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Layups: 10 Best Opening-Round Series in NBA Playoff History

Posted by Neil Paine on April 21, 2011

College Crunch has its picks for the 10 Best Opening-Round Series in NBA Playoff History.

12 Responses to “Layups: 10 Best Opening-Round Series in NBA Playoff History”

  1. Matt Says:

    Could a list be compiled of the most evenly matched series in history? I'd have to think Denver - OKC would make an appearance (though game 2 didn't show it).

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    I touched on that a little here:

  3. Matt Says:

    Thanks, I only started reading a few months ago. I guess I should've searched the archives.

  4. King Kong Says:

    the Celtics Bulls series was fantastic, one of my favorite series in the last few years

    so much overtime and clutch shots

  5. AYC Says:

    Pretty good list; I would've found room for the 47 win Rockets defeat of a 60 win Jazz team in '95. They won game 5 in Utah by 4 points. Hakeem averaged 35ppg. That Rockets squad is the most entertaining team I've ever seen....

  6. Cort Says:

    The Utah/Sacramento first round series in 1999 was a great one. Utah won 3-2 in OT in the last game. Stockton made a long jumper right before the buzzer to win game 4 and stave off the upset for the favored Jazz in one of the clutch shots of recent playoff history.
    Since they went to best of 7 for the first round the Boston/Chicago series in 2009 was probably the best I've seen.
    Overall, in series I have seen, the 1981 ECF between Boston and Philly was the best.
    As far as the Finals go, I'd say the 1984 Boston/LA series is the best I've seen. 1974 Boston/Milwaukee was awfully good too.
    All of these series were intense, unpredictable and very close with a lot of end-game heroics.

  7. Cort Says:

    Yea that 1991 Boston/Indiana first rounder was dramatic too. That was the most fired-up I ever saw Bird get when he came back from injury a la Willis Reed to lead the Celtics to the game 5 win. He made some huge shots and great passes int he 4th quarter and Boston barely held on to win 124-121 in the last minutes. I remember Brian Shaw going in for an uncontested breakaway layup and simply losing it out of bounds as the Celtics almost blew the lead. Person made one from about 40 feet to get Indiana within tying it, but I think he missed another 30-foot bomb right before the buzzer that would have tied it.
    People forget on the much-replayed Jordan shot over Ehlo that Ehlo was playing on a sprained ankle and was backpedaling or going sideways on defense on that last play - hard to get up and defend a hanging shot by a great leaper like Jordan, the defense wasnt that bad. People also forget Ehlo had burned Chicago for a backdoor layup to put Cleveland up one just seconds before. He could have been the hero.

  8. Cort Says:

    Good topic for an article: what is the best NBA Final 4 of teams ever? Not necessarily the best set of conference finals series ever, but the best assortment of 4 teams.
    Off the top of my head I would say the 1972 and 1980 foursomes.

    In '72 you had the 4 glamour teams of the league. LA (69-13, 33-game win streak) vs. Milwaukee (63-19, defending NBA champs) in the West Finals. You had Wilt vs. Kareem, Oscar vs. Jerry, and a heated rivalry. Lakers won 4-2 and won their first NBA title in LA. It is the series with the most combined wins of any two opponent (132).
    In the East you had Boston (56-26) and New York (48-34) but better than its record. Two ancient rivals in the first of 3 straight ECF showdowns. The teams split their 6 regular season meetings but a deeper and more savvy Knick team took out the Celtics, 4-1.

    In 1980 you had resurgent Boston in Bird's rookie year (61-21) vs. Philadelphia (59-23). Again the two arch-rivals split 6 regular season games but the more experienced 76ers won a tough five-gamer as the Bird/Dr. J rivalry began. Boston improved by 32 games that season, a record at the time.
    Out west LA (60-22) took on defending champion Seattle (56-26). DJ vs. Magic, Jabbar vs. Sikma, Nixon vs. Williams, Cooper vs. Freddie Brown. Seattle won game 1 in LA by a point, but the Lakers broke the Sonics back by coming from something like 24 down to win game 4 on the road to take command of the series, 3-1. LA then clinched it at home in 5 but the series was much closer than the score would indicate, with 4 of the 5 games going down to the final seconds.

    Ironically, the total combined wins of the two different Final 4s above are equal at 236. The quality of the teams and their play, and the rivalries, both team and individually set these two final 4s above others I think.

  9. Jason J Says:

    Cort how about 1991 -

    West was LA v. Portland, the two WC teams that made the previous four Finals, and Portland was the winningest team in the league. Magic & Worthy, Porter & Drexler

    East was Chicago v. Detroit, two teams that had met in the playoffs 3 years running and had met in the ECF 2 years in a row with Detroit winning every time. Detroit was the 2 time defending champs, 3 time defending ECF champs, and Chicago was the winningest team in the East. Zeke was coming off a Finals MVP, Jordan had one his second regular season MVP that season.

    For sheer star power, 1997 is pretty good too: WCF - Stockton, Drexler, Barkley, Malone, Olajuwon (w/ Hornacek and K. Willis). ECF - Timbug, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Mourning (w/ Mashburn, PJ, and Kukoc).

  10. worthy42 Says:

    Phoenix Suns (63wins) L.A Lakers (39 wins)

    The Suns leading by MVP Barkley losed the 2 first games in Phoenix but the Suns won the 2 next game in the forum. In the last game in american west arena byron scott missed the last shoot and the game went to the OT and finally the suns won the game.

