For only the third time, the NBA Finals will feature seven players who made the All-Star team in the same season.
In ESPN.com’s preseason #NBArank, the NBA’s top three players were LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. A tier or two below were Draymond Green (14th), Kyrie Irving (15th) and Klay Thompson (16th) clustered closely together with Kevin Love (28th) not far behind them.
All seven made the All-Star team and with the seemingly inevitable rubber match now officially set, it raises the question: Is this the most star-studded Finals matchup in NBA history?
To find out, let’s rank the top 10.
An important caveat here: There is admittedly no perfect method to define and rank collective star power. Is the 2004 Pistons team with Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace — four really good and at times All-Star caliber players — more or less starry than the 2007 Cavaliers led by one uber-star in LeBron James and not much else? Reasonable minds can differ.
Due to the nature of that slippery slope, we limited our scope to the 35 Finals matchups to feature at least five All-Stars from that season. It kicks to the curb a few juicy pairings from seasons with questionable All-Star omissions (such as the 2008 matchup between the Lakers and Celtics, as Pau Gasol was not an All-Star that season) as well as others in which star players missed chunks during the regular season only to return for the playoffs (such as 1998, when Scottie Pippen and John Stockton were not named All-Stars due to missed games). But when drilling down among the best of the best, a line had to be drawn somewhere, and five All-Star selections seemed natural.
From there, we took all of the player efficiency ratings (PER) from the regular season for the All-Stars in the NBA Finals and simply added them up to come up with what we’ll call “Collective Star-Studded Rating.” (We’re using PER because metrics like real plus-minus only go back as far as there is play-by-play data). For years in which the same group of players showed up multiple times (like Celtics-Lakers), we went with whichever year was better. A list in which the same matchups show up more than once isn’t as fun.
All right, enough process — on to the rankings.
10. 1973 Knicks def. Lakers
Knicks All-Stars: Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 110.6
This is one series where limiting our scope to the actual All-Stars from that season hurts its case. Not included in the Collective Star-Studded Rating are Hall-of-Famers Willis Reed, Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas, none of whom were All-Stars that season.
This was a balanced and absolutely stacked Knicks team, as five players averaged at least 15 points per game in the Finals with Bradley the team’s leading scorer and Reed winning Finals MVP.
In what was the 36-year old Chamberlain’s final playoff series, he was actually the Lakers’ fourth-leading scorer in the Finals behind Goodrich, West and Jim McMillian.
9. 1952 Lakers def. Knicks
Lakers All-Stars: George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard
Knicks All-Stars: Max Zaslofsky, Harry Gallatin, Dick McGuire
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 118.1
The MVP was not yet given out in 1952, but Mikan would have been one of the few main contenders. He led the NBA in PER while finishing second in scoring. Mikan’s 21.7 PPG and 17.4 RPG led players from both teams in this seven-game series.
Though the Knicks also had three All-Stars, none made either of the All-NBA teams while Mikan, Mikkelsen and Pollard each made it. Minneapolis won by 17 in Game 7 in what remains the second-largest margin of victory in a Game 7 in Finals history.
8. 1956 Warriors def. Pistons
Warriors All-Stars: Paul Arizin, Neil Johnston, Jack George
Pistons All-Stars: George Yardley, Larry Foust, Mel Hutchins
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 118.2
Of the six All-Stars, the two biggest names were Arizin and Johnston, who ranked second and third in the NBA in scoring in 1955-56, finishing behind only Bob Pettit (who won the inaugural MVP award that season). The Warriors also featured future Hall of Famer Tom Gola.
The Pistons stars — particularly Yardley and Foust — were no slouches either: Both also ranked in the top 10 in scoring.
Although the Warriors won this series in five games, it was hotly contested, with each of the first four games decided by four points or fewer.
7. 2013 Heat def. Spurs
Spurs All-Stars: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 123.0
This is the first one in our top 10 with fewer than six All-Stars, and it’s a testament to the collective abilities of James, Wade, Bosh, Duncan and Parker.
