From Willis Reed limping to the floor, to Magic Johnson winning it with a junior, junior, junior sky hook, to a triple-overtime '70s classic, there are any number of great games to choose from in Finals history. So what constitutes a truly great Finals game? NBA.com sifted through the history books and video highlights to compile an unofficial list of the Greatest Games in Finals History. Read the descriptions to get a sense of the game's championship history, then tune in to ABC for the conclusion of The 2004 Finals. Also, check out NBA.com's Greatest Finals Moments, Greatest Finals Performances, and Greatest Series.
In a game that obliterated Finals records for three-point shooting, it took a point-blank tip-in to win it. Down by 11 at the half, the defending-champion Rockets staged a monster comeback in the third quarter behind white-hot guard Kenny Smith, who nailed a record five 3-pointers in the period to give Houston a seven-point lead going into the fourth. But Orlando fought back and was up by three when Magic guard Nick Anderson missed four straight free throws that could have iced the victory.
20. 1995 Game 1
: Houston Rockets 120, Orlando Magic 118 (OT)
That set the stage for Smith. With 1.6 seconds left, Smith knocked down his seventh trey -- another Finals record -- to tie the game at 110 and force overtime. Tied up again at 118 in the closing seconds, Clyde Drexler missed a layup high off the glass that Hakeem Olajuwon tipped in with 0.3 seconds on the clock to give Houston a big victory on the road. Led by Smith, the two teams combined to go 25-of-62 from long-distance, shattering the old record of 14-of-37, and Houston's 14-of-32 shooting from the arc broke the single-team records of 10-of-22.
Shaq was a Magic man in the '95 Finals.
19. 2001 Game 1
: Philadelphia 76ers 107, Los Angeles Lakers 101 (OT)
A pair of superstars put on a show in this upset. Shaquille O'Neal posted 44 points and 20 rebounds for the Lakers, but the big man was overshadowed by regular-season MVP Allen Iverson, who scored 48 in Philadelphia's 107-101 overtime triumph. Prior to the Sixers' victory, the Lakers had won 19 in a row, including 11 straight in the postseason.
"I'm kind of relieved that it's over in some way," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said afterward. "The streak was great, and now it's time to get back to the business of playing ball here in this series." Los Angeles took the next four games to win the championship.
Behind a stellar game from James Worthy, the Lakers had come from behind to take a 115-113 lead with 18 seconds left when Boston's Kevin McHale missed a pair of free throws. After a Laker timeout, Magic Johnson inbounded the ball to Worthy, who -- unaware of lurking Celtic guard Gerald Henderson -- attempted a pass to Byron Scott. Henderson stepped in, snatched the ball and went the other way for an easy layup to force overtime, where Boston ultimately prevailed, averting a second-straight loss at home.
18. 1984 Game 2
: Boston Celtics 124, Los Angeles Lakers 121 (OT)
Said Laker coach Pat Riley years later, "What will I remember most from that series? Simple. Game 2. Worthy's pass to Scott. I could see the seams of the ball, like it was spinning in slow motion, but I couldn't do anything about it."
Lakers guard Jerry West had seriously sprained his ankle in Game 4 and it appeared he might sit out Game 5 in Boston. But opting instead to play, West scored 35 points to lead Los Angeles back from an 18-point third-quarter deficit. The Lakers were down by four with less than a minute to play when West stole the ball and found Elgin Baylor downcourt for a layup, and West tied it up with a basket off an Archie Clark steal.
17. 1968 Game 5
: Boston Celtics 120, Los Angeles Lakers 117 (OT)
In overtime, however, Bill Russell blocked a Baylor shot attempt and Don Nelson hit a late free throw to give Boston a 120-117 victory and a 3-2 series lead.
John Havlicek scored 31 points to lead all Celtics.
Playing on a sprained ankle that had forced him to sit out Game 3, Kobe Bryant started slowly in Game 4. He had only six points at the half with the Lakers trailing 54-51, but scored 14 more in regulation before really turning it on in overtime. The Lakers were up 115-112 when Shaquille O'Neal was whistled for his sixth foul with 2:33 left in the extra session. At the bench, Shaq said, "Kobe looked over at me and said, 'Don't worry about it. I got it.' He was feelin' it."
