1975: Warriors versus Bullets (Barry’s Bay Area Upset)

Background

After losing in the 1967 NBA Finals, the Warriors would lose twice more (1968, 1973) in the conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers and change their name from San Francisco to the Golden State Warriors in 1971. Before the 1975 season, the team traded franchise center Nate Thurmond to the Chicago Bulls for Clifford Ray, making All-Star Rick Barry the cornerstone of the offense. The Warriors raced out to a conference-best 48 wins in 1975, claiming the number one seed in the West and earning Keith Wilkes Rookie of the Year honors. In the playoffs, Golden State defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in a six-game conference semifinals. In the Western Conference Finals, facing Thurmond and the Bulls, the Warriors trailed the series 3-2 but forced a deciding game seven with a convincing road victory. Back at home, Golden State won by a slim four-point margin to advance to the franchise’s first NBA Finals in nine years.

Following their four-game sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1971 NBA Finals, the Bullets made key lineup changes by acquiring small forward Mike Riordan from the New York Knicks for flashy guard Earl Monroe and rebounding power forward Elvin Hayes from the Houston Rockets for starter Jack Marin. In 1975, having relocated to Washington, the team won 60 games in the regular season and entered the playoffs as the number two seed by virtue of losing a tiebreaker to the Boston Celtics. Facing league MVP Bob McAdoo and the Buffalo Braves in the conference semifinals, the Bullets dropped the opener at home but won two straight to go up 2-1 before alternating victories over the final four games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Facing the top-seeded and defending champion Celtics, Washington stole the opener on the road and won all three games at home to advance in six games to their second NBA Finals of the decade.

Lineups

The Warriors starting back court was comprised of point guard Butch Beard and shooting guard Charles Johnson. Rick Barry led the league in steals as the starting small forward in the front court alongside rookie Keith Wilkes at power forward and newly acquired center Clifford Ray.

Off the bench, veteran Phil Smith served as Beard’s primary backup at point guard, and Jeff Mullins functioned as the first player off the bench on the perimeter. Derrek Dickey provided depth up front at forward, and George Johnson spelled Ray at center. Charles Dudley, Bill Bridges, and Steve Bracey played sparingly in the NBA Finals.

NBA assists leader Kevin Porter started for the Bullets in at point guard in the back court alongside All-Star shooting guard Phil Chenier. Mike Riordan earned the starting small forward spot alongside newly acquired Elvin Hayes at power forward and former league MVP Wes Unseld at center.

Washington utilized Clem Haskins off the bench as the primary backup at guard. Nick Weatherspoon provided depth as the first small forward off the bench, while Truck Robinson functioned as the third big man on the roster. Dick Gibbs, Tom Kozelko, and Dennis DuVal rarely played in the championship series.

Game One: Warriors 101, Bullets 95

The favored Bullets came out hot in game one and build a 14-point lead by halftime thanks to Porter’s playmaking and Hayes’ scoring. Despite struggling in the first half, Barry came alive in the third quarter as the Warriors made their charge. Phil Smith contributed a clutch 20 points off the bench as Golden State suffocated Washington on offense and closed to within one point at the end of the third. The Warriors grabbed control in the final period and clinched the win after a late turnaround jumper from Barry that gave him 24 points for the game. Ray pulled down a monster 16 rebounds as Golden State fended off double-doubles from Hayes and Unseld and 20 points from Chenier in the opener.

Game Two: Bullets 91, Warriors 92

Unable to play at their homecourt of Oakland Coliseum Arena, the Warriors were forced to play game two at the unfamiliar Cow Palace nearby. The Bullets took advantage and jumped out to a nine-point lead after the first quarter. Golden State weathered the storm, however, and rallied behind Barry’s 36 points to take a one-point lead in the closing seconds. Washington had a chance to win the game on the final possession but missed both shots and now faced a 2-0 series deficit. Chenier scored 30 to lead the Bullets, alongside 21 from Riordan and 15 from Elvin Hayes. Wilkes and Johnson combined for 27 in support of Barry.

Game Three: Bullets 101, Warriors 109

Again at the Cow Palace, the Warriors took an early lead thanks to Barry’s 19 first quarter points and led by two after the half, despite Hayes’ 17-point outburst in the first two periods. Golden State pulled ahead with a 15-6 run in the third and cruised in the fourth quarter to their third straight victory. Barry finished with a monster 38 points and 6 assists, complemented by 42 bench points. Hayes, Chenier, and Porter combined for 62 points but Washington now faced eliminated down 3-0.

Game Four: Warriors 96, Bullets 95

The Bullets came out hot again and led by 10 after the first quarter, and physical play by Mike Riordan caused Warriors’ coach Al Attles to be ejected after a scuffle in the opening half. Washington continued to lead throughout the game, but Golden State fought back to take the lead off a lay-up from Beard late in the fourth. After a series of free throws, the final buzzer sounded with the Warriors emerging as champions. The Golden State starters combined for 64 points to offset Washington’s 87, and Barry was fittingly named Finals MVP

Aftermath

The Warriors would return their championship squad in 1976 and won a conference-best 59 games to win their division. After a six-game series victory over the Detroit Pistons, Golden State faced the surprising Phoenix Suns to advance to the NBA Finals. The Suns shocked the Warriors in seven games, and Golden State wouldn’t reach a championship series again for 40 years.

Washington won 48 games the next season but lost in the playoffs in a seven-game series to the Cleveland Cavaliers. After two sweeps in the NBA Finals in the decade, the Bullets finally broke through in 1978 by winning the championship in seven games over the Seattle SuperSonics, the team’s first championship in three tries during the 1970s.