  11. Cort Says:

    jason j:
    yea 1991 was a good final 4. i dont think any of those teams was quite up to the level of the 1972 or 1980 final 4 though. the league had begin to be watered down by over-expansion by then, and the lakers were showing some age. detroit was starting to decline then a bit too.
    i would rate 1991 above 1997. miami had a good record but wasnt as good as its mark due to a really weak east. utah and houston was a really good series with 2 games decided on long bombs at the buzzer in houston; eddie johnson in game 4 and stockton of course with the clincher in game 6. i think john scored the last 9 points for utah to win it. to me for sheer star power and overall balance those other CFs in the 80s had more, as did the 72 final 4.

    1985 was very good too; defending champ boston (63-19) vs. arch-rival philly (58-24) in their 4th and last ECF showdown of the decade. bird's second most famous steal (and much underrated pilfer) against andrew toney in the final seconds of game 5 clinched the series, 102-100 i think.
    LA (62-20) vs. denver (52-30) was 4-1 as well, but both series were closer than the final game score. denver was hanging close with LA and even won game 2 at the forum until alex english re-broke his thumb or finger in game 2 i think. 15-year vet dan issel retired after this series. i remember the LA fans giving him a standing O as he went off the court for the last time late in game 5. this final 4 had 235 combined wins, just 1 off the record set by 1972 and 1980 final 4s.

    1982 was good too; defending champ boston (63-19) vs. philly (58-24) for the 3rd year in a row, with philly winning game 7 in boston as the celtics just missed out on a 2nd 1-3 rally in a row. had archibald not gotten hurt in game 3 boston would have won and a celtic/laker finals would have been better than the 1980 76er/laker rematch.
    LA (57-25) rolled over SA (48-34) in 4 straight in the WCF though. 226 combined wins.

    1983 was pretty good as well; philly (65-17) vs. Milwaukee (51-31) and LA (58-24) vs. SA (53-29). Spurs gave the lakers a tough series with the addition of gilmore to defend kareem, but lost by 1 in game 6 to end it. philly was on a mission that year and took out the bucks in 5 and then swept LA to avenge 80 and 82. 227 wins.

  12. Cort Says:

    How about the best NCAA Final 4 grouping in terms of the quality of teams?
    The best off the top of my head, in chronological order...
    1967: UCLA, Houston, North Carolina, Dayton
    1974: NC State, UCLA, Marquette, Kansas
    1978: Kentucky, Duke, Notre Dame, Arkansas
    1979: Michigan State, Indiana State, DePaul, Penn
    1981: Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, LSU
    1985: Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, Memphis State
    1992: Duke, Indiana, Michigan, Cincinnati
    1993: North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas
    1999: UConn, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State (vacated)

    I think 1981 might have been the best balanced, most top heavy final 4. LSU and Virginia were 1 seeds yet finished 4th and 3rd in the last year they held the consolation game (the night Reagan was shot). Indiana was a 3 and Carolina a 2, and IU rolled in the finals. In fact they won all 5 games by double figures (22.6 ppg), with their closest game 13 vs. UNC.
    In 1993 3 #1 seeds made it, but the overall #1 Indiana lost to Kansas in the elite 8 or this might be the best. Injuries to Alan Henderson (knee) and Brian Evens (thumb) severely hampered the smaller Hoosier team.
    1979 might have been the best except for the 4th team Penn being a real Cinderella team. People forget how good DePaul was and how tough a game ISU had to play against them in the semis, while MSU had a cakewalk vs. the Quakers.
    Same thing could be said about 1967; Dayton was a real Cinderella but the other 3 teams were in the top 5.
    1974 also was a great final 4 but again one team, Kansas, brings it down a bit. The other 3 teams were championship-worthy. I think you could easily make a case for 1974 being the best final 4.
    The double OT 80-77 semifinal between UCLA and NC State would be considered the greatest game ever in NCAA history had it taken place in the title game instead of the semis (this was before the regions and brackets were balanced). #1 and #2 would never be in the same half of the bracket today.
    Throw in UCLA's 7-year NCAA title streak (38 games in a row), Walton vs. Burleson, Thompson vs. Wilkes, Sloan vs. Wooden, and NC State smarting from being undefeated the year before but unable to play in the NCAAs when UCLA won it again - as well as a loss to UCLA early in the season, their only one all year despite playing in a very good ACC, and this one had everything. Also was played in the backyard of the Wolfpack at Greensboro. I watched it on replay last year and was amazed that both coaches stayed seated the entire game despite the magnitude and intensity of the game. Coaches were better behaved then for sure.
    Now coaches arrogantly never sit down and patrol the sidelines and even go on the court during play like overpaid CEO/dictators. The loss was the end of an era. Wooden showed the briefest of frustration in the final seconds when he knew UCLA had lost after blowing a 7-point lead in the 2nd OT in a time with NO SHOT CLOCK or 3-point line. He semi-slapped his trademark rolled up program into his other hand once and barely shook his head, then patted his distraught assistant Gary Cunningham on the knee several times to assuage him before leaning back in his seat, relaxing for the first time all game with the streak finally over. Very telling sportsmanship. That never would happen today. The game really suffered with the retirement of Wooden in so many ways.
    Thompson was probably the greatest player in ACC history and Walton probably the best all-around center ever when healthy. After I think about it, 1974 was the best final 4. Marquette had an excellent team and almost beat an exhausted NC State team in a slightly anti-climactic final.