20 Best Playoff Series in NBA History

NBA Playoffs 560x187The NBA playoffs are well under away and giving us much to cheer about with the San Antonio Spurs being the first team to advance after a series sweep over Memphis. Oklahoma City has been scoring like crazy and the Portland Trailblazers advancing to the second round with an upset series win over the Clippers. While two series went to the 7th game, the first round was mostly chalk, but we expect the action to heat up some in the second round.

The NBA playoffs are more than just a few good games, here and there. It’s about the match-ups and series that feature some of the best players in the league clawing their way to a win. Those series that are more than memorable, they are unforgettable. There have been plenty of amazing playoff series, not including the NBA Finals, since they expanded in 1977. Here are twenty of the best NBA playoff series not including the NBA Finals.

20. #8 Knicks vs. #2 Pacers

  • Date: May 30 – June 11 (1999)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Knicks won, 4-2
  • Best Performance: Larry Johnson, Game 3, with the series tied at 1-1, the Pacers were up by 3 with only 11.9 seconds remaining before LJ got fouled in a rare NBA four point play.
  • Best Game: Game 2, Pacers 88 over Knicks 86

19. #3 Knicks vs. #2 Heat

  • Date: May 7 – 21 (2000)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Knicks won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Games 6 and 7, the Heat had double digit leads in both games before blowing them leading to an eventual series win for the Knicks.
  • Best Game: Game 7, with the game tied in the fourth quarter, it took great performances from Patrick Ewing and Latrell Spreewell to lead them to their only series win in the past 16 seasons besides 2013.

18. #6 Bulls vs. #3 Cavs

  • Date: April 28 – May 7 (1989)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Quarter Finals
  • Series Result: Bulls won, 3-2
  • Best Performance: Michael Jordan, Game 5, turning into the legend he has become when he called out each and every reporter that picked against them to win.
  • Best Game: Game 5, Bulls 101 over Cavs 100, Michael Jordan dropped 44 points, 9 rbs, and 6 asts to send the Bulls into the next round.

17. #1 Celtics vs. #4 Cavs

  • Date: May 6 – 18 (2008)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Celtics 4-3
  • Best Performance: Paul Pierce (41 pts, 5 asts, 4 rbs) and Lebron James (45 pts, 6 asts, 5 rbs) in Game 7
  • Best Game: Game 6, Cavs 74 over Celtics 69, in a defensive struggle that lead to one of the lowest scoring playoff games in NBA history.

16. #1 Pistons vs. #3 Bulls

  • Date: May 20 – June 3 (1990)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Pistons, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Michael Jordan, entire series, he single handidly carried his team to a deciding game 7 before he had nothing left in his tank and the Bulls lost. This was the beginning of a legendary rivalry between the Bulls and Pistons.
  • Best Game: All of them. Every game was great and was worth every single second.

15. #3 Rockets vs. #2 Supersonics

  • Date: May 5 – 17 (1997)
  • Round: Western Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Rockets won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Gary Payton, Games 4,5, 6 (He averaged 22.3 pts, 11.7 asts, and 3 stls per game during that stretch)
  • Best Game: Game 4, Rockets 110 over Supersonics 106, OT

14. #1 Celtics vs. #4 Hawks

  • Date: May 11 – 22 (1988)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Celtics, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Larry Bird, Game 7, he scored 20 of his 34 points in the game’s final quarter leading the Celtics to an Eastern Conference Finals match-up against the Detroit Pistons.
  • Best Game: Game 7, Celtics 118 over Hawks 116, Dominique Wilkins 47 points wasn’t enough to carry his Hawks to a shocking upset.

13. #6 Rockets vs. #3 Jazz

  • Date: April 27 – May 7 (1995)
  • Round: Western Conference Quarter Finals
  • Series Result: Rockets won, 3-2
  • Best Performance: Clyde Drexler (41 pts, 9 rbs, 6 asts) and Hakeem Olajuwon (40 pts, 8 rbs), Game 4
  • Best Game: Game 5, Rockets 95 over Jazz 91, after trailing by 7 heading into the fourth quarter, the Rockets outscored the Jazz 31-20 en route to a series win.

