With just about eight out of the nine games in this year's Conference finals going down to the wire, we thought it necessary to pull up some of the closest -- or, at the very least -- most competitive Conference finals of the last 20 years. Sweat away ...
1. 1993 — Chicago over New York in six; Phoenix over Seattle in seven
It's almost as if, in the annals of history, these two series' were mixed up; and after the mix-up, one was forgotten altogether.
Fans think of the Knicks/Bulls affairs as drag-out, seven-game affairs, and while the two teams combined to go for seven games in the semifinals a year before, the 1993 turn was over in six.
Of course, those six games were easily the most harrowing playoff win of Michael Jordan's career. It wasn't even close. Tougher than anything the West ever threw at him, tougher than having to hit a game-winner over the Cavaliers in 1989. Tougher than beating Rony Seikaly's Miami Heat in 1992. Tough.
The Knicks took both games in New York to start the series, and that ... that just didn't happen to the Chicago Bulls back then. After your typical home blowout in Game 3, Chicago hung on to win Game 4 in the final minutes before Game 5 turned on this series of events.
Game 6, back in Chicago, clinched it. As you can tell by this "recap," words can't really describe the passion and energy in those six games.
Out West, somehow forgotten, is the way the young Seattle SuperSonics took the heavily-favored (to win it all, mind you) Suns to seven games. Only two of the contests were two-possession deals in the end, but that didn't stop the shock factor back in 1993. Even after the Lakers took Phoenix to the brink in the first round, the idea of this young Seattle team giving Phoenix all it could handle was a bit of a mind-bender.
For the youngsters, the only thing I could compare it to would be something like the Utah Jazz taking the San Antonio Spurs to seven games in 2007, instead of bowing out meekly in five games as actually happened. We knew the SuperSonics were on the rise and had talent (like those Jazz) to cash in on once the oldsters faded away, though they'd flame out in earlier rounds over the next two years (like the Jazz), but seven games?
2. 2009 — Cleveland vs. Orlando; Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver (ongoing)
Either team could have taken the Nuggets/Lakers series by now. The Nuggets could have held onto Game 1, won Game 2, taken Game 4; and either played smarter down the stretch of Game 3 or 5 to advance.
The Lakers could have done the same in Game 1, while hanging on to win the three games they've taken from Denver thus far.
Orlando/Cleveland? The Cavs were up huge in the first two games, but only took one, and lost in an overtime battle in Game 4 that featured a banked-in Rafer Alston(notes) three-pointer and a hot mark from Dwight Howard(notes) at the free throw line before regulation ended. A butterfly flaps its wings, y'know?
The Eastern Conference finals could end tonight, the Western's version on Friday (though I'm not expecting either, no way), and this would still deserve its ranking. Close games, yee-haw.
At one of the low points in the NBA's story arc came this gem, helping us all forget that the games were pretty ugly back then, the coaching too ham-fisted, the refereeing too Laissez-faire, the fact that New Jersey was going to make the Finals despite probably being the seventh or eighth-best team in the NBA that year, and that this was NBC's last turn at being the national broadcast home of the NBA.
Now that I've depressed you. Have some fun with this:
I remember watching this game on tape after getting home from a bartending gig that night, and sending one-word emails to a Celtics fan and mate of mine. Just writing "PRIDE" over and over again as I watched, and Paul Pierce(notes) went off. I may have had a six pack of Schlitz with me. Can't remember.
4. 1990 — Detroit over Chicago in seven, Portland over Phoenix in six
Lots of nasty, nasty memories for a young Chicago fan in this series, this spring. That Pistons team was so, so good. For as much as we talk about how nasty they were, that squad just had talent and smarts to spare. What a brilliant team. What a bunch of [expletive deleted].
A lot of people don't remember that adding Charles Barkley to the early-1990s Phoenix Suns was nearly like the Celtics adding Kevin Garnett(notes) last year. KG and Barkley were all-world talents, but with Pierce, Ray Allen(notes), and Al Jefferson(notes), the Celtics would have been right there. Those Suns were right there.
Remember, they had to top the Jazz and the Lakers just to get there, and those were some pretty special teams back then.
5. 2000 — Indiana over New York in six; Los Angeles Lakers over Portland in seven
Remembered mainly for the classic seven-game duel between the eventual champions from Los Angeles and the Trail Blazers, I have to impress that -- as a half-court, 1990s-junkie -- the Knicks/Pacers pairing was just as entertaining.
It was ugly, make no mistake, but it was also spirited, and at times angry, as Reggie Miller probably landed one of his cruelest (read: not cool, not clever, not funny, just classless) taunts at Patrick Ewing, after Ewing missed a potential game-changer toward the end of Game 2 while essentially playing on a torn Achilles that would force him out of the rest of the series. It would be his last game as a Knick.
The Lakers/Trail Blazers series almost needs no breakdown, although it should be reminded that Los Angeles seemed to have this series in hand while up 3-1, before roaring back only to blow it late in Game 7. Listening, Cleveland?