After watching the San Antonio Spurs get drubbed by the Miami Heat late in the third quarter in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals, I got to thinking about the biggest disappointments ever in NBA Finals history.
I chose to break it down between the five worst team efforts and the five worst individual player performances of the recent years—years that I was alive for and can vividly remember.
Let’s get into it.
5. 2001 Philadelphia 76ers
Led by Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers had one of the best seasons in franchise history during the 2000-01 season, going 56-26 and finishing first in the Atlantic Division during the regular season.
After going through the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers found themselves in an uphill battle against the star-studded Lakers.
While Philly didn’t enter the series with the best of chances, it could have submitted a better performance than a 4-1 series loss. After Iverson, the 76ers had absolutely no one to put the basketball in the rim. This was just a disappointing finals for basketball fans.
4. 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James couldn’t have done any more for the Cleveland Cavaliers when they met the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals. James averaged 22 points, seven rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, but there wasn’t enough talent around the young superstar to contend with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Cleveland finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference that year and entered the Finals with a ton of momentum, having won four straight games against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.
3. 2009 Orlando Magic
After finishing the regular season with the second-best record (59-23) in the entire league, the Orlando Magic fought all the way to the NBA Finals only to be ousted by Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1.
Dwight Howard certainly wasn’t to blame—he averaged 15 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks per game—but the Magic were no match for Bryant and Pau Gasol, who were brilliant as L.A. won its 15th championship.
2. 2002 New Jersey Nets
In 2002, the New Jersey Nets completed the regular season with the fifth-best record in basketball (52-30) and looked like a promising contender as they manhandled the Charlotte Hornets and got past the Boston Celtics in six games to meet the Lakers in the Finals.
What ensued was a 4-0 series beatdown via L.A., as New Jersey had no answer for Shaquille O’Neil, who averaged 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game against the Nets.
1. 2004 Los Angeles Lakers
Having won three consecutive NBA championships (2000-02), the Lakers found themselves matched up against a Detroit Pistons squad that finished second in its own division during the regular season.
Easy win, right? Guess again.
Detroit easily handled L.A., earning a 4-1 series victory and the third championship in the franchise’s history.
Kobe Bryant was a complete and utter disappointment for the Lakers, which is something we’ll get back to a little later.
5. Tony Parker vs. Detroit Pistons in 2005
Just because San Antonio won the series doesn’t mean that all of the members of the Spurs played well.
Nowadays, we’re accustomed to seeing Tony Parker get it done in all facets of the game, but this was back in 2005 when Parker didn’t have a jump shot.
Parker averaged 13.9 points but shot just .143 from 3-point range and averaged just as many turnovers (3.1) as he did assists (3.4) in the finals against the Pistons. For a guard, Parker posted an ugly .438 free-throw mark for the series.
4. James Harden vs. Miami Heat in 2012
The Oklahoma City Thunder were used to James Harden entering the game and being their lightning rod, but Harden wasn’t able to get it done against the Miami Heat in last year’s Finals.
After averaging nearly 17 points per game and shooting 39 percent from downtown during the regular season, Harden struggled immensely in OKC’s 4-1 series loss to Miami, averaging just 12.4 points per game while shooting only .318 from 3-point range.
Furthermore, Harden had three games in which he scored less than 10 points, playing at least 22 minutes in each of those games.
3. Ray Allen vs. Los Angeles Lakers in 2010
Looking for their second title in the Big Three era, Ray Allen and the Boston Celtics were part of a classic NBA matchup vs. the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals.
The sharpshooter averaged better than 16 points per game during the regular season and shot it at an average 36 percent from the field, but it was a different story for Allen in the finals.
Allen averaged just 14.6 points per game and shot a horrid 29 percent from 3-point territory—his specialty. The Celtics would go on to lose the series 4-3 and watch as L.A. won its second consecutive title.
2. Kobe Bryant vs. Detroit Pistons in 2004
After averaging 24 points during the regular season and shooting 44 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown, it’s safe to say Kobe cooled off considerably when matched up against the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Bryant did average 22.6 points per game in the series, but he shot a very un-Kobe-like 38 percent from the floor and a mere 17 percent from 3-point territory.
We’re accustomed to seeing Bryant dominate the NBA Finals but 2004 was a completely different story for the two-time Finals MVP.
1. Larry Johnson vs. San Antonio Spurs in 1999
Larry Johnson sure picked a fine time to have one of the worst series in NBA Finals history.
The New York Knicks had an opportunity to win their first title in 26 years, but Johnson choked on the biggest stage of his career. Johnson averaged a mere 7.6 points per game and shot just 11 percent from 3-point territory after shooting a respectable 36 percent during the regular season.
Overall, Johnson was 2-for-18 from downtown and a dismal 14-for-49 in the series, making his NBA Finals performance the worst in recent memory.
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