16. 2000 Game 4
: Los Angeles Lakers 120, Indiana Pacers 118 (OT)
Bryant nailed consecutive jumpers and tipped back a Brian Shaw miss with 5.9 seconds left to give Los Angeles the lead for good. On a tender ankle, Bryant had played 47 minutes, hitting 14 of 27 shots for 28 points and scored eight of his team's 16 points in overtime, falling one short of the Finals record shared by John Havlicek, Danny Ainge and Bill Laimbeer.
Taking a 3-2 series lead to Phoenix, the two-time defending-champion Chicago Bulls built an 87-79 edge heading into the fourth quarter before they went ice cold, failing to score for the first 6:09 of the period. A free throw by Michael Jordan at 5:51 ended the drought, but Phoenix took a 98-94 lead with 2:23 left. After exchanging missed shots, Jordan grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast to bring the Bulls within two with 38.1 seconds to play, giving him all nine of the Bulls' points in the quarter. Phoenix couldn't convert on the other end, and Chicago took possession with 14.1 seconds to play.
Jordan, double-teamed in the backcourt, fed the ball to Scottie Pippen, who drove the lane and dished to Horace Grant in the low post. Grant then passed the ball back out to John Paxson, who was lurking in three-point land. Phoenix's Danny Ainge, who had dropped back to harass Grant, could do nothing but watch as Paxson nailed the Bulls' Finals-record 10th trey of the game and clinch Chicago's third consecutive title.
"Once Paxson got the ball," said Jordan, "I knew it was over."
Arriving home in Portland to be greeted by "Blazermania" after winning Game 5 in Philadelphia to lead the series 3-2, the Trail Blazers were inspired in Game 6. Powered by Bill Walton's 20 points, 23 rebounds, eight blocks and seven assists, the team led by 12 midway through the fourth quarter and survived a late run by Julius Erving and the Sixers to win the championship.
14. 1977 Game 6
: Portland Trail Blazers 109, Philadelphia 76ers 107
In the celebratory pandemonium, Walton ripped off his jersey and hurled it into the delirious crowd. "If I had caught the shirt, I would have eaten it," teammate Maurice Lucas said later. "Bill's my hero."
St. Louis forward Bob Pettit made the most of Bill Russell's absence due to an injured ankle, turning in a spectacular performance as the Hawks looked to close out the series at home. Pettit scored 31 points in the first three quarters, then nailed 19 of his team's final 21 points in the fourth. His last two points, a tip-in with 15 seconds remaining, put the Hawks ahead for good, 110-107.
13. 1958 Game 6
: St. Louis Hawks 110, Boston Celtics 109
Pettit's 50-point performance tied the single-game playoff scoring record set by Bob Cousy in a four-overtime contest against Syracuse in 1953, an event so foul-plagued that 30 of his points had come at the free throw line. More importantly, Pettit's 50 points delivered his team a championship.
In the last game Michael Jordan played with the Chicago Bulls, the ending was storybook perfect. His Airness scored 45 points and hit the game-winning basket with 5.2 seconds left after stealing the ball seconds earlier to set up this dramatic finale. With Chicago trailing by three points in the final minute, Jordan scored on a quick drive, then stripped the ball from Utah's Karl Malone and brought the ball downcourt. Teammate Steve Kerr was on the wing, guarded by John Stockton, leaving Jordan alone with Bryon Russell.
Jordan stutter-stepped, then put the ball on the court with a crossover dribble. Russell reached, and as soon as he did, Jordan was off. Jump shot to win it all. Good. "When Russell reached, I took advantage of the moment," Jordan said. "I never doubted myself. I never doubted the whole game."
