NBA Playoffs

Most common matchups in NBA Finals history

From long-standing rivalries to unusual duos, these 12 matchups were featured in multiple Finals

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The Boston Celtics are more than familiar with the championship stage, but they were going to end up with a new NBA Finals opponent no matter who won the 2024 Western Conference Finals.

That team turned out to be the Dallas Mavericks, who ousted the Minnesota Timberwolves in a gentleman’s sweep and set up a unique NBA Finals showdown. While the Celtics and Mavs are connected in plenty of ways, the 2024 Finals will be the first playoff matchup between the two franchises.

Teams getting a rematch in the Finals is somewhat rare in the NBA. In 2022, when the Golden State Warriors and Celtics met, it was just the 12th time in league history that the same matchup had occurred in multiple Finals.

From long-standing rivalries to unusual duos, here are those 12 pairs of teams that have squared off in multiple Finals:

1. Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers - 12

1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2008, 2010

Record: Celtics 9-3

The most storied rivalry in basketball goes all the way back to the Lakers’ Minneapolis days. The Celtics dominated the early matchups, winning the first eight Finals showdowns. The Lakers have come back to win three of the last four, including the most recent tilt in 2010.

2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers - 6

1950, 1954, 1980, 1982, 1983, 2001

Record: Lakers 5-1

The Sixers were the Syracuse Nationals back when they met up with the Lakers in the 1950 and 1954 NBA Finals. The two teams then were the dominant Finals matchup of the early ‘80s with the Lakers winning in 1980 and 1982 before the Sixers prevailed in 1983. Their latest Finals matchup came in 2001, as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant earned the second title in their three-peat.

3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks - 5

1952, 1953, 1970, 1972, 1973

Record: Lakers 3-2

Like the Nationals, the Knicks lost to the Lakers twice in the Finals during the 1950s. The Knicks-Lakers matchup then was the prominent Finals series of the early 1970s with the Knicks winning their first – and only – two championships in franchise history.

T-4. Boston Celtics vs. St. Louis Hawks - 4

1957, 1958, 1960, 1961

Record: Celtics 3-1

The Celtics’ first title came against the Hawks in 1957, and the Hawks returned the favor by beating the Celtics for their first title in the following season. From there, Boston won the next eight NBA championships, including two against St. Louis to start the franchise's dominant run in the 1960s.

T-4. Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers - 4

2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

Record: Warriors 3-1

The Warriors and Cavaliers made history in 2017 by becoming the first teams to meet in three consecutive Finals. They one-upped themselves in 2018 by making it four straight. Golden State won three of the four matchups, while Cleveland made history in 2016 on its way to its first NBA championship.

6. Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers - 3

1988, 1989, 2004

Record: Pistons 2-1

After falling to the Showtime Lakers in 1988, the Bad Boys Pistons won their first championship over Los Angeles in 1989. The two organizations faced off once again in 2004 with the Pistons pulling off a 4-1 series drubbing that put an end to O’Neal’s time in L.A.

T-7. Seattle SuperSonics vs. Washington Bullets - 2

1978, 1979

Record: Tied 1-1

The Bullets needed seven games to get past the Sonics in the 1978 Finals and secure their first championship. Seattle returned the favor the next season, earning its first championship with a five-game Finals triumph over Washington in 1979.

T-7. Boston Celtics vs. Houston Rockets - 2

1981, 1986

Record: Celtics 2-0

The first Celtics-Rockets Finals showdown came in 1981 with the Celtics winning in six games. In 1986, the basketball world was anticipating a Celtics-Lakers Finals rubber match, but the Rockets eliminated the Lakers in that year’s Western Conference finals. In the Finals, the Celtics once again prevailed in six games.

T-7. Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz - 2

1997, 1998

Record: Bulls 2-0

The Jazz got a front-row view of Michael Jordan’s “Last Dance.” Karl Malone had been named the league MVP prior to the 1997 Finals, but Jordan and the Bulls repeated as champions. Jordan won MVP the following season and capped the year off with his second championship three-peat, giving him the sixth and final title of his career.

T-7. Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks - 2

2006, 2011

Record: Tied 1-1

The two Heat-Mavericks Finals saw two completely different versions of Miami. In 2006, a young Dwyane Wade scored nearly 35 points per game and helped the Heat climb out of a 2-0 series hole on their way to their first ever NBA title. In 2011, Wade had LeBron James and Chris Bosh by his side, but Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavs beat the Miami superteam in six games. The Heat and Mavs were close to meeting in another Finals in 2022, but they were both eliminated in the conference finals.

T-7. Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs - 2

2013, 2014

Record: Tied 1-1

Speaking of the superteam Heat, their last two Finals runs together came against the Spurs. Miami won an iconic seven-game series in 2013 thanks to Ray Allen’s Game 6 heroics, giving the Heat back-to-back rings. San Antonio got some payback the following year, completing a gentleman’s sweep and winning their fifth NBA championship.

T-7. Boston Celtics vs. Golden State Warriors - 2

1964, 2022

Record: Tied 1-1

The Celtics won their first Finals meeting against the Warriors. Wilt Chamberlain averaged over 29 points and 27 rebounds per game, but Bill Russell and Co. came out on top in a five-game triumph. The Warriors finally got revenge nearly 60 years later, with Steph Curry averaging 31.2 points per game as Golden State defeated the Celtics in six games to win their fourth championship in eight years. 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was published in May 2022.

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