Repeating as NBA champion has proven difficult in the past – and it’s even harder when defending champs face the team they beat in the Finals the year before. Sister site Covers.com takes a look at the history:
Entering Thursday’s opening game between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers (which is the first time two teams have met in the final for three straight years), there have been eight NBA Finals rematches since 1970 – and only once has the team that won the first encounter gone on to prevail a second time. This strangely runs counter to the six instances prior to 1970 in which teams met in an NBA Finals rematch. In those cases, the defending champion went 5-1.
With the Warriors a near -300 favorites to avenge their loss to the Cavaliers in last years finals, here’s a look at the previous eight NBA Finals rematches, and how both teams fared:
1973 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks
1972 result: Lakers win in five games
1973 result: Knicks win in five games
This series was an exact flip of the previous year’s result. In 1972, the Knicks won the opener but lost the next four games. A year later, it was the Lakers prevailing in Game 1 but proceeding to drop four in a row. None of the games were decided by more than nine points, with four of them won by five points or fewer. Only twice did a team reach 100 points over the final four games following the Lakers’ 115-112 victory in Game 1.
1979 NBA Finals: Washington Bullets vs. Seattle SuperSonics
1978 result: Bullets win in seven games
1979 result: SuperSonics win in five games
Weirdly, this series followed the same pattern as the first one on this list. The Bullets captured Game 1 at home, but didn’t win another game the rest of the finals. Seattle took Games 2 and 3 by double digits before outlasting Washington in overtime in Game 4 and wrapping things up in enemy territory three days later. The schedule might have taken its toll on the Bullets, who needed seven games to win both of their earlier playoff series.
1983 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
1982 result: Lakers win in six games
1983 result: 76ers win in four games
The league-best 76ers gleefully exacted their revenge on a stacked Lakers team that had rolled past them a year earlier, sweeping the purple and gold en route to their third championship. That Moses Malone-led Philadelphia team crushed the opposition in the playoffs, running a 12-1 record while averaging better than 110 points per game in the four-game rout of Los Angeles. It was the first time in NBA history that a finals rematch resulted in a sweep.
1985 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1984 result: Celtics win in seven games
1985 result: Lakers win in six games
The Lakers were on the good end of an NBA Finals rematch this time around, bouncing back from a heart-breaking seven-game finals defeat a year earlier to prevail in one of the most entertaining and high-scoring championship series in league history. The teams combined to average 114.5 points per game in the Finals, with the winning team averaging nearly 122 points per victory. It marked the first time in history the Lakers had beaten the Celtics to win the title.
1989 NBA Finals: Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1988 result: Lakers win in seven games
1989 result: Pistons win in four games
After squandering a 3-2 series lead against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals – and losing the final two games by combined four points – the “Bad Boy” Pistons weren’t about to make the same mistake in the rematch. Detroit scored between 105 and 110 points in all four games, capturing the first two at home before capping the sweep with a pair of victories in L.A. The sweep capped an incredible run for the Pistons, who went 15-2 in the postseason. The Lakers were 11-0 entering the Finals.
1998 NBA Finals: Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz
1997 result: Bulls win in six games
1998 result: Bulls win in six games
A handful of teams challenged the Bulls in the NBA Finals, but the Jazz were the only opponents to do so in consecutive seasons. And both times, the Hall of Fame tandem of John Stockton and Karl Malone came up just short in defeating the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. The 1998 title series was one of the lowest-scoring Finals in the modern era: Only twice did a team exceed 90 points, while the Jazz here held to a laughable 54 points in a Game 3 blowout loss. Every single game finished Under the total, with the deciding Game 6 boasting a low number of 177.5 points. The Bulls also covered in four of six games, including all three in Utah.
2014 NBA Finals: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat
2013 result: Heat win in seven games
2014 result: Spurs win in five games
San Antonio didn’t take kindly to suffering the first finals defeat in franchise history a year earlier, putting together a 62-win regular season before defeating Dallas, Portland and Oklahoma City in their first three playoff rounds en route to a hotly anticipated finals rematch. The Spurs then proceeded to crush the defending champions, boasting the highest average point differential (+14) in the history of the Finals. All four of their victories were by 15 or more points. San Antonio finished 4-1 ATS while making quick work of “The Big Three”.
2016 NBA Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
2015 result: Warriors win in six games
2016 result: Cavaliers win in seven games
After seeing LeBron James carry Cleveland to a pair of finals victories almost completely by himself in 2015, Cavaliers fans had to be pleased with seeing a much healthier version of their team head into a championship rematch with the Warriors. But things didn’t start out so well, as Golden State jumped out to a… well, I’m sure you know what that series lead was. Cleveland became the first team to rally from 3-1 down to win a NBA Finals, and was the first team since 1978 to win a finals Game 7 away from home. The Cavs covered in four of the seven games and were +175 underdogs to win the series.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Monty Andrews for Covers.com, a sister site also owned by Tribune.