A history of NBA Finals rematches

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Before facing the Spurs in his second straight NBA Finals, LeBron James – defending the Heat’s title – acknowledged San Antonio was motivated. He also warned:

“I think motivation can only go so far. How much motivation can carry you to a championship, I’m not sure. At the end of the day, five, ten guys on the floor, three refs, and one basketball. You gotta make plays. I can’t shoot the ball and say motivation will make it in. I can’t sit in the lane and take a charge and say, ‘Motivation, get me this call.’ “

Now, LeBron is on the other side, bringing a runner-up back to the Finals to face the team that beat it the year before. Are the Cavaliers especially motivated to beat the Warriors, and will that help them?

This is the 14th Finals rematch from the year prior. Defending champions are 6-7 – and 1-6 in the last seven matchups.

Five of the defending champions to repeat in a rematch were 1960s Celtics teams. The other was the 1997 and 1998 Bulls, who beat the Jazz.

In all, the team that lost the Finals won more games in nine of the 13 rematches and the same amount once.

So, will the Cavs win the title? Will they at least win more than two games?

There are very light indicators motivation works in this situations, but I lean toward calling this too small a sample.

In any case, here’s a history of Finals rematches, winner on the left and loser on the right:

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2016: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

2015: Golden State Warriors 4, Cleveland Cavaliers 2

 

2014: San Antonio Spurs 4, Miami Heat 1

2013: Miami Heat 4, San Antonio Spurs 3

 

1998: Chicago Bulls 4, Utah Jazz 2

1997: Chicago Bulls 4, Utah Jazz 2

 

1989: Detroit Pistons 4, Los Angeles Lakers 0

1988: Los Angeles Lakers 4, Detroit Pistons 3

 

1985: Los Angeles Lakers 4, Boston Celtics 2

1984: Boston Celtics 4, Los Angeles Lakers 3

 

1983: Philadelphia 76ers 4, Los Angeles Lakers 0

1982: Los Angeles Lakers 4, Philadelphia 76ers 2

 

1979: Seattle SuperSonics 4, Washington Bullets 1

1978: Washington Bullets 4, Seattle SuperSonics 3

 

1973: New York Knicks 4, Los Angeles Lakers 1

1972: Los Angeles Lakers 4, New York Knicks 1

 

1969: Boston Celtics 4, Los Angeles Lakers 3

1968: Boston Celtics 4, Los Angeles Lakers 2

 

1966: Boston Celtics 4, Los Angeles Lakers 3

1965: Boston Celtics 4, Los Angeles Lakers 1

 

1963: Boston Celtics 4, Los Angeles Lakers 2

1962: Boston Celtics 4, Los Angeles Lakers 3

 

1961: Boston Celtics 4, St. Louis Hawks 1

1960: Boston Celtics 4, St. Louis Hawks 3

 

1958: St. Louis Hawks 4, Boston Celtics 2

1957: Boston Celtics 4, St. Louis Hawks 3

 

1953: Minneapolis Lakers 4, New York Knicks 1

1952: Minneapolis Lakers 4, New York Knicks 3