The third straight postseason matchup between the Heat and Celtics was all about LeBron James. The regular-season MVP averaged 33.6 points and 11 rebounds during the series and saved the Heat with a critical 45-point performance on the road in a do-or-die Game 6. The seven-game series also brought out the best in Rajon Rondo, whose Game 2 performance (44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds in 53 minutes) was one for the ages.
2 of 27John W. McDonough/SI
Mavericks defeat Heat
It was a series of firsts for Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki won his first ring and was named Finals MVP after averaging 27 points and 9.4 rebounds in the Finals; veteran point guard Jason Kidd finally got a title at age 38; and the Mavericks earned their first championship in franchise history with a 4-2 win over the Miami Heat. It was also one of the most thrilling series to date, with loads of talent on the floor and a slew of controversies. After LeBron's infamous "Decision" to join fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami the summer before, James and the Heat garnered as many haters as fans as they pushed through to the Finals. And it seemed the haters got their wish as vintage LeBron James disappeared and a mediocre player took his place when Miami needed him most.
3 of 27Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Knicks defeat Lakers
The 1970 series is best remembered for an inspirational appearance by Willis Reed (inset) in New York's Game 7 win, but it also featured Jerry West's buzzer-beating 60-footer to force OT in Game 3; another OT finish in Game 4; the Knicks' comeback from a 13-point halftime deficit to win Game 5 after Reed left with a leg injury; Wilt Chamberlain's 45-point, 27-rebound domination in L.A's Game 6 win; and Walt Frazier's 36-point, 19-assist tour de force in Game 7.
4 of 27Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images
Celtics defeat Lakers
The first Finals duel between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson lived up to expectations, from Gerald Henderson's improbable steal to save the Celtics in Game 2, to Kevin McHale's clothesline of Kurt Rambis that helped turn the tide in the Game 4 overtime classic, to the Lakers' furious comeback in their Game 7 loss in Boston.
5 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Celtics defeat 76ers
How's this for white-knuckle finishes late in a series between two 62-win teams: 105-104 to 76ers in Game 4 (for a 3-1 series lead); 111-109 in Game 5, 100-98 in Game 6 and 91-90 in Game 7 all to Boston, which got a late jumper from Larry Bird in that final game to subdue a loaded, Julius Erving-led Philadelphia team. The Celtics went on to beat Houston in the Finals for their first title of the Bird era.
6 of 27John W. McDonough/SI
Lakers defeat Kings
The two-time defending champion Lakers escaped 112-106 in overtime in the deciding Game 7 in Sacramento, a fittingly compelling end to a series marked by controversial officiating and Robert Horry's famous buzzer-beating three-pointer to stun the Kings in Game 4.
7 of 27AP
Celtics defeat St. Louis Hawks
The seven-game series was bookended with 125-123, double-overtime games, with St. Louis winning the opener behind Bob Pettit's 37 points and Boston winning the clincher behind rookies Bill Russell (19 points and 32 rebounds) and Tom Heinsohn (37 and 23). This marked the start of 11 titles in 13 seasons for Russell and the Celtics.
8 of 27Greg Nelson, Bob Rosato/SI
Mavericks defeat Spurs
Five of the seven games were decided by five points or fewer between 60-win Dallas and 63-win San Antonio -- and that doesn't even include the Mavs' 119-111 overtime road victory in Game 7, during which the Spurs erased a 20-point deficit and nearly completed their comeback from a 3-1 series hole. Along the way, Jason Terry punched Michael Finley below the belt, Mark Cuban cursed at Bruce Bowen and Cuban was fined $200,000 for criticizing the referees. ''This is the best series I've ever played,'' Tim Duncan said. ''Both teams gave it their all.''
9 of 27John G. Zimmerman/SI
Celtics defeat Lakers
The first Boston-L.A. Finals was a classic, thanks to Jerry West's game-winning steal and layup in Game 3, Elgin Baylor's 61-point eruption in Game 5 and the Celtics' 110-107 overtime victory in Game 7.
