Entering the 2023 NBA playoffs, there have been 19 Game 7s played during the league Finals. Some have been quite memorable, while others didn't live up to the hype. Here are our rankings of those NBA Finals Game 7s.
For as entertaining as this series was overall (featuring two overtime games), the winner-take-all finale was quite anticlimactic. In fact, the Lakes' 17-point margin of victory was the largest of any game in the series. Georg Mikan finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds for the Lakers, who shot 46.2 percent, and also held New York to just 28.1 percent from the field for the contest -- and only eight points in the third quarter. Only two Knicks -- Max Zaslofsky and Connie Simmons -- scored in double figures for the game.
The Celtics weren't as dominant in the 1970s as they were during the late 1950s and into the '60s, but they still won two titles during the decade. Now, one of them actually needed Game 7 to decide. Boston went 3-1 on the road during the 1974 NBA Finals, with one of those victories coming rather easy in this Game 7 at Milwaukee. While the Celtics hounded Bucks' star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who managed 26 points, Boston's Dave Cowens proved too much by scoring 28, leading five visitors in double-figure points. This was Boston's first NBA title without legend Bill Russell.
In 1959, the Boston Celtics swept the Minneapolis Lakers to ignite that storied rivalry and begin their run of eight straight NBA championships. However, the second title during that surge was tougher than the first. Boston won every other game in the series and rolled to a 19-point victory in Game 7 versus the Hawks. That contest is also remembered for Boston great Bill Russell pulling down 35 rebounds to go along with 22 points. Possibly overshadowed was the impressive performance of teammate Frank Ramsey, who had 24 points with 13 boards.
Washington's run to its only NBA title was memorable outside of the nation's capital the fact that both Finals participants failed to win 50 games during the regular season. Still, the only time in league history that's happened for an 82-game campaign. Washington, then known as the Bullets, trailed 3-2 in the series before winning Game 6 by 35 points. As the visitors in Game 7, Washington was in control throughout, though the Sonics got within two points late. However, a pair of successful free throws from Wes Unseld (15 points, 12 rebounds) kept Washington ahead and eventually gave legendary coach Dıck Matta his lone career title.
The Heat's second straight NBA title was tougher than most NBA fans probably thought. Miami won 66 games during the regular season but fell behind 3-2 in the Finals. However, a thrilling overtime victory by Miami in Game 6 set up this finale. That's where the Heat flexed their defensive muscle, holding San Antonio to just 37.8 percent shooting. That said, the Spurs still trailed by two with under a minute to play, but Tom Duncan missed back-to-back short attempts, and the Heat were able to pad their cushion. LeBron James finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds and earned his second consecutive Finals MVP. Teammate Dwyane Wade added 23 with 10 boards.
The Knicks were one win away from claiming their first NBA title in 20 years, but Houston made the most of hosting Games 6 and 7. Following a two-point victory in that sixth game, the Rockets shot 46.6 percent and got 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists from Hakeem Olajuwon in Game 7 -- en route to the franchise's first NBA championship. However, it was essentially a tight contest throughout and likely best known for the Knicks' inability to get over the hump, and John Starks' 2-of-18 shooting performance, which included missing all 11 3-point attempts.
For the second time in three seasons, this storied rivalry was renewed with the NBA's ultimate prize on the line. The Celtics topped the Lakers in six games for the 2008 championship, and it seemed they were ready to do it again. Los Angeles won two of the first three games, then Boston took the next two for a 3-2 lead with the series headed back west. However, L.A. rolled to a 22-point Game 6 win, but trailed by nine after one quarter and as much as 13, in Game 7. However, the Lakers chipped away, and despite shooting 32.5 percent for the game, scored 30 points in the fourth quarter and held Boston to 40.8 percent shooting. Kobe Bryant went just 6-for-24 from the field but had 23 points with 15 rebounds, and Pau Gasol added 19 and 18 boards during the Los Angeles triumph.
The 2005 Finals were the first in 11 years to need a Game 7. San Antonio won the first two games of the series, at home, but the Pistons found their form and eventually forced this decisive contest. In a series that was all about defense (Detroit's 102-71 win in Game 4 marked the only time either team reached 100 points), and the Spurs got the job done on that end. They held the visiting Pistons to 2-of-14 shooting from 3-point range in Game 7 and allowed no Detroit player to score more than 15 points, while also overcoming a nine-point deficit in the third quarter. San Antonio star Tim Duncan scored 10 of its final 18 points in the fourth, and finished with 25 and 11 rebounds as the Spurs won their second title in three seasons.
Two years after the Lakers needed to go the distance to win their third NBA title, they did it again to cap a string of three consecutive league championships. Neither Minneapolis nor Syracuse (now the Philadelphia 76ers), won back-to-back games in the series. So, with home-court advantage, that obviously played well for the Lakers. That said, Game 7 was quite competitive, with each team shooting at least 45.0 percent. Minneapolis' Jim Pollard scored 21, while George Mikan and Clyde Lovellette combined for 25 points and 28 boards.
This was the eighth time the Celtics and Lakers met to decide the NBA's champion. The story of the series was the sweltering heat in the famed Boston Garden, which was particularly rough during Game 5. Though the inside temperature was in the low 90s for Game 7, the Lakers shot an even hotter 48.8 percent. However, Boston was in control for most of the contest, until L.A. cut a 14-point deficit down to three in the final minute. The team, though, puled away late, thanks to going 43-of-51 from the free-throw line. Cedric Maxwell, who recorded a late steal on Magic Johnson, was one of three Celtics to post at least 20 points, leading the way with 24.
