With the Miami Heat set to face the San Antonio Spurs in what could be a memorable NBA Final, sportsnet.ca looks back some of the best game 7s over the last 20 years of the NBA playoffs.
1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals — Indiana Pacers 97, New York Knicks 95
With Michael Jordan returning from his baseball stint just in time for the 1995 playoffs, many teams sensed that this would be their time to capitalize. However, the uber-confident Reggie Miller led Indiana to a narrow upset at Madison Square Garden, with Knicks star Patrick Ewing missing a game-tying layup at the buzzer. Miller’s antics, feud with Knicks super-fan Spike Lee and overall drama of the series led this matchup to be canonized in ESPN 30 for 30’s “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks.”
1995 Western Conference Semifinals — Houston Rockets 115, Phoenix Suns 114
Houston was looking to defend its championship, and was pushed to the brink by the Suns, looking back to get back the Finals after losing in 1993 to the Bulls. Phoenix took a 3-1 series lead but Charles Barkley’s group couldn’t’ close the series out. In the pivotal Game 7, Kevin Johnson erupted for 46 points, while Barkley added 18. However, the duo of Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon added 29 apiece, and Sam Cassell added 18 off the bench. This game was highlighted by Mario Elie’s three-pointer, putting Houston up 113-110, labeled by some as the “Kiss of Death.”
1996 Western Conference Finals — Seattle SuperSonics 90, Utah Jazz 86
This game almost gains credence in history – a driven Seattle team led by Gary Payton stopped a Utah juggernaut that would lose to Michael Jordan’s Bulls the following two years. Gary Payton was phenomenal in this game, recording 26 points, 14 rebounds on 53 per cent shooting as Seattle just edged Karl Malone and Co.
1998 Eastern Conference — Chicago Bulls 88, Indiana Pacers 83
The legendary Michael Jordan rarely saw his Bulls pushed to seven games but in 1998 they almost met their match when they faced a tough, defensive-minded group of Pacers. While Jordan put up 25 points, he only shot 9-15 from the field and did most of his damage from the line. While the Bulls had a terrible shooting night, their efforts were buoyed by 22 offensive rebounds. Chicago would narrowly knock off Indiana on their way to collecting their third consecutive NBA title.
2000 Western Conference Finals — Los Angeles Lakers 89, Portland Trail Blazers 84
An upstart Blazers team featuring an aging Scottie Pippen, Detlef Schrempf and Rasheed Wallace pushed Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s Lakers to the edge. Yet Bryant’s play belied his aged in this game, scoring 25 points and adding 11 rebounds, negating Wallace’s 30 points for Portland. Los Angeles would go to win their first of three championships, cementing Shaq’s 1999-00 campaign as one of the best in NBA history.
2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals — Philadelphia 76ers 88, Toronto Raptors 87
This series marks the pinnacle of the Raptors’ franchise, as Allen Iverson and Vince Carter faced off in a shootout of a series. In the final game of the series, Carter had a chance to lead the Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals, but his shot bounced off the rim and Toronto hasn’t been back to the second round since.
2002 Conference Finals — Los Angeles Lakers 112, Sacramento Kings 106
Sacramento had a chance to stop the two-time defending champion Lakers, and changed the landscape of the basketball world. Although referee Tim Donaghy admitted Game 6 of the series was fixed, it didn’t take away from the quality of basketball. Game 7 saw 19 lead changes, and the game went to overtime. Yet only Shaq and Kobe could let the Lakers’ dynasty implode, and the duo went on to top the Kings and win their third straight title.
2005 NBA Finals — San Antonio Spurs 81, Detroit Pistons 74
This series was between the two previous champions, becoming a classic in itself, with Game 5 of the series entering the annals of history. It was the first time in 11 years a Finals would be decided in Game 7, and the Spurs knocked off the defending champion Pistons, buoyed by a vintage 25-point, 11-rebound Tim Duncan performance.
2006 Western Conference Semifinals — Dallas Mavericks 119, San Antonio Spurs 111 (OT)
San Antonio was looking for the chance to defend its 2005 title, and in retrospect missed a chance to win three consecutive titles – the Spurs would sweep LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals. This game can be best classified as a battle between Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. Duncan recorded 41 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, but Nowitzki bested his effort with 37 points, 15 boards and the win. Miami would defeat Dallas in the 2006 Finals.
2010 NBA Finals — Los Angeles Lakers 83, Boston Celtics 79
With the league’s two most storied teams and rivals facing off in Game 7 with a championship on the line, it was only fitting that this game was tantalizing to the very end. Boston led at half, and were up by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, and although Kobe Bryant shot a poor 25 per cent from the field, Pau Gasol picked up the slack and the Lakers reclaimed supremacy.