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1976: Celtics versus Suns (Hondo’s Last Finals)

Background

Coming off their 1974 NBA championship season, Boston was the favorite to win back-to-back titles. In 1975, the Celtics won 60 games but were disappointed when their bid for a repeat championship ended with a loss to the underdog Washington Bullets in a six-game conference final. The following season, Boston made a key lineup change by acquiring Charlie Scott from the Phoenix Suns and won a conference-best 54 games in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Celtics outlasted 1975 league MVP Bob McAdoo and the Buffalo Braves in a six-game conference semifinal series. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston defeated the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers in six games to reach the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons and seeking the franchise’s 13th NBA championship. Entering the Finals, the Celtics were riding a six-game home winning streak.

The Suns entered the NBA in 1968 and reached the playoffs for the first time in 1970 but lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Lakers. In the 1975 draft, the Suns filled their center position when they selected Alvan Adams fourth overall. Teamed with off-season acquisition Paul Westphal from the Boston Celtics and mid-season acquisition Gar Heard, Adams led Phoenix to 42 wins and the number three seed in the playoffs–earning him the Rookie of the Year award. In the playoffs, the Suns upset the Seattle SuperSonics in six games to reach their first Western Conference Finals. Facing the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, Phoenix trailed the series 3-2 before winning game six by a single point to stay alive. With a shocking road victory in game seven, the Suns advanced to the first NBA Finals in franchise history.

Lineups

The Celtics’ back court featured a significant change, as shooting guard Charlie Scott joined the team to start alongside point guard Jo Jo White. Paul Silas slid over to small forward in the front court alongside power forward Steve Kuberski and 1973 league MVP center Dave Cowens.

Off the bench, Kevin Stacom served as the first reserve guard, and John Havlicek resumed his role as the sixth man on the perimeter. Don Nelson served as the first forward off the bench, and Jim Ard provided further depth in the post. Glenn McDonald, Jerome Anderson, and Tom Boswell played sparingly in the NBA Finals.

Off-season acquisition Paul Westphal arrived from the Celtics to start at point guard in the back court alongside Ricky Sobers at shooting guard. After a mid-season trade, Gar Heard arrived to start at forward in the front court next to fellow forward Curtis Perry and rookie center Alvan Adams.

The Suns utilized Dick Van Arsdale off the bench as the first reserve guard. Keith Erickson provided depth on the perimeter at small forward, and Dennis Awtrey functioned as the first big man off the bench. Nate Hawthorne, Phil Lumpkin, and Pat Riley all played limited minutes in the NBA Finals.

Game One: Suns 87, Celtics 98

The Suns hung close throughout the opener but could never climb back after trailing early. Adams led all scorers with 26 points but was outdone by Cowens’ outstanding all-around game with 25 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists. Phoenix’s starters struggled from the field as Perry, Westphal, and Sobers combined to shoot 13/41. Boston’s balanced attack was supported by Havlicek, White, and Scott combining for 53 points as the Celtics took a 1-0 lead in the series.

Game Two: Suns 90, Celtics 105

The Celtics didn’t score for the first three minutes as Phoenix grabbed the lead after the first quarter, but Boston responded by running the Suns out of the game in the second and third quarters. The Eastern Conference champions effectively put the game out of reach with a 20-2 run to start the second half, led by Havlicek’s team-high 23 points, Silas and Cowens’ double-doubles, and White’s 11 points and nine assists. Westphal led all scorers with 28 points, and Adams delivered a double-double, but Phoenix fell apart down the stretch and now trailed the series 2-0 headed back to Arizona for games three and four.

Game Three: Celtics 98, Suns 105

The Suns built an early lead thanks to Adams’ early 12 points to start the game and led by as much as 23 points in the third quarter before the Celtics rallied. Boston fought back to within two late in the fourth but lost Cowens when he fouled out. Westphal and Adams came up with big baskets down the stretch to preserve the Suns’ lead, and the duo combined for 55 points to lead the team. White led the Celtics with 24 points to go along with Cowens’ 13/17, but Phoenix looked to even the series in game four.

Game Four: Celtics 107, Suns 109

Looking to tie series up at two games apiece, the Suns missed their first eight field goals but managed to take a slim lead into halftime and extend it to seven going into the fourth quarter. The Celtics fought back to within two points late in the period before Heard tipped in a miss to put Phoenix up four. Cowens made a running hook to make it a two point game under a minute to play. After a defensive stop, Boston went to White for the game-tying jumper but his attempt was just off. Westphal led the Suns with 28 points alongside Heard’s double-double and Adams’ 20 points. Jo Jo led the Celtics with 25 points, and Silas and Cowens both delivered double-doubles, but the series was now tied headed back to Boston for game five.

Game Five: Suns 126, Celtics 128 (3OT)

The Celtics jumped out in front early and led by 18 after the first quarter, but Phoenix climbed back in the third. Late in the fourth and trailing, Westphal and Perry scored seven quick points to put the Suns ahead by a point. Havlicek was fouled and made one free throw to tie the game, and neither team could score in the final seconds. After a stalemate first overtime, Boston found themselves ahead by three late in the second overtime when Van Arsdale hit a jumper to cut the lead to one. Westphal stole the inbounds pass, and Perry hit a jumper off an offensive rebound to put the Suns ahead again. Hondo hit a running shot that appeared to win the game, but two seconds remained on the clock when the fans rushed the court. Chaos ensued on the court, and with Phoenix out of timeouts, Westphal elected to call for time–enacting a technical foul that allowed the Suns to take the ball out at midcourt after a made free throw. Gar Heard proceeded to hit a miracle jumper with one second left to force a third overtime. The Celtics pulled away late in the final period of play, taking a 3-2 series lead after the 3OT thriller. Four different players fouled out, but Jo Jo White’s heroic 33 points carried Boston to within a game of the world championship.

