The five best NBA finals. Ever.

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wreed.jpgWe are staring at another great one. Potentially. These 2010 Lakers and Celtics match up pretty evenly, both are championship tested; both have big stars and thrilling role players. This is going to be fun.

But can it match up to the all-time greats? The best finals series ever? That is one tall mountain to climb. I mean, just look at the competition, the five best NBA finals series ever:

1970, New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

Everyone kept expecting the Lakers to break through with a title — they had the most talent in the league, but they kept losing to a better team in the Celtics. Now the LA stars were taking on another real team, this one from New York.

This series had a couple of legendary moments. First there was Game 3, where Knicks legend Dave DeBusschere hit what looked like the game winner with three-seconds to go, only to have Jerry West hit a three-quarter court shot to tie it. Maybe the greatest shot in NBA Finals history.

Then there was Game 7, when the Knicks lone star player Willis Reed was not expected to play. But he came out of the tunnel, fired up the fans, and played a few minutes of quality basketball where he fired up his team. And the Knicks won Game 7 and the title on that emotion.

1998 Finals, Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in six games

Michael Jordan’s greatest moment. Which is saying something. But in capping off the second of the two Bulls three-peats Chicago had to beat the best team they had faced in the finals. That Jazz team had Karl Malone and John Stockton at their peaks.

The Jazz won game one, the Bulls Game 2 and then Chicago had a defensive game for the ages in Game 3, holding the Jazz to 56 points. For the game.

But it was the final 30 seconds of Game 6 that had Jordan leaving on top. The Bulls were down one point. First Jordan made a blind-side steal on Malone in the post. Then he made the one of the signature shots of his career — the cross-over (and push off) on Byron Russell, followed by the pure jumper that won the game. And the series. The perfect shot that capped of Jordan’s career.

1976 NBA finals, Boston Celtics defeat the Phoenix Suns in six games

Can one game propel an NBA finals into the best five ever? It can when you are talking about the best game ever.

Game five is legendary. It had been a dramatic game that was tied 95-95 at the end of regulation. Then at 101-101 at the end of the first overtime. In the second overtime the Celtics had a three-point lead late (remember, this was before the three-point shot) and it looked like a win. But then a Suns jumper by Dick Van Arsdale makes it a one-point game again.

Then on the inbound Paul Westphal steals the ball from John Havlicek, and the Suns have life. Curtis Perry missed a jumper but the rebound is taped back out to Perry who doesn’t miss twice. Suns 110-109.  But Havlicek is not to be outdone. He gets the ball with five seconds to go and drives down the left hand side and puts up an off-balance runner that falls as time ticks off the clock. Celtics win 111-110, fans storm the court. It’s all over…

Except it’s not. The referees know there should be one second left on the clock. They pull the Celtics out of the locker room for a final play. The Suns have to go the length of the court in one second to get a game winner. But then in a moment of veteran savvy Westphal calls a timeout, when the Suns have none. It’s a technical foul — and Boston hits the free throw to go up 112-110 — but the Suns get to take the ball out at half court.

Gar Heard hit the turn-around jumper near the elbow to tie the game again and send it to a third overtime. Just go watch the shots yourself.

The Celtics won the third overtime handily, and won the series in six. But Game 5 alone made this an all-time great.

1969 Finals, Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

Lakers fans, you may not want to read this one or compare it to 2010.

The Lakers had the big-name stars in their prime: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Celtics had stars like Bill Russell — who was the player coach — and Sam Jones, but they were both injured. The Celtics were considered too old. They had finished fourth in the East, then surprised everyone in the playoffs.

Game 1 saw Jerry West just go off, to the tune of 53 points. Havlicek answered with 43 in Game 2. Game 4 had Don Nelson (yes, that Don Nelson) hit the game winner on a shot that hit the back of the rim as time expired, go straight up higher than the backboard, then fall back through. We had ourselves a shootout, a series that went seven games.

That Game 7 was in the Fabulous Forum, and no home team had ever lost a Game 7 in NBA finals history. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, because he was sure of victory. What he did was motivate the Celtics, who were angered by the balloons (not as much as West, however) and Boston hit 8 of their first 10 shots and went on to win the title. The balloons never came down.

It was the Celtics 11th title in 13 years. It was also the last one for that dynasty.

1984/1985 NBA Finals, combined, Boston and Los Angeles (Celtics won 1984, Lakers won 1985)

Two different years, but it’s hard not to think of them together, the same way it is hard not to think of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird separately. This was the two titles that may have been their peak.

The Celtics beat the Lakers in 1984 in a physical, hard-fought seven game series. Kevin McHale turned the emotion of this series when he clotheslined Kurt Rambis. That came in Game 4, which was an epic overtime battle that became one of the defining moments of the Bird-era Celtics. It was one of the best Finals games, ever. Boston had to go seven but won a series that validated Bird and his legend and finally gave him a win over Magic in a big game.

Then 1985 it was Magic’s turn. It didn’t look that way at the start, with Boston winning Game 1 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre, a 148-114 thrashing of the Lakers. It was so bad Kareem Abdul-Jabbar apologized to his teammates afterward. And while Magic was Magic in 1985 the Lakers were still Kareem’s team and he took over. He scored 29 in the deciding Game 6 and was the series MVP.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).