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Cavs-Warriors not first series to get an anticipated redo

Since 1979, six NBA Finals series have featured a second go-around of the teams from the Finals a year before

POSTED: Jun 1, 2016 10:00 AM ET

By Lang Whitaker

BY Lang Whitaker


With the Golden State Warriors finishing off the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, the 2016 NBA Finals are now ready to go.

The Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers would be a compelling series just based on matchups alone, with LeBron James and Stephen Curry, two players with multiple MVPs, squaring off. But it's made all the more interesting thanks to the context of recent history: It was less than a year ago that the Warriors and Cavs played a six-game series in The Finals, with the Warriors eventually prevailing over a battered Cavaliers team.

While an NBA Finals rematch isn't a regular occurrence, it's not exactly rare, either. Over the years, the same teams have met in the Finals in consecutive years on thirteen occasions, with nearly even results: six times one team won back-to-back Finals, and seven times the two teams split the series.

In recent history, the same teams have found themselves meeting again in the Finals six times. Let's take a closer look at how those Finals rematches have played out...

Seattle Supersonics vs. Washington Bullets, 1979

1979 Finals: Sonics vs. Bullets

Catch highlights from Game 5 of the 1979 Finals as Seattle takes home the title.

In the previous Finals: Bullets eliminated the Sonics in Game 7 of the 1978 Finals.

The rematch: The Sonics beat the Bullets in five games.

How it went: It was a rematch that nearly didn't occur, as both teams had to come from behind in the 1979 conference finals to earn return trips to The Finals.

Seattle blew an 18-point fourth quarter lead in Game 1, before Washington guard Larry Wright converted two free throws with no time on the clock for a 97-99 win. It would be Washington's only win in the series, as Seattle responded by winning the next four games and taking the title, the only championship in franchise history.

The Sonics were led by their dynamic backcourt duo of Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams, who combined to average 51.2 ppg in The Finals. Second-year center Jack Sikma was also dominant for the Seattle, averaging 16.2 points per game and 14.8 rebounds per game. The aging Bullets were led by the 31-year-old Bobby Dandridge (21.8 ppg) and 33-year-old Elvin Hayes (20.0 ppg). It would be the only NBA championship for Seattle coach Lenny Wilkens, who would go on to become the winningest coach in NBA history.

One season later, Magic Johnson and the ascending Lakers dynasty quickly usurped the Sonics in the Western Conference hierarchy. The Bullets as a franchise (now known as the Wizards) have not been back to The Finals since 1979.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 1983

1983 Finals: Sixers vs. Lakers

Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

In the previous Finals: Led by first-year coach Pat Riley, the Lakers eliminated the Sixers in Game 6 of the 1982 Finals.

The rematch: Sixers sweep Lakers to win first title since 1968.

How it went: "Showtime" was blossoming in Los Angeles, as the Lakers were beginning a run of seven Finals appearances in eight seasons. The Sixers, meanwhile, had lost in The Finals in three of the previous six seasons, and were hoping to grasp a championship while Julius "Dr. J" Erving was still in his prime.

After losing to the Lakers in The 1982 Finals, the Sixers traded away center Daryl Dawkins and brought in reigning MVP Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets to provide a post presence to counter Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Los Angeles, meanwhile, had added James Worthy, the No. 1 overall pick of the 1982 Draft, although he would miss The 1983 Finals with an injury.

Heading into the postseason, Malone generated some swag for the Sixers, predicting an Eastern Conference postseason sweep via his now-infamous "Fo, Fo, Fo," proclamation. Although he was ultimately off by one game (it took Philadelphia five games to oust the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals), the Sixers did indeed romp through the playoffs.

Once they reached The Finals, the Sixers easily handled the Lakers, sweeping the defending champs for the lone NBA title of Dr. J's storied career. Malone was every bit as great as the Sixers had hoped, averaging 25.8 points per game and 18.0 rebounds per game in The Finals, while Andrew Toney chipped in 22.0 ppg and Erving went for 19.0 ppg and 8.0 rpg. The Sixers haven't won another title since, and made just one Finals appearance (2001) in that time, losing to the Lakers. Despite the loss in 1983, the Lakers saw "Showtime" coalesce into a juggernaut, and would win titles in three of the next five seasons.

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 1985

1985 Finals: Lakers vs. Celtics

Magic Johnson (Triple-Double) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (29 points) proved to be too much for the Celtics, as the Lakers defeated the Celtics in a NBA Finals series for the first time.

In the previous Finals: The Celtics defeat the Lakers in Game 7 of The 1984 Finals, giving them their second title in four seasons

The rematch: Lakers defeat the Celtics in Game 6 to clinch title.

How it went: The NBA's most historic rivalry would continue in The 1985 Finals, one year after Larry Bird and the Celtics had narrowly trumped Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the first Finals meeting between the budding superstars.

Of course, history ran deep between these franchises, as the Celtics had won all eight previous Finals matchups between the two squads. The Celtics and Lakers were the two best teams during the 1984-85 regular season, and made hopes for the rematch a reality.