Game Six: Celtics 87, Suns 80

Both teams were exhausted after the game five showdown, but Boston built a narrow lead by halftime. The Suns grabbed a one point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics embarked on an 11-4 run to pull away down the stretch. Charlie Scott came up big with 25 points to lead Boston along with Cowens and Silas’ double-doubles. Adams delivered 20 points to lead Phoenix, but the Celtics claimed their second championship in three years with a game six victory. For his heroics throughout the series, Jo Jo White was named the Finals MVP.

Aftermath

The Celtics’ bid for a repeat championship ended when they lost in the 1977 conference semifinals to rival Philadelphia 76ers. After consecutive losing seasons, Boston returned to contention in 1980 with Rookie of the Year Larry Bird. The team would lose in the Eastern Conference Finals again to Philadelphia, but earned revenge against the 76ers by winning the 1981 conference finals in seven games to reach their 15th championship series.

Phoenix missed the playoffs in 1977 but made it back to the conference finals in 1979, only to lose to the eventual champion Seattle SuperSonics. The Suns would lose in the Western Conference Finals four times (1979, 1984, 1989, 1990) after their 1976 NBA Finals appearance before beating the SuperSonics in the 1993 conference finals behind league MVP Charles Barkley to make their second championship series appearance.

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1977: Trailblazers versus 76ers (Bill Walton and Blazermania)

Background

The Trailblazers entered the league in 1970 and struggled in their first few seasons before hiring new head coach Jack Ramsay and acquiring Maurice Lucas during the dispersal draft that followed the ABA-NBA merger of 1976. Paired with 1974 top overall pick Bill Walton the two big men led Portland in 1977 to their first winning season with 49 regular season victories. Entering the playoffs as the three seed, the Trailblazers beat the Chicago Bulls in a three-game first round series and took down the Denver Nuggets in six after stealing the opener on the road and winning all three games at home. In the Western Conference Finals, facing league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland shocked the league by sweeping the top-seeded Lakers and reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

After trading away four-time MVP Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, the 76ers struggled to contend as they were repeatedly bounced in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely. In 1976, Philadelphia returned to relevance by acquiring ABA star Julius Erving from the New York Nets. Paired with former Indiana Pacers star George McGinnis, the 76ers reeled off 50 regular season wins and entered the playoffs as the number one seed in the East. In the playoffs, Philadelphia won a dramatic seven-game series over their rival Boston Celtics after Jo Jo White hit a game-winner in the opener. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the 76ers established an early 2-0 series lead over the Houston Rockets. After dropping game three on the road, Philadelphia won two of the next three games to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since their championship season of 1967.

Lineups

Portland’s back court was comprised of Lionel Hollins at point guard and Johnny Davis at shooting guard. Bob Gross started in the front court at small forward alongside All-Star power forward Maurice Lucas and future Hall-of-Famer and first time All-Star Bill Walton at center.

Off the bench, Dave Twardzik served as Hollins’ primary backup at point guard, and Herm Gilliam was the first reserve on the perimeter. Larry Steele and Corky Calhoun provided further depth on the wing and at forward, and Lloyd Neal functioned as the backup big man. Wally Walker and Robin Jones played sparingly in the NBA Finals.

For the 76ers, Henry Bibby served as the starting point guard alongside former number one overall pick Doug Collins at shooting guard. ABA champion Julius “The Doctor” Erving started at small forward in the front court with fellow ABA star George McGinnis at power forward and Caldwell Jones at center.

Philadelphia utilized World B. Free off the bench as the primary backup guard, and Steve Mix provided depth up front at forward. Darryl Dawkins served as the first big man off the bench, and Joe Bryant functioned as a fourth post player. Terry Furlow, Mike Dunleavy, and Harvey Catchings rarely played in the championship series.

Game One: Trailblazers 101, 76ers 107

Erving finished the first quarter off with a steal and break-away dunk before the buzzer, and the 76ers’ frenetic pace helped them take a slim lead into halftime. The Doctor dominated Portland in the fourth as Philadelphia pulled away. The Trailblazers closed to within two points late in the period, but the 76ers held on to take the opener. Erving scored 33 points to lead all scorers in addition to Collins’ 30. Walton led Portland with 28 points and 20 rebounds, but several key players fouled out including Lucas and Gross.

Game Two: Trailblazers 89, 76ers 107

Lucas came out hot for Portland with 10 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia’s up-tempo offense established an 18-point lead after the first half and extended the advantage to as much as 23 in the fourth quarter of the 76ers blowout victory. A fight broke out midway through the final period that resulted in Dawkins and Lucas being ejected. Collins led all scorers with 27 points to go along with Erving’s relatively tame 20 as Philadelphia seized a commanding 2-0 series lead. Walton led Portland with 17 points as the Trailblazers returned home looking to get back in the series.

Game Three: 76ers 107, Trailblazers 129

Perhaps inspired by the game two skirmish, the Trailblazers jumped on the 76ers early and built a 13-point lead after the first quarter. Philadelphia climbed back to within a point in the second before Lucas hit two clutch shots to stem the tide. In the fourth quarter, Portland blew the game open after Walton converted two difficult alley-oops in a row, and the Trailblazers coasted to their first win of the series. Lucas led his team with 27 points in addition to Walton’s impressive 20/18/9. Erving and Collins combined for 49 points, but the 76ers now found themselves in a competitive series.