The Knicks were part of the first two Game 7s in NBA Finals history -- and unable to win either. In '51, it was the Royals of Rochester, currently the Sacramento Kings, who prevailed for the franchise's first and only NBA title. Rochester won the first three games of the series, with the Knicks winning the next three. The final five games of the series were each decided by seven or fewer points. In Game 7, Arnie Risen (24 points, 13 rebounds), Bobby Wanzer and Arnie Johnson each posted a double-double for points and rebounds, and Bob Davies scored 20 for the victorious Royals.
The final title in the Celtics' streak of eight consecutive league championships. Extending that legendary streak appeared as if it would be easy for Boston, which jumped out to a 3-1 series over the rival Lakers, now in Los Angeles. However, the Lakers certainly made things interesting by winning Games 5 and 6. In the all-or-nothing Game 7, Boston led 76-60 after three quarters, but the Lakers weren't about to roll over and scored 33 fourth-quarter points to make it a game before the Celtics prevailed. Boston's Bill Russell and Sam Jones combined for 47 points, while L.A.'s Jerry West topped everyone with 36 in the losing effort.
As noted, Syracuse fell short of the franchise's first NBA title in 1954. However, it only took a year for the then-Nationals to reach the top of the NBA mountain. And this time, Syracuse was able to survive a Game 7. In one of the more entertaining and perhaps controversial games in NBA history, the Nationals prevailed when George King made a tiebreaking free throw with 12 seconds left in regulation, then made a steal in the waning seconds to seal the title. In an interesting side note, for years it's been alleged that various Pistons' players were paid, by gamblers, to throw the series. Notably Game 7, which Fort Wayne led by 10 after one quarter, and by 16 in the second period.
In 1969, Los Angeles won the first two games of another memorable Finals series between the two rivals. The Celtics took the next two, then after splitting Games 5 and 6, it came down to a highly anticipated Game 7 at The Forum. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke expected his team to win and had balloons set to drop upon victory. However, the Celtics ended celebrating after building a 91-76 lead entering the fourth. They then held on, thanks to a key bucket from Don Nelson. Despite 42 points from NBA Finals MVP Jerry West, Boston became the first road team to win a Game 7 in Finals history.
This notable Game 7 was all about Los Angeles star James Worthy. The Pistons led 52-47 at halftime, but an ailing Isiah Thomas couldn't go full out in the second half. Los Angeles found its way back into the game, and eventually took command to lead 90-75 early in the final period. Though the Pistons continued to claw their way back into the contest, thanks to 25 points from Joe Dumars and 43 from their bench, Los Angeles proved too tough. Mostly because of Worthy, who finished with 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists to help the franchise to its 11th NBA championship.
This contest will forever be known for Willis Reed's improbable return from a thigh injury he suffered earlier in the series, and which forced him to miss Game 6. But, dramatically, Reed took the court for pregame warmups, causing the home crowd to erupt in applause, then scored New York's first four points of this finale. He then turned his attention to defending the Lakers' Walt Chamberlain. Reed was a big reason Chamberlain missed seven of his first nine shots, and finished with a rather underwhelming 21 points. Meanwhile, Reed's early heroics tend to overshadow the 36 points and 19 rebounds from Walt Frazier, who truly helped the Knicks win their first NBA title
As we'll see, the Celtics were part of the only two NBA Finals Game 7s to be decided in overtime. Boston was in the midst of its stretch of eight consecutive titles, but the first time it would face the Los Angeles Lakers -- thus truly beginning a rivalry that's among the most celebrated -- and heated -- in all sports. The Celtics were pushed to the limit and needed overtime in Game 7 to dispatch the pesky Lakers. Boston superstar Bill Russell recorded 30 points and an unworldly 40 rebounds. Meanwhile, Los Angeles' Elgin Baylor scored 41 and pulled down 22 boards, with teammate Jerry West dropping 35 points. Oh yeah, the Lakers' Frank Selvy had a chance to win it in the final seconds of regulation, but his wide-open 12-foot baseline shot bounced off the rim.
The Celtics' run to their first NBA championship began with a double-overtime contest and finished by prevailing in the only Finals' Game 7 to be decided in the same fashion. Despite this being a high-scoring, seemingly marathon performance for the time, neither team shot better than 38.2 percent. However, Bob Petit's 39 points and 19 assists for the Hawks are still memorable in the annals of Finals history. However, it was one-, maybe two-upped, by Boston's Tommy Heinsohn, who poured in 37 points and 23 boards. Then, of course, was the 19-point, 32-rebounds from that aforementioned Celtics rookie named Bill Russell.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say the Cavaliers' NBA title is the greatest sports moment in Cleveland's history. Golden State had the home-court advantage (thanks to a 73-win regular season) and took a 2-0 series lead. The Warriors eventually went up 3-1, but the Cavs bucked the odds to become the first team in NBA history to overcome such a deficit and win the championship. Game 7 was truly something special and essentially why it tops our list, featuring 20 lead changes and 11 ties. Cleveland overcame a seven-point halftime hole, outscoring the Warriors 51-40 in the second half and holding them without a basket over the final 4:39 of regulation. Perhaps the contest's most memorable moment was LeBron James' block off the backboard of Andre Iguodala's layup with the game tied 89-89. Kyrie Irving then hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 53 seconds remaining to secure the Cavaliers' historic victory.
A Chicago native, Jeff Mezydlo has professionally written about sports, entertainment and pop culture for nearly 30 years. If he could do it again, he'd attend Degrassi Junior High, Ampipe High and Grand Lakes University.