After Knicks center Willis Reed tore a muscle in his leg in Game 5 and missed Game 6, the stage was set for winner-take-all drama in New York. Would Reed play? Just before game time, Reed strode onto the Madison Square Garden floor, bringing an overwhelming roar from the crowd. Even the Lakers stopped their warmups and stood and watched as Reed took a few awkward shots. He stepped into the circle against Wilt Chamberlain for the tipoff but remained immobile during the jump. That changed once play began. Reed scored New York's first two baskets and played active defense, finishing 2-for-5 with four fouls and three rebounds. It was enough.
11. 1970 Game 7
: New York Knicks 113, Los Angeles Lakers 99
Reed's emotional charge propelled New York, and Walt Frazier took it from there. "Clyde" delivered 36 points, 19 assists, and ball-hawking defense in a career game as the Knicks rushed out to a 61-37 halftime lead they would never relinquish. "[Reed] gave us a tremendous lift just going out there," said coach Red Holzman. "He couldn't play his normal game, but he did a lot of things out there. And he means a lot to the spirit of the other players."
Jeff Hornacek couldn't bear to watch Chicago celebrate after Game 5 of the 1997 Finals.
(Brian Bahr/NBAE/Getty Images)
10. 1974 Game 6
: Milwaukee Bucks 102, Boston Celtics 101 (2OT)
The Celtics had a chance to salt away the 1974 title in Boston Garden and Celtics great John Havlicek tried his best to make it happen. Havlicek hit a shot to send the game into overtime. He hit a shot to send the game into a second OT. Havlicek then hit a jumper to give the Celtics a one-point lead with six seconds remaining. Boston's 12th title was there for the taking, but Milwaukee's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was having none of it. On a play originally designed to go to sharpshooter Jon McGlocklin, Abdul-Jabbar flashed to the elbow, gathered the inbounds pass, dribbled to the baseline and launched a skyhook that nestled itself in the bottom of the net. Kareem's shot only delayed the inevitable as the Celtics took the title in Milwaukee in Game 7.
Willis Reed's dramatic entrance made Game 7 the most memorable game of this thrilling series, but the pivotal Game 5 stands as the best Knicks-Lakers game. Reed suffered his torn thigh muscle with the Knicks trailing early in the game. Down 13 at the half, New York switched to a zone offense, operating without a traditional post player. Urged on by the Garden crowd, the Knicks forged an improbable comeback in the second half, holding Jerry West without a field goal and yielding just four points to Wilt Chamberlain despite guarding him with undersized players.
9. 1970 Game 5
: New York Knicks 107, Los Angeles Lakers 100
Knick Dave DeBusschere would later say, "The fifth game was one of the greatest basketball games ever played."
Michael Jordan had been up all night before Game 5. Nervous? Hardly, this was Jordan's fifth Finals. No, he had been up all night with the flu. His condition was so bad, Jordan was listed as questionable for Game 5 with the series tied 2-2. But Jordan made it out onto the floor and made a lasting impression in NBA history.
The Jazz had a 16-point lead in the first half, but Chicago fought back, only to fall behind again by eight in the fourth. Eventually, Jordan would nail a tiebreaking three with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls the game and the series lead.
Jordan had somehow managed to fight through exhaustion to play 44 minutes and post 38 points, seven rebounds and five assists. After the game, Jordan described his motivation succinctly: "I wanted it real bad."
In 1962, the Lakers were just beginning to establish themselves as an L.A. institution, and had a golden opportunity to interrupt the Celtic dynasty. Boston held a small lead throughout much of the game, but the Lakers stayed close behind the efforts of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Down 100-96 in the final minute, Frank Selvy turned consecutive floor-length drives into four game-tying points. The Lakers got the ball back with five seconds left, and set up Selvy for an eight-footer on the baseline, but his shot drew rim and Game 7 went to overtime.
7. 1962 Game 7
: Boston Celtics 110, Los Angeles Lakers 107 (OT)
Boston survived as Sam Jones scored five of his 27 points in OT. Bill Russell amassed a remarkable 30 points and 40 rebounds to power the Celtics to their fourth straight title, and the Lakers were left to regret their missed opportunity.
"I would trade all my points for that last basket," Selvy would say. "It was a fairly tough shot. I was almost on the baseline."