The Celtics made a strong statement out of the gate, winning Game 1 at home by a 148-114 margin, in a game that was later labeled the "Memorial Day Massacre." The Lakers responded by clamping down on Larry Bird and winning Games 2 and 3, behind stellar all-around play from Magic Johnson. A Dennis Johnson game-winning jumper for Boston evened the series 2-2, but the Lakers won Games 5 and 6, clinching the title for the Lakers, their third championship in six seasons.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would win the Finals MVP award, averaging 25.7 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game, while Magic Johnson chipped in 18.3 ppg and 14 assists per game. After the Celtics beat Houston for the 1986 championship, the Celtics and Lakers would meet again in The 1987 Finals, when the Lakers would again triumph in six games.

Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 1989

1989 Finals: Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons defeat the Los Angeles Lakers to win the 1989 Championship.

In the previous Finals: The Lakers win Games 6 and 7 to win The 1988 Finals.

The rematch: Pistons sweep Lakers to win their first NBA championship.

How it went: After squandering a 3-2 lead in the 1988 Finals, the Detroit Pistons were focused on not just getting another chance, but capitalizing on that opportunity.

To that end, the Pistons made a significant move midway through the 1988-89 campaign, trading Adrian Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aguirre. The Pistons with Aguirre immediately went on a roll, finishing the season with a 30-4 run. Meanwhile, Pat Riley's "Showtime" Lakers were coming off back-to-back titles, although they knew these Finals would be the last NBA appearance from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before his pending retirement.

Before the series even began, Los Angeles caught a bad break, as starting shooting guard Byron Scott suffered a hamstring injury in practice and would be forced to miss the entire series. After Detroit won Game 1, the Lakers lost regular season MVP Magic Johnson in Game 2, also to a hamstring injury, and the Pistons took a 2-0 lead.

Johnson returned briefly in Game 3, but the Pistons went on to sweep the Lakers in four games, as the Lakers had no answer for Detroit's superb backcourt of Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas, who combined to average 48.6 points per game and 13.3 assists per game in the series.

"The Bad Boys" had arrived and would also win a championship the next season, before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls effectively put up a roadblock in the Eastern Conference. One season later, Riley would resign from the Lakers, as the "Showtime" dynasty began dimming.

Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz, 1998

1998 NBA Finals: Bulls vs. Jazz

Relive the top 10 plays from the 1998 Finals, as the Chicago Bull won their sixth NBA Championship.

In the previous Finals: The Bulls beat the Jazz 4-2 in The 1997 Finals to win their fifth title of the Jordan era.

The rematch: Bulls again eliminate Jazz in Game 6 to win their third straight title and sixth overall.

How it went: The Bulls had reeled off championship runs in each of Michael Jordan's previous five seasons, but they had never faced the same Finals opponent in consecutive years. Until now.

Led by future Hall of Famers Karl Malone, John Stockton and coach Jerry Sloan, the Utah Jazz were running out of opportunities to get a title. The Jazz had an easier road to the 1998 Finals than the Bulls, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals while the Bulls and Indiana Pacers endured a rough seven-game battle in the Eastern Conference finals.

With the rematch set, the Jazz and Bulls split the first two games. As the series shifted to Chicago, the Bulls took control, blowing out the Jazz 96-54 in Game 3 and eventually taking a 3-2 series lead.

Back in Salt Lake City for Game 6, the Jazz held an 86-85 lead with seconds to play, when Jordan stole the ball from Malone, dribbled to the other end, crossed over against Bryon Russell and drained a now iconic jumper from the left side of the key, giving Chicago the title.

It was Chicago's sixth title in eight seasons, and for Jordan, who averaged 33.5 points per game in The Finals, his sixth NBA Finals MVP award. A few months later, Jordan would retire (for the second time), and the Bulls' dynasty would be summarily dismantled. Since the 1998 Finals, neither the Jazz nor the Bulls have returned to the NBA Finals.

Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs, 2014

2014 Finals: Heat vs. Spurs

Relive the best moments from the 2014 NBA Finals through the lens of the super-slow motion phantom cam!

In the previous Finals: Heat outlast the Spurs in Game 7 of The 2014 Finals to clinch the title.

The rematch: The Spurs beat the Heat in five games.

How it went: The Heat won their second title of the "Big Three" era in The 2013 Finals against the Spurs, a series that was one legendary Ray Allen Game 6 3-pointer away from being a Spurs championship.

One year later, the Spurs wanted revenge.

Of all of coach Gregg Popovich's San Antonio teams, these Spurs may have been the most fluid offensively, with eight players averaging at least nine points per game during the regular season. After splitting the first two games in The Finals, the Spurs bumped Boris Diaw into the starting lineup, which seemed to unlock their full offensive potential.

The Spurs dominated the rest of the way, winning Games 3, 4 and 5 by an average of 19 points per game, on their way to their fifth title of the Tim Duncan era. During this series, then-third-year Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard had his breakout on a national stage, averaging 17.8 points per game en route to being named NBA Finals MVP. James averaged 28.2 ppg, 7.8 rebounds per game and 4.0 assists per game for the overwhelmed Heat.

This also marked the final run for James in Miami, as he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offseason as a free agent. The Spurs would lose in the first round in the 2015 playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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