Reflecting on some fantastic (non-Finals) playoff rematches

The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets waged an epic series in the 2018 Western Conference finals, with the Warriors emerging as victors in a memorable Game 7. The teams are set to meet again this postseason, marking a rematch and the continuation of a rivalry between the team with the upper hand (Golden State) and the opponent (Houston) trying to oust their nemesis.

Since 1984-85, there have been a lot of these rematch playoff series — and for the purposes of this exercise, we’re excluding rematches in The Finals. Why? Because the Rockets are trying to reach The Finals for the first time since 1995.

For a good number of teams, getting past that team keeping them from The Finals was a magical moment. In others, it was just good to vanquish a playoff demon. Other series were simply entertaining, even though they were over quickly.

We went with ’84-85 because it was Michael Jordan’s rookie season, and he played a role in denying many a team and player a shot at their next goal.

Here’s a look at some great playoff rematches in NBA history since the 1985 playoffs.

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Celtics vs. Pistons, 1987-88 East finals

Why it gets a nod: Boston won an East-high 57 games, but Detroit, which had pushed the Celtics to the limit in the East finals in 1987, won 54 games and the Central Division. General manager Jack McCloskey and coach Chuck Daly had surrounded 6-foot-1 star guard Isiah Thomas with rugged rebounders Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, scorers Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, and young, aggressive defensive forwards Dennis Rodman and John Salley.

As for Boston, it boasted its core of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge as it sought a third straight NBA title. However, the Pistons bounced back from that ’87 East finals loss with a vengeance. They won two of the first three games at the vaunted Boston Garden and closed out the Celtics in Game 6, reaching their first Finals in franchise history. The Pistons fell just short there, losing in Game 7 to the Los Angeles Lakers — but fittingly, reached The Finals again and swept the Lakers in the 1988 series.

Pacers vs. Knicks, 1993-2000 (various series)

Why it gets a nod: These teams didn’t meet in a playoff series ever year from 1993 to 2000 … but it sure seemed that way. Overall, the teams met six times in that span, with the teams splitting those series (Indiana won in ’95, ’98 and 2000; New York won in ’93, ’94 and ’99). Consider, too, that the winner of this series reached The Finals three times, including back-to-back matchups in the East finals (New York won in 1999; Indiana won in 2000).

While the players on the periphery changed, the stars driving this series remained the same. For the Knicks, it was Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, Derek Harper and Anthony Mason with Pat Riley (and later Jeff Van Gundy) on the sidelines. The Pacers countered with Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Rik Smits, Dale Davis and Derrick McKey/Chris Mullin/Jalen Rose with Larry Brown (and later Larry Bird) on the sidelines. The play in these series epitomized 1990s-era basketball and delivered countless playoff moments — Miller’s eight points in 8.9 seconds, Ewing’s jubilation in Game 7 of ’94, Larry Johnson’s four-point play — that still resonate with NBA fans today.