The talent in this series went beyond those five, of course, as it featured second-year Kawhi Leonard as well as past-their-prime stars Manu Ginobili and Ray Allen, who hit one of the most famous shots in Finals history in Game 6.
This 2013 matchup remains on the short list for most competitive series in NBA Finals history. And, as we know now, the Spurs would get their revenge one season later.
6. 2012 Heat def. Thunder
Heat All-Stars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh
Thunder All-Stars: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 125.0
We nearly made the decision to use average PERs of the All-Stars instead of summing them up. If we did, this would have graded out as the most star-studded Finals ever — before even accounting for the fact that James Harden was coming off the bench for Oklahoma City.
Both James and Durant were first-team All-NBA while Westbrook — though not quite the star he is today — was actually second-team All-NBA ahead of even Wade (third team).
LeBron’s first title was well earned as he went through a young Thunder team that put up a better fight than the five-game label would suggest.
5. 1960 Celtics def. Hawks
Hawks All-Stars: Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, Clyde Lovellette
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 126.3
This is an instance in which this same core group of All-Stars met more than once, as they also faced off in 1961 (with Tommy Heinsohn an All-Star and not Sharman) and 1958 (with Slater Martin instead of Clyde Lovellette).
The 1960 Finals went seven games with Heinsohn leading the Celtics in scoring at 22.4 PPG and Bill Russell pumping in 22 points to go with 35 rebounds in Boston’s Game 7 win.
This Celtics team also featured three more Hall of Famers in Frank Ramsey, Sam Jones and K.C. Jones, the latter of whom averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game in the Finals on a stacked squad.
4. 1987 Lakers def. Celtics
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 131.4
Of all the clashes between the Lakers and Celtics in the ’80s, 1987 stands out as truly an embarrassment of riches.
Magic Johnson won Finals MVP, leading both teams in both scoring (26.2) and assists (13.0).
3. 1983 Sixers def. Lakers
Lakers All-Stars: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 148.9
Before 2017, 1983 was the last time we had as many as seven All-Stars in a single NBA Finals, something the Celtics and Lakers never did during their dominance in the ’80s.
In a repeat Finals matchup, the 76ers trotted out a pair of first team All-NBA selections in Malone and Erving. Though they didn’t quite go “‘fo-fo-fo’,” the Sixers finished their dominant postseason run 12-1, including a sweep of the Lakers.
That 12-1 postseason record would remain the best in NBA postseason history until the Lakers went 15-1 in 2001, coincidentally dispatching the 76ers in the NBA Finals.
2. 1962 Celtics def. Lakers
Celtics All-Stars: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones
Lakers All-Stars: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Frank Selvy, Rudy LaRusso
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 154.4
You could call the 1962 NBA Finals the gold standard when it comes to individual talent, and it would be difficult to argue as it remains the only Finals in NBA history that featured eight All-Stars from that season, four from either team.
Nine Hall of Famers played in this series that went the distance and featured a Game 7 in which Russell had 30 points and 40 rebounds to nudge the Celtics to a three-point win in a game that West and Baylor combined for 76 points.
1. 2017 Warriors vs. Cavaliers
Warriors All-Stars: Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green
Cavaliers All-Stars: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love
Collective Star-Studded Rating: 157.2
Despite those stars from 1987, 1983 and 1962, it’s this upcoming Finals that grades out with the highest “Collective Star-Studded Rating.” Even the role players in this series bring the goods as Andre Iguodala, David West, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver all have an All-Star game on their resumes.
The Warriors are undefeated and have lost once in the past two months. The Cavaliers enter the NBA Finals with the most efficient offense in NBA postseason history. The teams have combined for one loss entering the Finals, the fewest entering the Finals in NBA history.
Not only is this the first time that teams have met in the Finals three times in a row, they are both playing better entering this stage than in either of the past two seasons. On paper, this has the makings of perhaps the greatest NBA Finals in league history, which is remarkable considering the epic seven-gamer from a season ago.
Sure, the role players and coaching adjustments will play a part in the ebbs and flows — but make no mistake, the star power will decide this year’s title.