After getting blown out by 33 in Game 3, Larry Bird said, memorably, "We played like a bunch of sissies."
6. 1984 Game 4
: Boston Celtics 129, Los Angeles Lakers 125 (OT)
Down 2-1, the Celtics were tired of getting their butts kicked. Game 4 of the 1984 Finals turned out to be a rugged classic. It's remembered for Kevin McHale's clothesline of Kurt Rambis and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar jostling Bird's jowls with an elbow. It also featured the best basketball of the first Bird-Magic Finals showdown.
The Lakers had a five-point lead with less than a minute to play, but thanks to two Magic Johnson miscues (a turnover and two missed free throws), the Celtics rallied to tie the game and send it into OT. In the extra period, Bird scored the clutch buckets, including a turnaround from the low post, to cap his 29-point, 21-rebound day with a series-tying victory.
The Pistons were down 56-48 early in the third quarter of Game 6 when Isiah Thomas embarked upon a record-breaking scoring assault. The 6-1 guard posted the team's next 14 points, then, with a little more than four minutes to go in the period, Thomas landed on Michael Cooper's foot and had to be helped from the floor. Despite a severely sprained ankle, Thomas returned 35 seconds later and picked up where he left off. By the end of the period, he had hit 11 of 13 shots from the floor for 25 points, setting an NBA Finals record for points in a quarter, and Detroit was ahead 81-79. The Pistons held a 102-99 lead with a minute left, before Byron Scott hit a jumper and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made two clutch free throws with 14 seconds left for L.A. to tie the series 3-3.
5. 1988 Game 6
: Los Angeles Lakers 103, Detroit Pistons 102
Still, the story of the game was Thomas, who played through pain to deliver 43 points, eight assists and six steals. "I think he was just unconscious," said the Lakers' Magic Johnson. "I think he said, 'OK, I'm going to take this game over.'"
Boston shouldn't have even been here. The battered legs of the fading dynasty had limped to a 48-34 regular-season record, but fought their way to The Finals, where they met the original star-studded Laker cast. L.A. was seemingly invincible after an offseason trade added Wilt Chamberlain to its lineup of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
4. 1969 Game 7
: Boston Celtics 108, Los Angeles Lakers 106
The Celtics fought to send the series to a seventh game, but had to contest the decisive game on the road. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was so confident of victory that he orchestrated a celebration which was to include thousands of balloons being released from the rafters of The Forum. But the Celtics had other ideas.
Boston raced out to an early lead and maintained it, building up to a 17-point edge in the fourth quarter. L.A. had cut the lead to nine when Chamberlain came down with an injured knee with 5:45 to go. Even with Wilt on the bench, the Lakers continued their comeback. The lead was down to one late in the game when Don Nelson picked up a loose ball and drained a miraculous shot which hit the back rim, bounced straight up and fell back down softly through the net.
The Celtics hung on for a 108-106 win, securing the last -- and most improbable -- of their 11 championships in 13 years. West had played heroically, tallying 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists in Game 7 on his way to becoming the only Finals MVP from a losing team. Controversy emerged when it was revealed that L.A. coach Jan van Breda Kolff had opted not to put Chamberlain back in the game after the Big Dipper claimed he was ready to return.
Ultimately, though, the story was about Boston player-coach Bill Russell, who willed his team to one last championship. Russell would retire in the following summer with his unmatched 11 championship rings.
Featuring a pair of rookies in the frontcourt -- Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn -- the Celtics had pushed the St. Louis Hawks to a seventh game, and it was a classic. With less than a minute, St. Louis held a one-point lead and possession when Jack Coleman put up a shot that would have iced it. But Russell had other ideas; he blocked the shot and scored at the other end to put Boston ahead 102-101. Moments later, a Bob Cousy free throw made it 103-101, but then Bob Pettit sank two free throws in the closing seconds to send the game into overtime.