10 of 27John W. McDonough/SI
Warriors defeat Mavericks
Pick a storyline, this series had it all. Golden State (42-40) became the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 in a seven-game series, and took out a 67-win Mavs team that was the clear-cut title favorite. Coach Don Nelson got revenge on his former team and bitter enemy, Mavs owner Mark Cuban. The Warriors won their first playoff series in 16 seasons. Baron Davis, on a gimpy hamstring, pulled a Willis Reed to score 20 points in the Game 6 clincher.
11 of 27George Long/SI
Celtics defeat Lakers
The Lakers' Jerry West was so good in the series -- he scored 53 and 41 points in victories in Games 1 and 2, respectively, and had a triple-double in Game 7 -- that he took MVP honors despite failing to stop Bill Russell from winning his 11th and final title. The aging Celtics, having to contend with West, Elgin Baylor and first-year Laker Wilt Chamberlain, won Game 7 in Los Angeles 108-106 thanks in part to a fortuitous bounce on Don Nelson's game-winning shot.
12 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Celtics defeat Suns
What many regard as the NBA's greatest game -- Boston's 128-126 triple-overtime victory in Game 5, extended to the third extra period by Gar Heard's desperation catch-and-shoot basket for Phoenix -- elevated a series that the Celtics won in six to secure their 13th championship.
13 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Lakers defeat Pistons
Games 6 and 7 alone made this series an all-timer. First, in Game 6, Isiah Thomas scored 25 third-quarter points on a sprained ankle, but the Lakers overtook the Pistons in the final minute and won 103-102 to stay alive. In Game 7, with the injury limiting Thomas, the Lakers staved off the Pistons' late rally behind James Worthy, who finished with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
14 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Celtics defeat Pistons
The series had the requisite bad blood (Bill Laimbeer and Larry Bird were ejected for fighting in Game 3, Robert Parish was suspended one game for hitting Laimbeer), improbability (Bird's famous steal and feed to Dennis Johnson for a game-winning layup in Game 5) and tension (Game 7 had 19 second-half lead changes before the veteran Celtics eliminated the on-the-rise Pistons 117-114).
15 of 27Al Tielemans/SI
Celtics defeat Bulls
With Kevin Garnett's absence helping to level the playing field, defending champion Boston and upstart Chicago played a seven-game series that included a record four overtime games (seven extra periods in all) and highly entertaining duels between Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose at point guard and Ray Allen and Ben Gordon at shooting guard.
16 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Bulls defeat Pacers
Chicago's bid for a second three-peat nearly was derailed by Indiana, which won home games by two, two and three points to force the Bulls to play a Game 7 for the first time in four years. The Pacers even led midway through the fourth quarter in Chicago, but the Bulls pulled out an 88-83 victory despite off games from Michael Jordan (9-of-25 shooting) and Scottie Pippen (6-of-18). That series victory set the stage for Jordan's Finals-winning shot at Utah in a series that wasn't too shabby, either.
17 of 27John W. McDonough/SI
Lakers defeat Trail Blazers
Not every game was a nail-biter, but consider the fact that the supremely talented Trail Blazers fell behind 3-1, won two in a row against the 67-win Lakers and led by 15 in the fourth quarter of Game 7 in Los Angeles. But the Lakers, in danger of losing three in a row for the first time all season, staged the biggest Game 7 comeback in NBA history, riding Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Brian Shaw's clutch shooting to an 89-84 victory. The Lakers went on to win the first of their three consecutive championships.
18 of 27Nathaniel S. Butler/ NBAE/Getty Images
Bulls defeat Knicks
Who can forget Charles Smith flailing away from point-blank range in the pivotal Game 5? Given Smith's epic troubles to finish at the rim, it's easy to overlook the fact that the defending champion Bulls actually trailed the top-seeded Knicks 2-0 in the series (John Starks' electrifying baseline dunk was a notable highlight from Game 2) before ripping off four consecutive victories. Michael Jordan scored 54 points in Game 4 and recorded a triple-double in Game 5, the latter helping the Bulls break the Knicks' 27-game home winning streak.
