadelphia 76ers d. Los Angeles Lakers 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

76ers 113, Lakers 107

Game 2

76ers 103, Lakers 93

Game 3

76ers 111, Lakers 94

Game 4

76ers 115, Lakers 108

A fitting conclusion to Hall of Fame center Moses Malone's third and final MVP season. Polished off a 12-1 playoff run after Malone predicted the Philadelphia 76ers would need only four games to win each series. The last major Philadelphia championship until the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008.

1989: Detroit Pistons d. Los Angeles Lakers 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Pistons 109, Lakers 97

Game 2

Pistons 108, Lakers 105

Game 3

Pistons 114, Lakers 110

Game 4

Pistons 105, Lakers 97

The Detroit Pistons' first title after a grueling seven-game loss to the Lakers the season prior. Featured a superb performance from Pistons guard Joe Dumars, who averaged 27.3 points per game. The curtain call on Abdul-Jabbar's spectacular 20-year career.

1995: Houston Rockets d. Orlando Magic 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Rockets 120, Magic 118 (OT)

Game 2

Rockets 117, Magic 106

Game 3

Rockets 106, Magic 103

Game 4

Rockets 113, Magic 101

Notorious for the Orlando Magic's complete meltdown in Game 1, during which guard Nick Anderson missed four crucial free throws to open the door for Houston Rockets guard Kenny Smith's game-tying three. The Rockets, seeded sixth, became the lowest-seeded team to win the title. Houston's title followed a seven-game championship win over the New York Knicks in 1994.

2002: Los Angeles Lakers d. New Jersey Nets 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Lakers 99, Nets 94

Game 2

Lakers 106, Nets 83

Game 3

Lakers 106, Nets 103

Game 4

Lakers 113, Nets 107

The Lakers' third consecutive championship, and center Shaquille O'Neal's third consecutive Finals MVP award. Los Angeles overcame a superb individual series from New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd, who had averaged a triple-double in the Eastern Conference finals. The last Finals aired on NBC to date.

2007: San Antonio Spurs d. Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Spurs 95, Cavaliers 76

Game 2

Spurs 103, Cavaliers 92

Game 3

Spurs 75, Cavaliers 72

Game 4

Spurs 83, Cavaliers 82

Noted for its astoundingly low scores, Game 3 was the lowest-scoring Finals game since 1955. The first Finals for Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, and for every Cavalier apart from veteran guard Eric Snow. Despite several close games, only in Game 4 did Cleveland lead in the second half.

2018: Golden State Warriors d. Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0

GAME

RESULT

Game 1

Warriors 124, Cavaliers 114 (OT)

Game 2

Warriors 122, Cavaliers 103

Game 3

Warriors 110, Cavaliers 102

Game 4

Warriors 108, Cavaliers 85

The sweep everyone remembers. Began with a bizarre overtime game in which Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith appeared to forget the score at the end of regulation and James scored 51 points in defeat. The average margin of victory, 15, is the largest in any NBA Finals.


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Patrick Andres

PATRICK ANDRES

Patrick Andres has been a Staff Writer on the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated since 2022. Before SI, his work appeared in The Blade, Athlon Sports, Fear the Sword, and Diamond Digest. Patrick has covered everything from zero-attendance Big Ten basketball to a seven-overtime college football game. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.