By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With one of the best Conference Finals matchups in recent memory set to draw to a close on Monday when the Warriors host the Thunder at Oracle Arena, fans and writers are already trying to decipher where this series stands in league history.
The Warriors and Thunder have the formula in place to cement this matchup as a great series (historic team, high level of play, collapse potential with Thunder blowing 3-1 series lead). It’s rare however for Game 7s in NBA history to deliver the goods as far as a compelling matchup on the floor when all the chips pushed to the middle to the table.
To see what competition Golden State and OKC are up against on that front, let’s take a walk down memory lane and look back at some of the best Game 7s in Conference Finals history.
2002 – Lakers 112, Kings 106 (OT)
Two of the great teams of the early 2000s went toe-to-toe in this seesaw affair that saw Mike Bibby (29 points) send the game into overtime with a pair of free throws with just under 10 seconds remaining. Despite playing on their home floor, the Kings could not close out the defending champions, as Sacramento went scoreless in the final two minutes of OT. An above-average day for Shaq from the FT line (11-of-15) and inept 3-point shooting from the Kings (2-of-20) ultimately proved to be the difference as the Lakers eventually went on to win their third straight title.
2000 – Lakers 89, Blazers 84
The start of the Lakers’ Dynasty of the early 2000s was in grave danger in Game 7 against the Blazers. In their first year under head coach Phil Jackson, the Kobe/Shaq duo had rolled to a 67-15 regular season and a 3-1 series lead in the Conference Finals before a furious comeback by the Blazers. Portland took the next two games and forced a Game 7 at Staples Center, storming to a 15-point fourth quarter lead that left the Lakers on the verge of an epic collapse. From there, it was the visitors who withered down the stretch, with the likes of Brian Shaw and Robert Horry stepping up for the Lakers. Ultimately, the hosts came back from one of the biggest fourth quarter deficits (15 points) in Game 7 history to head to the NBA Finals.
1998 – Bulls 88, Pacers 83
No team ever tested the Bulls in the late 1990s like the 1998 Pacers did in this series. Each team held court on their home floor for the first six games of the Conference Finals leading to a defensive struggle in Game 7 between the two heavyweights. The Pacers, coached by Larry Bird, stormed out to an early eight-point lead on the road, but Jordan and the Bulls clawed back into the game largely based on their rebounding (22 offensive boards) and defense. A near triple-double from Jordan (28 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists) was enough to set up the Bulls for one final three-peat.
1994- Knicks 94, Pacers 90
With the backdrop of the Spike Lee/Reggie Miller showdown, one of the greatest rivalries of the 1990s took shape in this seven-game series. Much like the Bulls-Pacers Game 7 in 1998, the Knicks won this game on the glass. Incredibly, the hosts grabbed nearly as many offensive rebounds (28) as the Pacers had total rebounds (29), keyed by 24 points and 22 rebounds by Patrick Ewing. The gritty play helped New York overcome 25 points from Reggie Miller and a four-point fourth quarter deficit. The Pacers would have to wait until one year later to get their revenge against New York in another Game 7, this time in the Conference Semifinals.
1987 – Celtics 117, Pistons 114
While Larry Bird’s steal in Game 5 of this series usually gets most of the headlines in Celtic history, his performance in Game 7 was one for the ages. He played all 48 minutes in the seesaw affair, posting 37 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. Boston’s starters only rested for 24 total minutes in the contest, with all five scoring in double figures to overcome 35 points from Joe Dumars and 25 points from Isaiah Thomas. The win sent Boston back to their fourth straight NBA Finals, the final of the Big Three era.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.