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NBA Finals Rematches in the 1980s and '90s

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The 2014 NBA Finals could be subtitled "Heat vs. Spurs Part II." Whether Miami's and San Antonio's players realize it or not, they're carrying on a long Finals tradition. Rematches may have been more common in the NBA's early years, but some memorable ones have taken place within the lifetimes of the players who will take the court this June. Let's look at Finals rematches in the 1980s and '90s.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers

After the 76ers beat the Celtics in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Garden fans chanted for them to beat the Lakers in the Finals. The series opened in Philadelphia, where the Lakers began a 40-9 run midway through the third quarter and won 124-117. The 76ers tied the series with a 110-94 Game Two win, but the Lakers won the next two games in Los Angeles. Philadelphia stayed alive with a 135-102 Game win at home, but the Lakers clinched the title back West with a 114-104 Game Six victory.

Following this latest disappointment, 76ers owner Harold Katz sent Darryl Dawkins to the New Jersey Nets and traded Caldwell Jones to the Houston Rockets for All-Star center Moses Malone. The 76ers finished the 1982-83 record with a 65-17 record, best in the NBA, and Malone predicted his team would sweep the playoffs and win the championship. Philadelphia did sweep the Knicks in the first round but needed five games to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals. The Lakers had finished the regular season 58-24 but were no match for the 76ers in the Finals. The 76ers swept Los Angeles in four games, finally giving team star Julius Erving his elusive NBA title.

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

1984 marked the first time the NBA's two biggest stars, the Celtics' Larry Bird and the Lakers' Magic Johnson, faced each other in the Finals. However, the rivalry between the teams was nothing new; the Celtics had a 7-0 record against the Lakers in the Finals. The Lakers upset the Celtics with a 115-109 Game One victory at Boston Garden and were seemingly on the verge of going up 2-0 in the series when Boston's Gerald Henderson intercepted a Lakers pass with less than 20 seconds left and scored a basket to force overtime. The Celtics won Game Two 124-121. Letting the contest slip away apparently didn't face the Lakers in Game Three, as they crushed the Celtics 137-104 (Johnson had a Finals-record 21 points). Boston won the next two games, but the Lakers tied the series with a 119-108 Game Six victory in Los Angeles. In the Celtics' 113-102 Game Seven victory at the Garden, Cedric Maxwell had 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Finals MVP Bird had 20 points and 12 rebounds. The Celtics increased their championship total to 15.

The loss provided Johnson with motivation for the following season, and he led the Lakers to a 62-20 regular season record. However, the Celtics finished 63-19 and would enjoy home court advantage once again. Game One of the 1985 Finals became known as the "Memorial Day Massacre" after the Celtics demolished the Lakers 148-114. The Lakers won Game Two 109-102 and enjoyed their own blowout win with a 136-111 victory in Game Three in Los Angeles. Dennis Johnson's basket with two seconds left gave the Celtics a 107-105 victory in Game Four. The Finals returned to a 2-3-2 format that year, which meant the Lakers would have the chance to take the series lead on their home court. They did, winning 120-111. Back in Boston for Game Six, the Lakers won 111-100 and became the first opposing team to win a championship on the Garden floor.

Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Shortly after the Lakers won the 1987 championship, coach Pat Riley guaranteed his team would repeat the following year. His players responded to the pressure by finishing the regular season with a 62-20 record and advancing to the 1988 Finals. Their opponent this time was the Pistons, who had surpassed the Celtics as the East's best team. The Pistons, known as the "Bad Boys" for their aggressive defense, stunned the Lakers at home by winning Game One 105-93. After tying the series with a 108-96 Game Two win, the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead by beating the Pistons 99-86 at the Pontiac Silverdome. Piston Bill Laimbeer said after Game Three it was the first time in a long time his team felt they had genuinely lost a contest. Detroit responded by beating the Lakers 111-86 in Game Four and 104-94 in Game Five, the Pistons' final game in the Silverdome. The Pistons seemed to have the title won with a minute left in Game Six, but a controversial foul call on Laimbeer and a missed shot by Detroit's Joe Dumars with eight seconds left helped the Lakers win 103-102. Laker James Worthy, the Finals MVP, had a triple double in Game Seven and Los Angeles survived a furious fourth quarter rally by the Pistons to win 108-105. Riley had kept his word.

Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had announced he would retire at the end of the 1988-89 season, and Riley hoped to send him out in historic fashion. The coach had even patented the slogan "Three-peat." But the 1989 Finals would be memorable for Abdul-Jabbar for exactly the wrong reason. Detroit won Game One 109-97 at home, an effort Pistons coach Chuck Daly said was likely his team's best in the playoffs. When Worthy stepped to the free throw line with the Pistons up by two and less than 10 seconds left in the second game, he had a chance to shift the momentum. Instead, Worthy made one of the two free throws, then Piston Isiah Thomas made two with a second left to give Detroit a 108-105 victory. Johnson came out of Game Three after only five minutes due to a pulled hamstring, but the Lakers were only down three with 13 seconds remaining. After Dumars lost the ball out of the bounds with nine seconds left, Lakers rookie David Rivers was set up to shoot a three-pointer for the tie. Dumars hadn't thought Rivers would get the ball, but when he realized his mistake he ran eight feet, blocked Rivers' shot and kept the ball in play. The final score was 114-110. The Pistons won Game Four 105-97 to capture the first championship in team history. 

Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Utah's Karl Malone had beaten Chicago's Michael Jordan for MVP in the 1996-97 season, but the first two games of the 1997 Finals in Chicago suggested otherwise. Malone missed two free throws with the score tied and 9.2 seconds left in Game One, while Jordan sank a 20-footer at the buzzer to give the Bulls an 84-82 victory. Malone scored only 20 points in Game Two, while Jordan had 38 (along with 13 rebounds and nine assists) and the Bulls won 97-85. The Jazz evened the series with two wins in Salt Lake City, but Jordan gave a legendary performance in Game Five. Despite suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, Jordan scored 38 points in 44 minutes and the Bulls won 90-88. Jordan had 39 points and 11 rebounds in Game Six, but his biggest play that night was arguably his pass to teammate Steve Kerr with the score tied and 26 seconds remaining. Wide open, Kerr made a 17-foot shot. The Bulls won 90-86 and collected their fifth championship in seven years.

The Jazz had home court advantage in the 1998 Finals and opened the series with an 88-85 overtime win. It marked the first time since 1991 the Bulls had lost the opening game of a Finals. The end score may have been close, but the Jazz outscored the Bulls 52-34 in the paint and their reserves outscored Chicago's 22-8. The Bulls tied the series by winning Game Two 93-88, then took a 2-1 series lead by crushing the Jazz 96-54 in Chicago. The 42-point victory margin was the largest in Finals history. Jordan made two baskets in the final 2:11 of Game Four and the Bulls won 86-82. After uninspired performances in the first four games, Malone had 39 points and nine rebounds and led the Jazz to an 83-81 win, sending the series back to Salt Lake City. The Jazz led by a point with a minute left in Game Six when Jordan stole the ball from Malone and headed down the court. Facing Utah's Byron Russell, Jordan launched a jump shot that gave the Bulls an 87-86 victory and their sixth championship. It proved to be Jordan's final game with the Bulls. 

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