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A look back at Finals rematches

The Spurs and Heat have achieved something already that has not been accomplished for 16 years — an NBA Finals rematch.

Yes, it is not easy to get back to the Finals in back-to-back years — the Heat are the first team since 1987 to make it four straight years when the Celtics accomplished that feat and the Spurs are making their first ever consecutive trips to the Finals. This is especially so for the losers of the Finals. Usually the Problem of More creeps in and the quest to get back to the championship is fraught with much more peril.

It is a rare occurrence for two teams to rematch in the Finals in consecutive years. It has not happened in the NBA since the 1998 Finals between the Bulls and the Jazz. If this year’s 2014 Finals rematch between the Spurs and Heat repeats that series, we are in for a lot of fun.

What have previous Finals rematches looked like in the past? Here is a quick look at NBA Finals rematches over the years:

1998 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls won series 4-2 over Utah Jazz (1997: Bulls 4-2)

Utah came out like gangbusters in the 1998 season after finally breaking through to get to the Finals in 1997. Like so many teams vowing revenge, they wanted the decisive games on their home floor — the raucous Delta Center — feeling that would be the difference. That has been the thought from so many teams that lost the year before.

The Jazz were really close in 1997 too though. It took a big shot from Steve Kerr to help the Bulls hold off the Jazz for their second straight title.

There were plenty of storylines going into the 1998 Finals. Karl Malone turned in a stellar season — 27.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in the regular season, 26.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in the Playoffs — and topped Michael Jordan for the MVP that year. Malone and Dennis Rodman also were getting set to turn in some time in the WCW after their famous wrestling matches.

Jordan ultimately had the last laugh. He drained the game-winning jumper in Game Six off a steal against Malone. Chicago erased a five-point deficit in the final 1:30 of the game and Jordan rode off into the sunset with his sixth title. It was not meant to be for Malone and the Jazz.

1989 NBA Finals: Detroit Pistons won series 4-0 over the Los Angeles Lakers (1988: Lakers won 4-3)

This seemed like destiny for the Pistons to break through at long last. If you saw the Bad Boys documentary on ESPN earlier this year, you knew what a hard journey it was for the Pistons just to get past the rival Celtics and get to the Finals for the first time. That series ended in heartbreak for Detroit with Isiah Thomas limping off the court in a memorable overtime performance in Game Six.

So Thomas was healthy when the 1989 series came around and it was pretty clear the Lakers were worn down from so many battles in the Finals throughout the 1980s. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was nearing retirement and Magic Johnson and James Worthy were carrying much more of the load, particularly with Byron Scott suffering an injury the previous round. It got worse with Magic Johnson injuring his hamstring in Game Three. Showtime was ending and the Pistons knew this was their time.

So dominance was the word of the day as the Pistons swept the series and ascended to the throne.

1985 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers won 4-2 over Boston Celtics (1984: Celtics won 4-3)

This was a big moment for the Lakers. They finally defeated the Celtics with Magic Johnson topping Larry Bird. The 1985 Finals were among the most memorable series in NBA history because it was the first time the Lakers beat the Celtics to win the championship. The Lakers took the whole losing in the Finals thing personally and determined to make good on Showtime’s promise and dethrone the hated Celtics.

It started inauspiciously with the Memorial Day Massacre, a 148-114 Celtics win in Game One at the Boston Garden. But really there were few memorable moments. Cedric Maxwell was hurt and pushed Kevin McHale into the starting lineup. Larry Bird suffered through a poorly timed shooting slump and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated in the low post on his way to Finals MVP.

1983 NBA Finals: Philadelphia 76ers won 4-0 over Los Angeles Lakers (1982: Lakers won 4-2)

The championship eluded Julius Erving for so long before the Sixers broke through in the 1983 Finals. There was the defeat in 1980 with the rookie Magic Johnson taking over at center in the decisive seventh game and then the Lakers continuing their dominance and growth the previous year in 1982.

Erving needed big man Moses Malone to come into his own like he did in this series. That is why the Sixers brought him in during the offseason — to neutralize Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It also helped that he provided some much-needed confidence with the bold “Fo’ fo’ fo'” proclamation before the playoffs. They almost got that, losing once along the way, but sweeping the Lakers for the championship.

Finally the Doctor could celebrate a much-sought-after NBA championships.

1979 NBA Finals: Seattle Supersonics won 4-1 over Washington Bullets (1978: Bullets won 4-3)

Still-mourning Sonics fans happily marked this weekend as the anniversary of the Sonics’ lone championship — really the only major men’s professional championship in Seattle until the Seahawks won the Super Bowl this past season. This was a Sonics team that had a lot of character with a young Lenny Wilkens as head coach, Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma leading the players on the floor and the always passionate Seattle crowd.

