While the NCAA Tournament has the thrill of a one-and-done postseason tournament, the NBA’s best-of-seven format has produced numerous, thrilling, grind-it-out series over the years that are equally exciting.
Before LeBron James won a pair of titles with the Miami Heat, his Cleveland Cavs were stopped by Boston’s “Big Three” in a pair of classic matchups in 2008 and again in 2010. Then when he formed his own three-man posse in Miami, he had to go through the Celtics in 2011 and again in 2012—which was a seven-game masterpiece that needed an epic 45-point, 15-rebound performance from James in Game 6 just to bring the series back to Miami for a Game 7 the Heat would ultimately win.
These are the kinds of classic series the NBA has in mind when the playoffs roll around. Here are four of the top possible playoff scenarios that would be instant classics this year:
4. L.A. Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs
Truth be told, this would be higher on the list if it weren’t so unlikely to happen. The fourth-seeded Clippers—should they get past Portland in the first round—would most likely have to defeat 73–9 Golden State in the second round for this rematch of last year’s incredible seven-game first-round set to happen. Meanwhile, the Spurs would have to down the Grizzlies in round one and then most likely outlast a dangerous Thunder squad in conference semis.
But it would be worth it. In case you forgot, both teams are coached by men who’ve won NBA titles before and last year’s unforgettable series was decided on a Game 7, last-second runner in the lane by Chris Paul.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs
James has been to the NBA Finals five straight years, and should he make it a sixth—with San Antonio being the foe—it would mark his fourth time to go up against Gregg Popovich and the hard-working Spurs. Lest we forget, James improbably led an undermanned Cavs squad to the Finals in 2007, only to be swept by San Antonio.
Six years later though, as a member of the Heat, his Miami squad was pushed to the brink of series defeat in Game 6—down 13 points in the third quarter and 5 with 28 seconds left in the game—only to storm back with miracle threes by James and Ray Allen to force overtime where they would win and eventually take the series in seven. The Spurs would get revenge the following year in a Finals rematch, but a fourth matchup would be welcomed by all.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
The two teams that met in last year’s Finals are both favored to win their respective conferences again, and should they do so, the reigning-champion Warriors would likely be seeing a different Cavs team—and vice versa.
As long as Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are back, James should have his full band together and that’s more than Golden State saw from them last year when it took six games for them to down a beat-up Cleveland squad. Meanwhile, if it’s possible for a defending champion to be even better, the Warriors just put up the best regular season in NBA history a year after winning the title. Meanwhile, last year’s MVP Stephen Curry improved his scoring average from 23.8 to a league-best 30.1 per game and demolished his own three-pointers made record by canning 402 treys—as opposed to the former record of 286 he hit last year.
1. Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
Should the Warriors and Spurs meet up in the conference finals—as expected—it would mark the first time since the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics met in the 2010 NBA Finals that the two previous NBA champions squared off in the postseason. In case you were wondering, the last time it wasn’t in the NBA Finals was in 2004 when the Lakers faced the Spurs—and both series proved to be memorable sets, as expected.
Expect nothing less if these two meet up. Although the Spurs “faltered” at the end of the regular season in dropping three of their last five games—including a pair to the Warriors—they rested some players down the stretch, once it became evident they weren’t going to pass the Warriors for the best record. A series here could possibly be the last go-around for Popovich, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili. They would surely give it everything they’ve got.