NBA Finals features increasingly rare matchup of No. 1 seeds

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The Warriors and Cavaliers will produce a result we haven’t seen in eight years:

A No. 1 seed losing in the NBA Finals.

With the Eastern Conference and Western Conference’s top teams meeting, it’s bound to happen.

The top-seeded Celtics beat the top-seeded Lakers in 2008, the last time the Finals featured two No. 1 seeds before this year. Prior to that, it was 2000 (Lakers over Pacers).

Until the turn of the century, the Finals never went more than five years without two No. 1 seeds meeting. Now, it has happened just twice in 16 years.

Why?

  • It has never required more series wins to reach the Finals (three), opening more upset possibilities.
  • The league has never contained more teams. When the NBA first instituted a 16-team playoffs, it had 23 teams. Now, it has 30 – meaning the lower seeds tend to be better. Again, that increases the chance of an upset.
  • Teams value rest more than ever. The teams that race to the best regular-season record in each conference aren’t as likely to hold up against opponents hat limited their top players’ minutes throughout the regular season and lost more accordingly.

So, this is a treat – No. 1 vs. No. 1. We were expecting the Warriors and Cavs to reach the Finals all season, and this should be a good one. By combined record, it’s the highest-quality match up we could have gotten.

Here’s a history of NBA Finalists by seed, highest in the center and moving outward:

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  • 2016: No. 1 GSW vs. No. 1 CLE
  • 2015: No. 1 GSW d. No. 2 CLE, 4-2
  • 2014: No. 1 SAS d. No. 2 MIA, 4-1
  • 2013: No. 1 MIA d. No. 2 SAS, 4-3
  • 2012: No. 2 MIA d. No. 2 OKC, 4-1
  • 2011: No. 3 DAL d. No. 2 MIA, 4-2
  • 2010: No. 1 LAL d. No. 4 BOS, 4-3
  • 2009: No. 1 LAL d. No. 3 ORL, 4-1
  • 2008: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 LAL, 4-2
  • 2007: No. 3 SAS d. No. 2 CLE, 4-0
  • 2006: No. 2 MIA d. No. 4 DAL, 4-2
  • 2005: No. 2 SAS d. No. 2 DET, 4-3
  • 2004: No. 3 DET d. No. 2 LAL, 4-1
  • 2003: No. 1 SAS d. No. 2 NJN, 4-2
  • 2002: No. 3 LAL d. No. 1 NJN, 4-0
  • 2001: No. 2 LAL d. No. 1 PHI, 4-1
  • 2000: No. 1 LAL d. No. 1 IND, 4-2
  • 1999: No. 1 SAS d. No. 8 NYK, 4-1
  • 1998: No. 1 CHI d. No. 1 UTA, 4-2
  • 1997: No. 1 CHI d. No. 1 UTA, 4-2
  • 1996: No. 1 CHI d. No. 1 SEA, 4-2
  • 1995: No. 6 HOU d. No. 1 ORL, 4-0
  • 1994: No. 2 HOU d. No. 2 NYK, 4-3
  • 1993: No. 2 CHI d. No. 1 PHO, 4-2
  • 1992: No. 1 CHI d. No. 1 POR, 4-2
  • 1991: No. 1 CHI d. No. 3 LAL, 4-1
  • 1990: No. 1 DET d. No. 3 POR, 4-1
  • 1989: No. 1 DET d. No. 1 LAL, 4-0
  • 1988: No. 1 LAL d. No. 2 DET, 4-3
  • 1987: No. 1 LAL d. No. 1 BOS, 4-2
  • 1986: No. 1 BOS d. No. 2 HOU, 4-2
  • 1985: No. 1 LAL d. No. 1 BOS, 4-2
  • 1984: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 LAL, 4-3
  • 1983: No. 1 PHI d. No. 1 LAL, 4-0
  • 1982: No. 1 LAL d. No. 3 PHI, 4-2
  • 1981: No. 1 BOS d. No. 6 HOU, 4-2
  • 1980: No. 1 LAL d. No. 3 PHI, 4-2
  • 1979: No. 1 SEA d. No. 1 WSB, 4-1
  • 1978: No. 3 WSB d. No. 4 SEA, 4-3
  • 1977: No. 3 POR d. No. 1 PHI, 4-2
  • 1976: No. 1 BOS d. No. 3 PHO, 4-2
  • 1975: No. 1 GSW d. No. 2 WSB, 4-0
  • 1974: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 MIL, 4-3
  • 1973: No. 2 NYK d. No. 2 LAL, 4-1
  • 1972: No. 1 LAL d. No. 3 NYK, 4-1
  • 1971: No. 1 MIL d. No. 1 BAL, 4-0
  • 1970: No. 1 NYK d. No. 2 LAL, 4-3
  • 1969: No. 4 BOS d. No. 1 LAL, 4-3
  • 1968: No. 2 BOS d. No. 2 LAL, 4-2
  • 1967: No. 1 PHI d. No. 1 SFW, 4-2
  • 1966: No. 2 BOS d. No. 1 LAL, 4-3
  • 1965: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 LAL, 4-1
  • 1964: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 SFW, 4-1
  • 1963: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 LAL, 4-2
  • 1962: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 LAL, 4-3
  • 1961: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 STL, 4-1
  • 1960: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 STL, 4-3
  • 1959: No. 1 BOS d. No. 2 MNL, 4-0
  • 1958: No. 1 STL d. No. 1 BOS, 4-2
  • 1957: No. 1 BOS d. No. 1 STL, 4-3
  • 1956: No. 1 PHW d. No. 1 FTW, 4-1
  • 1955: No. 1 SYR d. No. 1 FTW, 4-3
  • 1954: No. 1 MNL d. No. 1 SYR, 4-3
  • 1953: No. 1 MNL d. No. 1 NYK, 4-1
  • 1952: No. 2 MNL d. No. 3 NYK, 4-3
  • 1951: No. 2 ROC d. No. 3 NYK, 4-3
  • 1950: No. 1.5 MNL d. No. 1.5 SYR, 4-2*
  • 1949: No. 2 MNL d. No. 1 WSC, 4-2
  • 1948: No. 2 BLB d. No. 1 PHW, 4-2
  • 1947: No. 2 PHW d. No. 1 CHS, 4-1

*In 1950, the NBA had three divisions. The Central Division-champion Minneapolis Lakers beat the Western Division-champion Anderson Packers in a “semifinal.” The Lakers then beat the Eastern Division-champion Syracuse Nationals, who received a bye to the Finals. I counted both Minneapolis and Syracuse as “1.5” seeds.