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5 Greatest Playoff Series in Cleveland Cavaliers History, Ranked
- Updated: August 31, 2020
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the postseason have been an inconsistent match over the past 50 years, with one NBA title and a handful of strong playoff runs mixed in with plenty of lean years.
There have been some series in the Cavs’ history that continue to be discussed for their collective impact and excitement that they brought. Below are the five greatest postseason series in Cavs history.
5. 2018 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston Celtics
LeBron James led a Cavs roster that had been overhauled at midseason and finished the regular season with a 50-32 record. After a tense seven-game playoff series victory over the Indiana Pacers, the Cavaliers then coasted through a shocking four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors.
That victory sent the Cavs to face the Boston Celtics, where the Cavaliers promptly dropped the first two games. Despite that early hole, the Cavs bounced back with wins in their next two games, the latter highlighted by a 44-point performance from James.
After a Game 5 loss to the Celtics put the Cavs on the brink of elimination, James delivered another clutch performance with 46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and three steals in a 109-99 win. Such extra effort was needed after Kevin Love sustained a concussion early in the contest.
In Game 7, despite missing Love, the Cavs clamped down on the defensive side of the ball in an 87-79 win that sent them to their fourth consecutive finals. James once again led the way with 35 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and two blocks.
Unfortunately, the Cavs were unable to keep that momentum going, with a sweep by the Golden State Warriors leading to James’ departure in free agency and the commencement of a massive rebuilding project.
4. 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Boston Celtics
This seven-game matchup against the Celtics ended on a positive note for the Cavaliers and also marked the end of NBA legend Larry Bird’s playing career.
After compiling a 57-25 regular-season mark and defeating the New Jersey Nets in four games, the Cavs began their roller-coaster ride against the Celtics with an impressive opening win. However, that performance was dulled by a six-point loss in Game 2 to even the series, with two games ahead at Boston Garden.
A close loss for the Cavaliers in Game 3 increased the tension, but the duo of Larry Nance and Mark Price helped even things up two days later. Nance led the Cavs with 32 points, while Price collected a double-double with 26 points and 12 assists in the 114-112 win.
A victory in Game 5 for the Cavs was countered by a 31-point loss two nights later to set up the dramatic Game 7. In that pivotal clash, a strong first quarter for Lenny Wilkens’ squad set the stage for a 122-104 victory and a matchup with the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
After going toe to toe with Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the first four games, the Cavs endured a brutal fourth quarter in Game 5 and then came up short two nights later to end their season.
3. 1976 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Washington Bullets
The Cavaliers’ first-ever playoff appearance helped cement the legend of the “Miracle of Richfield” as the Cavs began with a tension-filled seven-game series victory over the then-Washington Bullets.
Game 1 saw playoff jitters get the best of the Cavs as they dropped a 100-95 decision at Richfield Coliseum. The unique scheduling of the series, where the two teams rotated hosting games, meant that Game 2 would be played on the Bullets’ home court.
In that second game, Bingo Smith connected on a clutch basket in the closing seconds to eke out an 80-79 victory. That was followed two days later by another strong defensive performance by the Cavaliers in their 88-76 win. Four nights later, the Bullets evened the series back up with a 109-98 win.
In Game 5, veteran Elvin Hayes blew the chance to clinch a win for the Bullets by missing a pair of free throws with seven seconds left. That resulted in the Cavs’ Jim Cleamons grabbing an air ball in the closing seconds and scoring at the buzzer for a dramatic 92-91 victory.
Missing the opportunity to clinch the series by dropping a Game 6 overtime clash, the Cavaliers once again relied on defense to finally outlast the Bullets. In that memorable Game 7, Cavaliers guard Dick Snyder scored with four seconds remaining to win 87-85.
The subsequent series with the Celtics was marred by the loss of Cavs center Jim Chones, whose broken foot kept him from playing in the series, with Boston winning in six games.
2. 2007 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Detroit Pistons
After sweeping the Washington Wizards and defeating the New Jersey Nets in the first two playoff rounds, the Cavaliers faced the Detroit Pistons, the team that had outlasted them one year earlier in a seven-game playoff series.
The Pistons managed to hold the early advantage by oddly winning the first two games by the same score, 79-76. Back in Cleveland, the Cavs knotted the series at two games apiece by emerging victorious in another pair of defensive struggles.
Game 3’s 88-83 victory was followed two nights later by a 91-87 win. In that Game 3 win, James led all scorers with 32 points and narrowly missed a triple-double with nine rebounds and nine assists. That performance was just a warm-up for his iconic effort in Game 5.
James had just 13 points at the half of Game 5 and just 19 after three quarters, with the game tied at 70. His 11 fourth-quarter points helped send the game to two overtimes, where he tallied nine points in each of the extra two sessions.
However, the legendary aspect of this performance was James scoring the Cavs’ final seven points of regulation and all 18 points in overtime to give him 48 in the 109-107 win.
That momentum allowed the Cavs to capture Game 6 and sent them to their first-ever finals, where they were unfortunately swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
1. 2016 Finals vs. Golden State Warriors
Until the Cavaliers hoist another Larry O’Brien trophy, this series is likely to always be the greatest playoff series in Cavs history. Primarily because it gave the Cavs their only title and also established the team as the first-ever champion to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals.
In this series, dreams of a title seemed distant after a 15-point loss in the opener and a 33-point drubbing by the Warriors in Game 2.
A return to Cleveland briefly brightened the picture, when the Cavs won in a Game 3 rout, 120-90. However, a 108-97 loss two nights later seemingly destined the Cavs to once again come up short.
Yet, that Game 4 loss helped set the stage for a magical Cavs comeback, when an ill-advised punch by Draymond Green resulted in his suspension for Game 5.
Taking advantage of that absence, James and Kyrie Irving became the first-ever teammates to score 40 points or more in a finals game, notching 41 apiece to help the Cavs stay alive with a 112-97 win.
The Cavaliers kept up the momentum with a 115-101 victory in Game 6 and then entered the history books with a gripping 93-89 win in Game 7 that was decided in the final minute of action.
After the Warriors’ Klay Thompson scored with 4:39 left to tie the game at 89, neither team managed to score for more than three minutes. The Warriors’ best opportunity to break the deadlock came with just under two minutes remaining, when James delivered an iconic block of Andre Iguodala’s shot.
Irving then connected on the most important shot in Cavs history when he drilled a 3-pointer with just under a minute remaining to give the Cavs a 92-89 lead. Love’s dogged defense and James’ clinching free throw that followed were cause for Cavs fans everywhere to erupt in joy, manifested in a monstrous crowd for the victory parade three days later.
The Bottom Line
Right now, Cavaliers fans are simply hoping to get back to the playoffs after two rebuilding years, Whether or not any future games are as exciting as those mentioned above remains to be seen, but the five games noted will always be deposited in any Cavs fan’s memory bank.