Game Four: 76ers 98, Trailblazers 130

The Trailblazers again started off hot, building a double-digit lead early in the first quarter. Led by Hollins and Lucas, Portland put the game out of reach with a 41-point third quarter as part of a second consecutive blowout victory. Erving led Philadelphia with 25 points, but the Trailblazers tied the series at two games apiece and firmly held the momentum with the series shifting back East for game five.

Game Five: Trailblazers 110, 76ers 104

Portland led early despite Erving’s 20 first half points. The Trailblazers again erupted in the third quarter with 40 points, pulling away after the 76ers rallied to within a single point. Philadelphia mounted a furious rally late in the fourth but came up short as Portland pulled to within a game of their first world championship. Doctor J led all scorers with 37 points alongside Collins’ 23, but the Trailblazers were buoyed by Gross and Lucas’ combined 45 points and Walton’s stellar defense.

Game Six: 76ers 107, Trailblazers 109

The Trailblazers tallied another 40-point quarter in the second to open up a large lead despite Erving’s 22 first half points–featuring two monster dunks first on Gross and then on Walton. The 76ers again rallied late in the fourth quarter to draw within two points with 18 seconds left, but McGinnis missed a game-tying jumper despite breaking out of his shooting slump with 28 points. Erving led all scorers with 40 points, but Walton controlled the game with 20 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists, and 8 blocks to go along with Gross’ team-high 24 points. The win clinched Portland’s first championship in franchise history, and the UCLA center Walton was aptly named the Finals MVP.

Aftermath

Following their championship, the Trailblazers won 50 of their first 60 games in 1978–earning Walton the league MVP award–but the All-Star would struggle with injuries to finish the season and left Portland in 1979 due to issues with the team management. The franchise would struggle to contend in the 1980s until Clyde Drexler led the Trailblazers back to the NBA Finals in 1990.

The 76ers would win 55 games in 1978 en route to the number one seed in the East, but the season ended without a repeat Finals appearance as Philadelphia was upset by the Washington Bullets in a six-game Eastern Conference Finals. After missing the NBA Finals again in 1979, the 76ers would make it back to the championship series in 1980 with a different supporting cast surrounding Julius Erving.

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1978: Bullets versus SuperSonics (Wes Wins his Ring)

Background

Despite reaching the NBA Finals in 1971 and 1975, the Bullets failed to win a single game in the championship series as they were swept both times. Midway through the 1977 season, Washington traded for Tom Henderson to replace aging point guard Dave Bing. After signing All-Star Bob Dandridge before the 1977-78 season, the Bullets won 44 games¬† behind second-year head coach Dick Motta. As the three seed in the playoffs and cast as an underdog in each match-up, Washington beat the Atlanta Hawks in a two-game first round, then outlasted the San Antonio Spurs in six games despite dropping the opener on the road. Facing the reigning Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers in the conference finals, the Bullets won the first game in overtime despite a game-tying buzzer beater from Doug Collins, and proceeded to win all three home games as they finished Philadelphia in six to advance to the franchise’s third NBA Finals

Entering the league in 1967, the SuperSonics failed to reach the playoffs until 1975, when they advanced to the second round but lost to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. After disappointing 1976 and 1977 campaigns and a poor start to the 1978 season, Seattle brought back Lenny Wilkens as head coach. Recovering from a 5-17 start, the SuperSonics finished with 47 wins and entered the playoffs as the four seed. Led by rookie Jack Sikma and a star-studded back court, Seattle defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in three games in the first round. In the conference semifinals, the SuperSonics stole the opener against the defending champion Portland Trailblazers. League MVP Bill Walton was lost for the season in game two, and Seattle advanced in six games. Facing the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, the SuperSonics dropped the opener but won four of the next five to advance to their first NBA Finals.

Lineups

In the back court, Washington utilized Tom Henderson at point guard alongside Kevin Grevey at shooting guard. Newcomer Bob Dandridge arrived to start at small forward in the front court with future Hall-of-Famers Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld at power forward and center respectively.

Off the bench, the Bullets employed Larry Wright as the backup point guard and Charles Johnson as the reserve shooting guard. Greg Ballard provided depth in the front court at forward, and Mitch Kupchak served as the third big man off the bench. Joe Pace and Phil Walker played few minutes in the series.

The SuperSonics starting back court was comprised of speedy point guard Gus Williams and up-and-coming shooting guard Dennis Johnson. In the front court, John Johnson, started at small forward alongside rookie Jack Sikma at power forward and shot-blocker Marvin Webster at center.

The Seattle bench was very short, as “Downtown” Fred Brown, served as the primary backup on the perimeter, and two-time champion Paul Silas provided depth at forward. Players to see few minutes in the NBA Finals include Wally Walker, Bruce Seals, Joe Hassett, and Al Fleming.

Game One: Bullets 102, SuperSonics 106

The Bullets held an 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but Fred Brown led a furious comeback with 16 points in the final nine minutes as the Sonics stole the victory after trailing the entire night. Brown finished with 30 points to lead all scorers alongside Webster and John Johnson’s combined 35. Grevey and Hayes scored 27 and 21 respectively for Washington, but the team choked away a guaranteed game one win in the final period.

Game Two: SuperSonics 98, Bullets 106

Washington established an early 13-point lead after the first quarter and withstood a 36-point second quarter from Seattle to win their first NBA Finals game. Unseld was terrific inside with 15 rebounds and five assists to accompany excellent post defense on Sikma and Webster. Dandridge erupted with 34 points to lead all scorers along with Hayes and Henderson’s combined 45. Williams and Dennis Johnson combined for 45 points, but the series was now tied at one game apiece.

