Tuesday, June 4, 2013

NBA Conference Finals: One Sweep, One Goes Seven

The Miami Heat just obliterated the Indiana Pacers to move on to the NBA Finals. While they had to go the full seven games to claim the Eastern crown, the San Antonio Spurs have been resting up after their Western Conference Finals sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies.

It should be a fun series starting on Thursday, with LeBron James going for his second championship and Tim Duncan aiming for his fifth.

There will be concerns about the Spurs being rusty after getting nine days off, but Miami's long series raises questions as well.

This is the seventh time in NBA history that one Conference Finals series ended in a sweep while the other one went seven games. Let's take a look at the other six postseasons. 


With Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant at the top of their game, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers steamrolled through the Western Conference playoffs. Their sweep of the Spurs sent them to the Finals with a 19-game winning streak.

On the other side were the Philadelphia 76ers, led by MVP Allen Iverson. The Sixers were pushed to the brink in the Conference Semis by Vince Carter's Raptors, winning in seven games. The Eastern Finals went the distance as well, with AI outdueling Ray Allen with 44 points in Game Seven to beat the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Finals were supposed to be a mismatch, but Philly brought it in the opener. Shaq poured in 44 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, but the underdogs sent the game to overtime. Iverson led a 13-2 run in the final 2:20 of overtime for a surprising 107-101 road victory. The indelible moment of the game was Iverson draining a shot over Tyronn Lue, then dramatically stepping over the fallen opponent.

Iverson's 48 points carried Philly to the opening-game victory, but that would be the end of the drama. Shaq averaged 33 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.4 blocks and Kobe put in 24.6 ppg as LA won four straight to win the second of what would be three consecutive titles.


It was a rematch from the previous June as the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls met again after both won 62 games. The Karl Malone and John Stockton Jazz rocked the Lakers to win the West while the Bulls had a tough time with the Indiana Pacers.

Game Four of the Eastern Finals was a classic. Reggie Miller hit a three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left to put Indy in front and Michael Jordan's desperate shot swirled out at the buzzer to even the series at 2-2.

Chicago pulled out Game Seven at home to keep their hopes of a second three-peat™ alive.

In Game One at Utah, the worn-out Bulls battled into overtime, but the Jazz won 88-85. Chicago won the next three, including a 96-54 shellacking in Game Three that held Utah to the lowest point total in the NBA playoffs since 1950.

The Jazz avoided elimination in Game Five to send the series back to Salt Lake. Game Six was tied in the final minute and just watch this:

It seemed that this would be the last shot Michael Jordan would take in the NBA. He came back  five years later with the Wizards, but it doesn't diminish this legendary moment.


The old Sonics teams of Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf were a favorite of mine, although they ran into the greatest team of all time, they took two games in the Finals.

The Bulls won a record 72 games and took 11 of 12 playoff contests aiming for return to the top in the first full season of MJ's comeback. Seattle had an impressive year as well with 64 wins, making 1996 the first season in NBA history that had two teams win 64 or more*.

* It happened again the following year (Bulls 69, Jazz 64) and in 2009 (Cavs 66, Lakers 65)

Seattle nearly blew a 3-1 WCF lead to Utah, but edged the Jazz 90-86 in Game Seven to earn a date with the Bulls. Utah would get their revenge by winning the next two Western titles.

The juggernaut Bulls won the first three games by margins of 17, 4 and 22. The SuperSonics didn't go down easily though, storming back to take the next two to send it back to Chicago at 3-2.

Damn, the NBA on NBC intros were awesome! Behind Jordan's 22-9-7 line and Dennis Rodman's 19 rebounds, the Bulls pulled away 87-75 to win the championship.


The 65-win Lakers went 11-1 in the Western playoffs, with the only loss coming in the famed Sleepy Floyd game. The Warriors guard scored 29 points in a record-setting fourth quarter, but that would be the only mark against LA until the Finals.

Boston battled the rival Pistons in a seven-game victory, thanks in part to this all-time great moment in Game Five.

Of course, here is Johnny Most's call of the play:

In the Finals, the Lakers took the first two games at home and the Celtics won the next one back in Boston. It appeared that home court would hold once more as the C's led 103-95 with 3:30 to go. LA stormed back and trailed by one point in the waning moments, setting the stage for Magic Johnson.

Larry Bird's heave barely missed and the Lakers took control of the series before wrapping it up in six games.


The Lakers swept both of their playoff series and the 76ers eked out the East title after nearly squandering a 3-1 series lead to the Celtics for the second straight year. They did it the hard way, winning Game Seven in Boston. The coronation included this really cool "BEAT LA" chant from the Boston Garden crowd.

The Lakers won the championship in a six-game series that was somewhat ho-hum, with an average margin of victory of over 16 points. 13 was a lucky number in the clincher when Magic posted a 13-13-13 triple-double.


Another Lakers sweep here, along with another seven-game victory for the Celtics over Philly. Boston became the first team in league history to overcome a 3-1 deficit, winning Games Five and Seven on the road.

Four of the best ever squared off again. Elgin Baylor and Jerry West were trying to get over the hump, having lost to the Celtics in the Finals five and four times, respectively. John Havlicek and first-year player/coach Bill Russell saw the Sixers end their eight-peat in 1967 and were looking to climb to the top once more.

The clubs split the first two in Boston, then split the next two out west. A narrow 120-117 home win gave the advantage to the Celtics, who closed it out in Game Six. West averaged 31 points in the series and Baylor averaged 26, but it wasn't enough. Havlicek put up 27 ppg and Russell turned in a ridiculous line of 17.3 points, 21.8 boards, 5.7 assists to pick up his tenth ring.

In five of the six previous instances, the West champ swept and rested while the East winner grinded it out in seven (1996 the lone exception). The sweeper won the Finals four times (including three Lakers teams) while the 1968 Celtics and 1998 Bulls were able to overcome fatigue. The Finals on this list have given us some of the greatest moments in league history. Hopefully the Spurs and Heat can add another great chapter starting Thursday.


One quirky thing about the sweep/seven dynamic: All four times it's happened in baseball, the team that went seven in the LCS beat the LCS sweeper in the World Series (twice in four games, twice in five). They are:

1988: Dodgers (d. Mets in 7) beat A's (swept Red Sox) in five games
2006: Cardinals (d. Mets in 7) beat Tigers (swept A's) in five games
2007: Red Sox (d. Indians in 7) beat Rockies (swept Diamondbacks) in four games
2012: Giants (d. Cardinals in 7) beat Tigers (swept Yankees) in four games

This has happened twice in the NHL postseason. In 1952, the Red Wings swept the Maple Leafs in the semis and Montreal beat Boston in seven games. Detroit swept through the Canadiens as well for the Stanley Cup, outscoring opponents 24-5 in their 8-0 run. In 2003, the Devils knocked off the Senators 4-3 for the East title while the 7-seed Mighty Ducks of Anaheim ran through the Minnesota Wild (thanks to Jean-Sabastien Giguere stopping 122 of 123 shots). Home-ice advantage held firm for just the third time in Cup Final history as the host won all seven games in a New Jersey victory. Giguere became the fifth losing player to earn Conn Smythe honors.

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