3. 1957 Game 7
: Boston Celtics 125, St. Louis Hawks 123 (2OT)
As the extra period wound down, Boston was up 113-111, but Coleman, who had won Game 1 for St. Louis, hit another clutch jumper for another overtime. With just seconds to go in the second extra period, Hawks center Ed Macauley went to the bench after fouling Jim Loscutoff, who hit two free throws for a 125-123 Boston lead. With only one chance to tie, the Hawks had to take the ball inbounds with a full-court pass to Pettit. Player-coach Alex Hannum, the last eligible player on the Hawks' bench, entered the competition for the first time in the series. He planned to bounce the pass off the backboard in the hope that Pettit could tip it in. Incredibly, Hannum banked the pass off the board to Pettit, but the final shot rolled off the rim as time ran out, and the Celtics secured their first of 11 championships in 13 years.
L.A. could take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a Game 4 win at Boston Garden, but the Celtics came out fired up before their home crowd. Boston led by 16 at the half, and still maintained an eight-point lead with three-and-a-half minutes left before the Lakers decisively closed the gap.
2. 1987 Game 4
: Los Angeles Lakers 107, Boston Celtics 106
Los Angeles took a 104-103 lead in the final minute on a Magic-to-Kareem pick-and-roll, setting up the ultimate Bird vs. Magic sequence. First, Larry Legend drained a three with 12 seconds to go to make it 106-104, Boston. Then, Abdul-Jabbar made a free throw, and the Lakers retained possession after Kareem missed the second.
Now, Magic Johnson unleashed a play for the ages. Taking the inbounds pass to the left of the key, Johnson at first contemplated a 20-footer, but Boston forward Kevin McHale came out to change his mind. So Magic motored into the key, where Larry Bird and Robert Parish joined McHale in a trio of extended arms. Nevertheless, Magic lofted a hook which just cleared Parish's fingertips and then snuggled into the basket with a swish.
The Celtics got a timeout with two seconds left, and even found Bird open for a shot. The ball was perfectly on line, but caught the back rim and Magic ran off happily, having stolen Game 4, 107-106. In the locker room, he dubbed his game-winning shot "my junior, junior, junior sky-hook."
1. 1976 Game 5
: Boston Celtics 128, Phoenix Suns 126 (3OT)
The '76 Celtics emerged victorious in arguably the greatest Finals game ever played.
The Celtics and Suns battled to a tight finish in regulation, 95-95, but little did either team know that the game was just beginning. The first overtime brought six more points for each team and the second OT, controversy. With 15 seconds left, the Celtics owned a three-point lead, and it was time for miracles. First, Dick Van Arsdale scored for Phoenix. Then the Suns' Curtis Perry scored off his own miss to put the Suns up 110-109. With four seconds left, the Celtics raced back upcourt, where John Havlicek motored along the left side, cut toward the hoop, stopped and shoved up a 15-foot bank shot. When it fell through, the Garden erupted, and the game appeared to be over. But the officials ruled that one second remained on the clock.
It took some time for the public address announcer to communicate that to the crowd. Eventually, the security staff got the floor cleared, and play was set to resume. Phoenix would have to go the length of the floor to score with only a second remaining. During the delay, Paul Westphal had an idea. Why not call a timeout, which the Suns didn't have? The officials would have to call a technical. The Celtics would get a free throw, but then the Suns would get the ball at halfcourt with a better shot to tie.
Jo Jo White hit the free throw, giving the Celtics a 112-110 lead. Then, as the hour neared midnight, the Suns went to Gar Heard on the inbounds pass. Standing several feet beyond the top of the key, he arched a high turnaround shot that swished through the net, flooring the Celtics. With the score tied at 112 apiece, the game headed into a third overtime.
With most of the Celtics prime-timers on the bench with six fouls each, they settled on little-used Glenn McDonald, a 6-foot-6 forward who had been the team's No. 1 draft pick out of Long Beach State in 1974. His NBA career lasted just nine more games after the 1976 Finals, and he was released in the 1976-77 season by Milwaukee. But for five minutes of the third overtime, McDonald had the basketball world's attention. He scored six points, the last two on a short jumper, to give Boston a 128-126 win.