Game Three: SuperSonics 93, Bullets 92

In a close game three, the Sonics held a three-point lead with 10 seconds left in the fourth when Henderson stole the ball and scored to bring the Bullets within one. Silas turned the ball over when he stepped on the inbound line, but Dandridge missed the game-winner as time expired. Dennis Johnson played outstanding defense with seven blocks and holding Grevey to 1/14 shooting, and Williams and Webster both scored 20 points to lead Seattle. Hayes and Dandridge combined for 50 points for Washington, but they trailed in the series again 2-1.

Game Four: Bullets 120, SuperSonics 116 (OT)

Looking to seize a commanding 3-1 series lead, the Sonics held a 15-point advantage late in the third quarter when the Bullets stormed back behind Charles Johnson to take a two-point lead with three minutes left. Dennis Johnson scored three straight to retake the lead, but Dandridge answered back with three of his own. Fred Brown hit a jumper to send it to overtime, where Charles came alive again with three quick baskets as Washington won a nail-biter to tie series at 2-2. Dandridge scored 23 points to lead the Bullets, and Hayes fouled out despite scoring 20 of his own. Dennis had a game-high 33 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks for Seattle, but the Sonics let a crucial victory slip away down the stretch.

Game Five: Bullets 94, SuperSonics 98

The Sonics again led entering the fourth quarter, only to see the Bullets comeback once again. Free throw shooting turned out to be Washington’s weakness, however, as they only made 9/20 from the line in the second half. Seattle held on with a combined 50 points from Brown and Dennis Johnson, pushing the Bullets to the brink with a 3-2 series lead. Grevey fouled out despite 22 points to lead Washington as they headed home facing elimination.

Game Six: SuperSonics 82, Bullets 117

As a risky move, coach Dick Motta inserted Greg Ballard at forward and moved Dandridge to guard. It paid off as the duo helped Washington build a 12-point lead at the half despite trailing after the first quarter. The Bullets scored 70 points in the second half and blew out the Sonics with a 35-point victory that was the largest margin at the time. Hayes, Dandridge, and Kupchak combined for 59 points as Washington forced a deciding game seven. Seattle struggled offensively in game six as Brown led the team with only 17.

Game Seven: Bullets 105, SuperSonics 99

On the road, The Bullets steadily built a 13-point lead over the first three quarters, and Dennis Johnson struggled from the field on 0/14 shooting. The Sonics staged a comeback late in the fourth quarter, but Washington made their foul shots down the stretch and sealed their victory on a dunk from Dandridge. Balanced scoring saw six players score in double figures for the Bullets, and they shocked Seattle despite a combined 69 points from Webster, Brown, and Sikma. Washington became only the second team to win an NBA Finals game seven on the road, and Wes Unseld was named Finals MVP for his all-around team play.

Aftermath

With their first victory in three tries, the Bullets had finally captured their coveted NBA championship in 1978. The following season, Washington embarked to repeat as champions and won 54 games in the regular season. As the top seed in the playoffs, the Bullets and outlasted seven-game series from the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs to reach their second straight NBA Finals.

The Sonics were devastated after losing the 1978 NBA Finals despite leading 3-2 entering game six. In 1979, the team acquired power forward Lonnie Shelton and set to work redeeming themselves. With 52 regular season wins, Seattle advanced in the playoffs after a five-game series with the Los Angeles Lakers and reached their second straight NBA Finals after a tough seven-game series against the Phoenix Suns.

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1979: SuperSonics versus Bullets (Seattle’s Sweet Redemption)

Background

After losing a tough seven game series in the 1978 NBA Finals, the SuperSonics returned the following season with the roster largely intact (aside from the departure of center Marvin Webster) and acquired Lonnie Shelton to start at power forward. In the regular season, Seattle won a conference-best 52 games and entered the playoffs with a bye. In the conference semifinals, the SuperSonics easily defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. In the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns, Seattle won the first two games at home but lost three straight to fall into a 3-2 hole. Facing elimination, the SuperSonics won a close game six on the road then defeated Phoenix in a tight game seven to advance to a second straight NBA Finals.

Coming off their long awaited NBA championship in 1978, the Bullets returned in 1979 hoping to become the first team to repeat since the 1969 Boston Celtics. Washington swept through the regular season with 54 wins and earned the top seed overall in the playoffs. In the conference semifinals, facing an Atlanta Hawks team that had just beaten league MVP Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets, the Bullets easily took a 3-1 series lead, but lost two straight clinchers to set up a decisive game seven, which Washington won to advance to their second straight Eastern Conference Finals. Facing the San Antonio Spurs, the Bullets found themselves in a 3-1 hole but won three straight–thanks to a series-winner¬† from Bob Dandridge in the seventh–to reach the team’s second straight NBA Finals.

Lineups

Seattle’s back court remained identical to the previous season with Gus Williams starting at point guard along side All-Star Dennis Johnson at shooting guard. John Johnson started up front at small forward alongside newcomer Lonnie Shelton at power forward. First-time All-Star Jack Sikma slid over to center to replace the departed Webster.

The SuperSonics relied on a relatively short bench, with outside shooter Fred Brown serving as the primary backup at guard and two-time champion Paul Silas serving as the first forward in reserve. Players to see limited minutes in the NBA Finals include Dennis Awtrey, Wally Walker, and Joe Hassett.

The Bullets’ starting lineup remained the same from their championship series, with Tom Henderson at point guard in the back court alongside shooting guard Kevin Grevey. Bob Dandridge started up front at small forward with power forward Elvin Hayes and reigning Finals MVP Wes Unseld at center.

