5. New York Knicks defeat the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-99 (1970)
At first read, you might wonder why this counts in the list considering the large gap in the final score. Truth be told, the Knicks didn’t even give the Lakers a chance to make it a close game.
Why is Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals on the list? Because one of the most iconic moments in NBA history took place to start the game – and very well may have inspired the Knicks’ title-clinching win.
Let’s rewind a bit first. In Game 5 of the series, New York legend and that year’s season MVP, Willis Reed, injured his leg on a drive and missed the remainder of the contest as well as Game 6.
There were questions if Reed, whose ailment was considered serious, could play in Game 7, and it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to do so leading up to the game.
But moments before tip-off, a limping Reed walked onto the floor to the applause of the Madison Square Garden crowd. The big man then hit his first two shots of the game and defended NBA great Wilt Chamberlain for the remainder of the first half, while another Knicks legend in Walt Frazier finished with 36 points, 19 assists, and 7 rebounds to lead New York to the win.
“The Lakers turned around, including Wilt, turned around and saw this and then lost the game right there,” said Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News in a documentary.
Even if they went up against a Lakers team which had Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, New York was able to fight past the injury to its best player and win its first franchise title, with Reed – named the Finals MVP – providing a moment that has been replayed in the decades that followed.
4. Houston Rockets defeat the New York Knicks, 90-84 (1994)
The 1994 NBA Finals is one of the most underrated series in NBA history. Not only did it feature two of the premier big men of the era – Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing – it also included two teams whose depth and toughness were stupendous; an interruption from one of the most iconic car chases – OJ Simpson – in the history of mankind; and a blocked shot from John Starks that many die-hard Knicks fans will remember to their graves.
Both teams split the first 4 games before New York won at home in Game 5 to get within a win of a title. With the Rockets up 86-84 in the dying seconds of Game 6, John Starks called for a screen from Ewing then pulled up for a potential title-clinching 3-pointer. Unfortunately for New Yorkers, Olajuwon blocked the shot.
Here’s something important you have to know about that play: after Ewing had given Starks the screen, he was wide open rolling to the rim and could have forced overtime. Starks went for the clincher, missed, and then had one of the most horrible games in NBA history in Game 7.
While Olajuwon had 25, 10, and 7 in Game 7, Ewing was held to only 17 points in 17 shot attempts. Starks took 18 attempts from the field and made only 2, including going 0-of-11 from the deep.
Big shots in the final period by Hakeem, the league’s MVP, and Vernon Maxwell, who had 21 points, sealed the title for the Rockets.
3. Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Boston Celtics, 83-79 (2010)
The argument of who is the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time may never have a concrete answer. You could say Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Chamberlain, West, Magic Johnson, or Kobe Bryant and each option deserves consideration.
But this much is clear: had Bryant never been able to defeat the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, he may not be in the Mount Rushmore of Laker greats.
After losing to the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, the 5-time champion Bryant became obsessed with getting back at the Lakers’ forever rival, and for moments in the 2010 NBA Finals, it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen.
Boston went up 3-2 in the series, but Los Angeles responded with a blowout win in Game 6 (with some help from an injury to Kendrick Perkins) to force a do-or-die. The Celtics, however, went up early and even led by double digits in Game 7. Fortunately for Bryant’s legacy, Los Angeles rallied in the defensive-oriented game to make it a close affair down the stretch.
Bryant, who was named finals MVP, finished with 23 points on 6-of-24 shooting, but did have 15 rebounds. Surprisingly enough, it was a big layup by Pau Gasol and clutch 3-pointer by Ron Artest which proved to be the biggest shots of the game, allowing Kobe to run off, ball in hand, to the screaming and joyful fans in Downtown LA, ready to celebrate banner number 16.