The previous year, it was Bobby Dandridge and Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes hoisting the title in a competitive seven-game series. This time around it was Johnson leading the way for the Sonics in this true revenge match of a series.

Seattle dropped the first game when Johnson fouled Larry Wright on a drive to the basket. The Sonics would not lose again with Dennis Johnson and fellow guard Gus Williams dominating the rest of the way. This would be the last opportunity for both franchises as a guy named Magic Johnson was drafted by the Lakers the next year with Larry Bird heading to the Celtics shortly after.

1973 NBA Finals: New York Knicks won 4-1 over Los Angeles Lakers (1972 Finals: Lakers won 4-1)

This was not the famous Willis Reed series. There was really not much remarkable about this series except for it being a last hurrah of sorts for this Lakers generation (Los Angeles would not go back to the finals until Magic Johnson’s arrival). This series marked Wilt Chamberlain’s last game in the NBA.

This was also the end to the Knicks’ dynasty. They went to the Finals the year before and won the 1970 title with the famous Willis Reed game in Game Seven. Reed was still around and won the series MVP, but to much less fanfare.

This Knicks team is often cited as the best in the franchise’s history with Earl “The Pearl” Monroe winning his first title in a Knicks uniform and Walt “Clyde” Frazier joining Dave Debuscherre and Bill Bradley in the lineup. This was a great team playing its final great season.

1969 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics won 4-3 over Los Angeles Lakers (1968 Finals: Celtics won 4-2)

This was the last of Bill Russell’s championships and completed the incredible string of title the Celtics had throughout the 1960s. It also marked the only time in NBA history a player from the losing team won Finals MVP — with Jerry West taking that honor.

This though might have been Boston’s finest championship. With Russell in his final year (and his second as “head coach”), the Celtics finished fourth in the East and no one thought they would reach this point in the Playoffs. The Lakers were a juggernaut with West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. Los Angeles even took a 2-0 series lead.

That was the least of the premature celebrations. This was the series in which the Lakers ordered several hundred balloons and kept them up in the rafters of the Los Angeles Forum during Game Seven with a specific celebration plan afterward. That celebration never came as the Celtics won Game Seven and kept their mastery over the Lakers.

1966 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics won 4-3 over Los Angeles Lakers (1965 Finals: Celtics won 4-1)

Red Auerbach announced his retirement before the series and that Bill Russell would take over as head coach the following year. So this was a last hurrah for Auerbach and the end of the Celtics run of eight straight titles — a feat that will likely never be matched in sports history.

This was the classic Celtics teams that featured John Havlicek, Russell and K.C. Jones. The Lakers were reloading some but still great with Gail Goodrich and Jerry West.

Boston had a 3-1 lead before the Lakers forced a Game Seven. The Celtics took a big lead and held on for a 95-93 win at the Garden to win the championship. The Lakers just could not get rid of the Celtics’ curse.

1963 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics won 4-2 over Los Angeles Lakers (1962 Finals: Celtics won 4-3)

Again, the Celtics dynasty continued at the Lakers’ expense. This series was never close, but the Celtics needed to win in Los Angeles to prevent a 3-1 comeback and a Game Seven back on their home floor.

1961 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics won 4-1 over St. Louis Hawks (1960 Finals: Celtics won 4-3)

Looking for a team that really could have derailed the Celtics dynasty? That would have been Bob Pettit and the Hawks of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Pettit’s Hawks actually defeated Bill Russell in one of the four Finals they faced off. That time was a while ago as the Celtics were getting the baton from the Hawks.

Boston won this matchup easily completing that transfer and delivering Boston another title in the team’s fifth straight trip to the championship round. Bill Russell, Satch Sanders, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn and K.C. Jones were just getting started at this point as Pettit, Cliff Hagen and Lenny Wilkens were finishing up.

1958 NBA Finals: St. Louis Hawks won 4-2 over Boston Celtics (1957 Finals: Celtics won 4-3)

This was the one blemish in the Celtics’ sterling record early on. Bob Pettit won his title over the Celtics and went nuts in Game Six with 50 points to get some revenge for the previous season’s defeat. This would become Pettit’s defining game for his career. Making it even sweeter, Pettit hit the game-winning shot in Game Six to deliver the title to St. Louis. Again, a defining moment for a stellar career.

1953 NBA Finals: Minneapolis Lakers won 4-1 over New York Knicks (1952 Finals: Lakers won 4-3)

The Lakers dropped Game One but won the final four games of the series to win the franchise’s fifth championship. George Mikan was the key piece to the series for the Lakers.

So what is there to notice from these Finals rematches? It is very difficult to defeat the same team twice in the Finals in consecutive years. Only Jordan’s Bulls, the Celtics of various eras and George Mikan’s Lakers have accomplished that goal. It is pretty rare. So that bodes well for the Spurs. That is, unless LeBron James wants to join Jordan’s company yet again.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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