Off the bench, Washington utilized Larry Wright as the backup point guard and Charles Johnson as the reserve shooting guard. Greg Ballard, provided depth in the front court at small forward. Players who saw few minutes in the championship series include former All-Star Phil Chenier and Dave Corzine.

Game One: SuperSonics 97, Bullets 99

The Bullets led from wire-to-wire in game one, but Gus Williams led a furious comeback for the Sonics in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 straight for his team at one point. With a game-high 32 points, Williams hit a jumper to bring Seattle within three with a minute to play, but Washington held on down the stretch to win the opener. Dandridge, Grevey, and Hayes combined for 56 points, and Wright erupted for 26 points off the bench to lead the Bullets. Dennis Johnson chipped in 23 points, but the Sonics now trailed the series 1-0.

Game Two: SuperSonics 92, Bullets 82

Desperate to avoid a 2-0 series deficit, the Sonics grabbed an early lead after the first quarter despite Hayes’ 11 points in the period. The Bullets came back in the second quarter to reclaim the lead but were stymied in the second half by Seattle’s defense, scoring only 30 points in the final 24 minutes. Williams again led all scorers with 23 points to go along with Dennis Johnson’s 20 and John Johnson’s 17. Dandridge led Washington with 21, but Hayes only scored nine over the final three quarters as the Sonics evened the series at 1-1.

Game Three: Bullets 95, SuperSonics 105

Comfortably back home, the Sonics dominated throughout game three, establishing a double-digit lead by halftime and increasing their advantage to 15 points before the final period. Williams was led all scorers for the third straight game with 31 points, Sikma scored 21 before fouling out, and Dennis Johnson had an excellent all-around game with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and two blocked shots. Dandridge led the Bullets with 28 points alongside Hayes and Unseld’s combined 42, but the Sonics coasted to a 2-1 series lead.

Game Four: Bullets 112, SuperSonics 114 (OT)

The Bullets led at the half, but the Sonics reclaimed a three-point lead entering the final quarter. Washington came back to tie the game before the end of the period, forcing overtime. Holding a close two-point lead in the final seconds, Dennis Johnson partially blocked Grevey’s game-tying attempt, and Seattle hung on to take a commanding 3-1 series lead behind Johnson and Williams’ combined 68 points and Sikma’s 20. The Bullets fell despite a balanced scoring effort as five players scored 16 or more.

Game Five: SuperSonics 97, Bullets 93

The Sonics trailed throughout the first three quarters before Fred Brown banked in a jumper to put them ahead for good early in the fourth. Clutch baskets by Seattle’s kept the Bullets at bay as the repeatedly came up short trying to come back. Williams finished with 23 points, and Jack Sikma played outstanding by out-rebounding Unseld 17 to 3. For Washington, Hayes led all scorers with 29, but Dandridge fouled out as the Sonics clinched their first NBA championship. With 21 points in the clincher, Dennis Johnson was named Finals MVP for his consistently superb play.

Aftermath

Seattle returned the following season to defend their title but fell in a five-game Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers, preventing a third straight NBA Finals appearance. With an entirely new roster in 1987, the Sonics would reach the conference finals, only to lose to the Lakers again, and Seattle wouldn’t reappear in the NBA Finals in 1996.

Injuries and age caught up to the Bullets in 1980 as they barely made the playoffs, and Unseld retired at year’s end. Elvin Hayes was traded to the Houston Rockets, and after perennial playoff struggles, the team was renamed the Wizards in 1997. Washington wouldn’t advance in the post-season in consecutive years, however, until the 2014 and 2015 seasons, both times losing in the conference semifinals.

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2015: Warriors versus Cavaliers Round One (Golden State’s Long Wait)

Background

The Warriors returned to contention in 2012 after five straight lottery seasons following their 2007 upset of the Dallas Mavericks. After losing in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, Mark Jackson was fired as head coach and the team replaced him with five-time champion Steve Kerr. Golden State raced through the regular season to a league-best 67 wins behind lights-out shooting and a stalwart defense, earning franchise All-Star Stephen Curry the league MVP award. In the playoffs, the Warriors swept the New Orleans Pelicans thanks to a game-tying three to force OT from Curry in the third victory. Golden State trailed the Memphis Grizzlies 2-1 in the semifinals before winning three straight to advance to the team’s first Western Conference Finals since 1976. In the conference finals, the Warriors easily defeated the Houston Rockets in five games to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since their championship season of 1975.

The Cavaliers toiled in the lottery after LeBron James‘ departure in 2010, drafting young talent in Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Wiggins as number one overall picks in 2011, 2013, and 2014. James announced his free agency return in 2014, and the team traded Bennett and Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for All-Star Kevin Love. Cleveland struggled in the regular season in 2015 before acquiring several key role players mid-season, and a turnaround led to 53 wins and the number two seed. In the playoffs, the Cavaliers easily swept the Boston Celtics but lost Love for the rest of the playoffs. LeBron hit a game-winner in game four, of the conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls, sparking three straight victories after trailing 2-1 to return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2009. With a sweep of the number one seed Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.

Lineups

The Warriors’ back court consisted of sharp-shooting “Splash Brothers” Stephen Curry at point guard and Klay Thompson at shooting guard. Midway through the Finals, Kerr elected to go small by inserting Andre Iguodala at small forward, Harrison Barnes at power forward, and diminutive Draymond Green at center and sliding starting center Andrew Bogut to the bench.

Shaun Livingston served as the primary backup at guard for Golden State, and Leandro Barbosa provided further depth as the fourth guard. Former All-Star David Lee served as the primary backup at power forward, and Festus Ezeli provided depth as a fourth big man. Marreese Speights, Justin Holiday, and James Michael McAdoo rarely saw the floor in the NBA Finals.