12. #1 Celtics vs. #4 Bucks

  • Date: May 5 – 17 (1987)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Celtics won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Larry Bird, Game 7, where he scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Celtics to a series winning win after trailing by 8 with just five minutes left in the game.
  • Best Game: Game 4, Celtics 138 over Bucks 137, in 2 OT’s

11. #2 Bulls vs. #1 Knicks

  • Date: May 23 – June 4 (1993)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Bulls won, 4-2
  • Best Performance: Michael Jordan, Game 4, he scored 54 points leading the Bulls to victory.
  • Best Game: Game 5, Bulls 97 over Knicks 94, where both Michael Jordan (29 pts, 14 asts, 10 rbs) and Scottie Pippen (28 pts, 11 rbs) led the way

10. #3 Magic vs. #1 Cavs

  • Date: May 20 – 30 (2009)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Magic won, 4-2
  • Best Performance: Lebron James, Game 4, where he finished with 44 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists before losing in OT.
  • Best Game: Game 2, Cavs 96 over Magic 95, Lebron James hit the game-winning three point shot as the clock expired.

9. #1 Bulls vs. #3 Pacers

  • Date: May 17 – 31 (1998)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Bulls won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Reggie Miller, Game 4, game-winning shot tying the series at 2 games apiece.
  • Best Game: Game 7, Bulls 88 over Pacers 83

8. #2 Cavs vs. #1 Pistons

  • Date: May 21 – June 2 (2007)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Cavs won, 4-2
  • Best Performance: Cleveland Cavs, Games 3-6, after trailing 0-2 in the series, they fought back in Game 3 and ended up winning four straight to win the series.
  • Best Game: Game 5, Cavs 109 over Pistons 107

7. #6 Rockets vs. #1 Spurs

  • Date: May 22 – June 1 (1995)
  • Round: Western Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Rockets won, 4-2
  • Best Performance: Hakeem Olajuwon dominated David Robinson from Game 1 to Game 6. He averaged 35.3 pts, 12.5 rbs, 5 asts, 4.2 blks, 1.3 stls for the entire series.
  • Best Game: Game 6, Rockets 100 over Spurs 95

6. #2 Celtics vs. #7 Bulls

  • Date: April 18 – May 2 (2009)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Quarter Finals
  • Series Result: Celtics won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Ray Allen, Game 6, he finished with 51 points including hitting 9 of 18 3-point baskets in three overtimes
  • Best Game: Game 6, Bulls 128 over Celtics 127, 3 OT

5. #6 Rockets vs. #2 Suns

  • Date: May 9 – 20 (1995)
  • Round: Western Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Rockets won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Mario Elie’s clutch 3 point shot with only 7 seconds left in Game 7
  • Best Game: Game 5, Rockets 103 over Suns 97, OT

4. #1 Lakers vs. #3 Blazers

  • Date: May 20 – June 4 (2000)
  • Round: Western Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Lakers won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1 (41 pts, 11 rbs, 7 asts, 5 blks)
  • Best Game: Game 7, Lakers 89 over Blazers 84, following an epic collapse by the Trailblazers who had a 13 point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

3. #4 Mavericks vs. #1 Spurs

  • Date: May 7 – 22 (2006)
  • Round: Western Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Mavericks won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Dirk Nowitzki, Game 7, hit two free throws to tie the game and send it into overtime before hitting the final two free throws in OT to secure the win. (He finished the game with 37 pts, 15 rbs)
  • Best Game: Game 7, Mavericks 119 over Spurs 111

2. #1 Celtics vs. #3 76ers

  • Date: April 21 – May 3 (1981)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Finals
  • Series Result: Celtics won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Boston Celtics in Games 5, 6, and 7, winning by a combined 5 points.
  • Best Game: Game 7 – Celtics 91 over 76ers 90 to win series after trailing 3-1

1. #2 Pacers vs. #3 Knicks

  • Date: May 7 – 21 (1995)
  • Round: Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
  • Series Result: Pacers won, 4-3
  • Best Performance: Reggie Miller scored 8 points in the final nine seconds to upset the Knicks in Game 1.
  • Best Game: Game 5 – Knicks 96 over Pacers 95 after Patrick Ewing hit the game winner with only one second left to finish with a team high 19 points.