19 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Bulls defeat Suns
John Paxson's championship-clinching three-pointer in Game 6 at Phoenix finished off a highly competitive series in which the road team won five of six games; the Suns won a triple-overtime thriller in Game 3; Michael Jordan scored 55 points in a tight Bulls victory in Game 4; and in-his-prime Scottie Pippen and league MVP Charles Barkley both recorded triple-doubles.
20 of 27Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Nuggets defeat SuperSonics
After finishing only 42-40 in the regular season and spotting 63-win Seattle a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, Dikembe Mutombo and Denver rallied for three straight victories (including an overtime home win in Game 4 and an OT road win in Game 5) to become the first No. 8 seed to topple a No. 1.
21 of 27AP
Bulls defeat Jazz
Before Michael Jordan would complete his Bulls playing career with the game-winning shot at Utah in the 1998 Finals, these teams played a taut series in '97. Jordan opened the championship round with a game-winner and Steve Kerr closed it with a game-winner off a feed from Jordan. In between, John Stockton sparked the Jazz to a comeback victory in Game 4 and a flu-racked Jordan scored 38 points and rallied the Bulls from a 16-point deficit in a 90-88 victory in Game 5.
22 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Bulls defeat Cavaliers
Chicago lost all six regular-season meetings to Cleveland, but myriad injuries made the Cavaliers more vulnerable in the best-of-five series. Four competitive games (including the Cavs' Game 4 overtime victory despite Michael Jordan's 50 points) led into an unforgettable finish in Game 5 in which Jordan, hinting at much bigger things to come, punctuated his 30-point second half and 44-point outing by hitting The Shot over Craig Ehlo to give Chicago a 101-100 victory.
23 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Celtics defeat Hawks
In one of the great head-to-head showdowns in NBA playoff history, Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins took turns making one dazzling play after another as the Hawks challenged the four-time defending conference champions for East supremacy. Their fan-friendly duel reached a climax in Game 7, when Wilkins scored 47 points on 19-for-23 shooting -- but Bird countered with 20 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Celts to a 118-116 victory.
24 of 27Manny Millan/SI
Pacers defeat Knicks
One year after the Knicks eliminated the Pacers from the East finals in seven thrilling games, the teams met for an encore performance a round earlier that managed to surpass the original. Game 1 at Madison Square Garden set the tone for the series: Reggie Miller scored eight points in the final 16.4 seconds to erase a six-point deficit and stun the hosts, whom he called "choke artists." Two weeks later, the hated rivals returned to the Garden for a seventh and deciding game, with the Pacers prevailing 97-95 thanks to Patrick Ewing's missed layup at the buzzer.
25 of 27Ken Regan/NBAE via Getty Images
Celtics defeat 76ers
With Wilt Chamberlain back in the East after one season in San Francisco, the 76ers alternated wins and losses with the favored Celtics for six games, including Philadelphia's Hal Greer-inspired 134-131 overtime victory in Game 4. Game 7 brought one of the most famous calls in sports history: "Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over!" Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most screamed as John Havlicek sealed Boston's 110-109 victory.
26 of 27Jerry Wachter/SI
Knicks defeat Pistons
Bernard King single-handedly lifted this series, averaging 42.6 points and breaking Elgin Baylor's 23-year-old scoring record for a five-game series. The matchup also produced a few stirring finishes: The Pistons coughed up a six-point lead in the final 76 seconds of their 94-93 loss in Game 1; and Isiah Thomas scored 16 consecutive points in a 94-second span to force overtime in Game 5 before a flu-ridden King (44 points) came up bigger in the extra period in New York's 127-123 victory at Detroit.
27 of 27AP
Rockets defeat Suns
The Rockets, who entered the playoffs as the sixth seed, became the first (and last) team to beat a No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 seed on the way to the Finals. Houston's stiffest challenge came when it slipped into a 3-1 hole against Charles Barkley's Suns. The Rockets dug deep to force a seventh game (including an overtime win at Phoenix in Game 5), and Mario Elie delivered the coup de grace with a go-ahead three-pointer from the corner with 7.1 seconds left -- before blowing a gentle kiss to the stunned Phoenix bench. The shot was immortalized in Houston sports lore as the ''Kiss of Death.'' Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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