Matthew Dellavedova stepped in to start for the Cavaliers at point guard after Irving was lost to injury in game one of the NBA Finals. Iman Shumpert started at shooting guard on the wing alongside four-time MVP LeBron James. In the post, Tristan Thompson started at power forward in place of the injured Love, and Timofey Mozgov started at center.

Cleveland lost their depth due to injuries to Irving, Love, and initial starting center Anderson Varejao, and the only real contributors off the bench in the NBA Finals were J.R. Smith and James Jones on the perimeter. Other players who played sparingly in the championship series include Mike Miller, Kendrick Perkins, and Joe Harris.

Game One: Cavaliers 100, Warriors 108 (OT)

The Cavaliers built a 14-point advantage in the first quarter before Golden State came back to briefly retake the lead in the second. J.R. Smith hit a three at the buzzer to give Cleveland the lead at the break. The second half saw several lead changes, and the teams traded baskets in the fourth before Curry hit a jumper to put the Warriors up with under a minute to play. Mozgov tied the game with two foul shots, and Irving blocked Curry’s game-winning lay-up, but James missed a game-winning jumper at the buzzer. In overtime, Golden State’s defense nearly shut out the Cavaliers, and Irving left the game with a fractured kneecap. Curry, Thompson, and Iguodala combined for 62 points to lead the Warriors, and LeBron’s 44 points weren’t enough as Cleveland lost the opener.

Game Two: Cavaliers 95, Warriors 93 (OT)

The Warriors led early off Thompson’s hot start, but the Cavaliers came back and built an 11-point lead late in the fourth. Golden State embarked on a 15-4 run of their own, however, to tie the game on a lay-up from Curry, and the teams went to overtime again after James missed another potential game-winner. The Warriors briefly held the lead late in the extra period before Dellavedova was fouled off an offensive rebound and made two foul shots to give Cleveland the lead for good. LeBron had a monster night with 39/16/11, and Mozgov chipped in a double-double as the Cavaliers tied the series 1-1. Thompson led Golden State with 34 points, but Curry struggled from the field on 5/23 shooting.

Game Three: Warriors 91, Cavaliers 96

Back at home, the Cavaliers led for nearly the entire game, building their advantage to as much as 20 in the second half. Despite struggling early, Curry led a furious Warriors comeback that saw them draw to within one point before Dellavedova converted an impossible bank shot plus the foul to halt the rally, and Cleveland held on to take a shocking 2-1 series lead. James was again magnificent with 40/12/8, Thompson delivered a double-double, and Dellavedova scored an unexpected 20 points. Curry finished with 27/6/6 and seven three’s, and Iguodala turned in 15/5/5 off the bench, but the Warriors trailed in a series for only the second time in the playoffs.

Game Four: Warriors 103, Cavaliers 82

The Warriors made an adjustment by going small with Iguodala in the starting lineup and Green at center. After a brief 7-0 start by Cleveland, Golden State’s offense began to click and they built a 12-point lead by halftime. The Cavaliers closed to within three in the third, but the Warriors blew Cleveland out in the fourth quarter. Curry and Iguodala both scored 22 points to lead Golden State as they tied the series back up at 2-2. Mozgov led the Cavaliers with 28/10, but James struggled from the field despite putting up 20/12/8.

Game Five: Cavaliers 91, Warriors 104

The teams traded the lead and runs throughout the first half, and the Cavaliers briefly took a one-point lead midway through the fourth on a three from James. The Warriors answered back, however, with a 25-9 run and five clutch three’s–including a deadly step-back from Curry over Dellavedova–to clinch the victory and take a 3-2 series lead. The MVP point guard finally erupted with 37 points to lead Golden State alongside Iguodala and Green’s combined 30/17/13. LeBron was again huge with 40/14/11, but the Cavaliers largely struggled as a team and faced elimination headed back home in game six.

Game Six: Warriors 105, Cavaliers 97

Golden State grabbed the lead early and briefly surrendered it to start the second half, but key contributions off the bench from Livingston, Ezeli, and Barbosa helped keep the Cavaliers at bay in the final stretch. A late barrage of three’s from J.R. Smith wasn’t enough as the Warriors won their third straight game to clinch the NBA championship. Curry and Iguodala again tied for a team-high 25 points, and Green delivered a triple-double with 16/11/10. James struggled from the floor again but managed 32/18/9, and Mozgov and Thompson turned in double-double’s for Cleveland. For his role in guarding LeBron and spark in the small-ball starting lineup, Andre Iguodala was named the Finals MVP for a Golden State team that won its first championship since 1975.

Aftermath

The Warriors won their first NBA championship while playing in the Bay in 40 years in 2015. During the ensuing off-season, the team managed to retain most of its key contributors. Dissatisfied with his role, David Lee asked to be traded to another team, and Golden State honored his request by sending him to the Boston Celtics in exchange for athletic small forward Gerald Wallace.

Entering the off-season the Cavaliers were surrounded by questions concerning Kevin Love’s desire to stay in Cleveland, but the rumors were squashed when the power forward signed a max deal. GM David Griffin was questioned for possibly overspending on most of the team’s free agents, but the roster returned for the 2016 predominantly intact with the recovery of injured stars Irving and Love.

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2014: Spurs versus Heat (San Antonio’s Sweet Revenge)

Background

The Spurs were seconds away from winning the 2013 NBA championship but lost in heartbreaking fashion in seven games. Regaining their composure, San Antonio marched through the 2014 regular season to a league-best 62 wins, earning Gregg Popovich the Coach of the Year award. In the playoffs, the Spurs survived a scare by beating the Dallas Mavericks in seven games after being down 2-1 due to a Vince Carter game-winner. In the second round, they easily defeated the Portland Trailblazers to advance to their third straight Western Conference Finals. Facing the Oklahoma City Thunder and league MVP Kevin Durant, San Antonio won the series in six games despite dropping the middle two road games and advanced to their second straight NBA Finals, making repeat appearances in the championship series for the first time in franchise history.

The Heat came off their repeat championship looking to accomplish an improbable “Three-Peat.” Injuries held Dwyane Wade out of 28 games in the regular season, but Miami still reeled off 54 wins, enough for the number two seed back East. In the playoffs, the Heat easily swept the Charlotte Bobcats before defeating the Brooklyn Nets in five games in the conference semifinals. In their fourth straight Eastern Conference Finals, facing the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, Miami lost game one on the road, but recovered to win three straight to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Heat lost a close game five but advanced after a game six victory at home. Their dream of winning a third straight championship was intact as Miami reached their fourth straight NBA Finals, a feat not accomplished since the Boston Celtics from 1984-1987.

Lineups

The Spurs’ starting back court remained identical to the previous season with Tony Parker at point guard and sharpshooter Danny Green at shooting guard. Kawhi Leonard started up front at small forward alongside future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan at power forward. Boris Diaw moved up to start at center for most of the NBA Finals games.

Off the bench, San Antonio used Patty Mills as the backup point guard and Manu Ginobili as the primary backup on the wing. Three-point specialist Marco Belinelli, provided further depth on the wing, and Tiago Splitter became the backup big man in the NBA Finals. Players who played sparingly in the championship series include Aron Baynes, Jeff Ayres, Matt Bonner and Cory Joseph.

The Heat continued to use streaky shooter Mario Chalmers at point guard alongside All-Star shooting guard Dwyane Wade. Four-time MVP LeBron James started at small forward in the front court alongside newcomer Rashard Lewis at power forward and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh at center.

Miami’s bench was much thinner, with Norris Cole serving as the backup point guard and Ray Allen providing depth on the perimeter. Chris Anderson continued to play the role of backup big man in the post. Despite starting in previous seasons, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem saw their roles diminish. Other players who saw few minutes in the Finals include James Jones, Michael Beasley, Toney Douglas, and Greg Oden.

Game One: Heat 95, Spurs 110

Ginobili and Allen came out hot, combining for six three-pointers early to keep their teams close. Bosh converted a four-point play early in the fourth to give the Heat a seven-point advantage, their biggest of the night, but Danny Green came alive down the stretch with 11 points in the quarter to bring the Spurs back. LeBron left the game due to cramps late in the period while San Antonio made timely three’s to seize control and finish with a game one victory. Duncan and Ginobili both turned in double-doubles and Parker scored 19 points of his own as the Spurs again held a 1-0 series lead. James scored a game-high 25 points in the Miami loss.

Game Two: Heat 98, Spurs 96

The two teams entered halftime tied, and the second half saw a number of lead changes as the Heat and Spurs traded runs. Late in the fourth, James found Bosh in the corner for a three to reclaim the lead, and a lay-up from Wade with nine seconds to go sealed the win for Miami. LeBron scored a game-high 35 points, and Bosh, Wade, and Lewis combined for 46 points of their own. Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan combined for 58 points, but the series was now tied 1-1 headed back to Miami.

Game Three: Spurs 111, Heat 92

LeBron jumped out early with 14 first quarter points, but Kawhi Leonard (16 points) and the Spurs were red hot to start as they poured in 41 points on 87% shooting in the opening period after Ginobili’s buzzer-beater three. The Heat trailed by 21 at the half but came back in the third to cut the lead to seven before San Antonio again answered in the fourth to complete the blowout victory. Leonard led all scorers with 29 points, and Parker, Duncan, and Green combined for 44 of their own. Wade and James combined for 44 points, but Miami was no match for the Spurs’ offensive execution and now trailed 2-1.

Game Four: Spurs 107, Heat 86

The Spurs again dominated early with precision passing and execution on offense, building a 19-point lead in a first half that featured a tremendous put-back dunk by Leonard. The Heat cut the lead to 13 behind James’ 19 third quarter points, but San Antonio again pulled away in the fourth and blew Miami out to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Leonard delivered 20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks to lead the Spurs along with Parker’s 19 points and Mills’ 14 off the bench. LeBron led all scorers with 28 points, but the Heat now faced elimination on the road with game five in San Antonio.

Game Five: Heat 87, Spurs 104

Miami led early 22-6, but the Spurs responded late in the second quarter with a 14-0 run that saw them take the lead on a transition three from Leonard. Mills and Ginobili were on fire off the bench with a combined 36 points and eight three’s as San Antonio blew the game open in the second half. LeBron scored a game-high 31 points, but Wade and Bosh struggled from the field as the Heat lost the series in five games. Kawhi, with a team-high 22 points and 10 rebounds in the clincher, was named the Finals MVP as the Spurs won the franchise’s fifth NBA championship and their first since 2007.

Aftermath

In 2015 the Spurs set off looking for a repeat title. Kawhi Leonard earned the Defensive Player of the Year award, and San Antonio won 55 games but finished in seventh in a tough Western Conference. The Spurs fell in a seven-game first round series to the Los Angeles Clippers to ruin the hopes of repeating.

After losing in the 2014 NBA Finals, the Heat lost a key contributor when four-time league MVP LeBron James left in free agency to rejoin his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Miami would struggle in 2015 due to injuries to Wade and Bosh, finishing with only 37 wins and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

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