The NBA Western Conference Finals have featured many great series in its history. From Lenny Wilkens' Seattle Supersonics in the 1970’s to the great battles of the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and many more.

With the 2023 playoffs underway and the potential for another legendary Western Conference Finals series, let’s take a look at some of the best series in NBA playoffs history.

When is the Western Conference Final?

The NBA Western Conference Finals will begin on May 16th, deciding the Western Conference Champions and the team facing the champions of the East in the NBA Finals.

The Finals will then tip-off on June 1st in a best of seven finale.

NBA Western Conference History

The Western Conference Finals made their debut after the league merger in 1971, where the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Lakers 4-1 in the first series. The Bucks were led by Lew Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and NBA legend Oscar Robertson.

The Lakers dominated the West for almost the entire decade in the 80s under head coach Pat Riley, winning the Western Conference Finals eight times in ten years between 1980-1989. Some of those series were contenders for the top ten in conference history, including the 1988 NBA Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks.

It was the Lakers dominating once again in the early 2000s under Phil Jackson during the Kobe and Shaq era, but they were closely rivaled by Greg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs.

Most recently it’s been the Golden State Warriors who are the team to beat, winning five Western Conference titles in the last seven seasons, including a run of four straight Conference titles and three NBA Championships between 2015 and 2018 (and one of the best NBA playoff series of all time with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016).

In 2022 the league added a Western Conference Finals MVP award, which Steph Curry won on his way to another title in the 2022 NBA Finals.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest NBA Western Conference Finals Series of all time

  1. 1978-1979 NBA Western Conference Finals: Seattle Supersonics vs Phoenix Suns

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Supersonics

The Seattle Supersonics had won the NBA’s Western Conference the previous season in 1978 before ultimately losing in the NBA Finals to the Washington Bullets in seven games.

The ‘79 season saw them return to the conference finals following a 52-30 regular season record, but the Suns were right on their tail at 50-32. The two met in the conference finals and after the Sonics took the first two games, Phoenix fought their way back into it with three straight wins to take a 3-2 lead in the series.

Paul Westphal led the Suns in scoring in an inspired Game 5 and almost won the series for the Suns with an even better performance in Game 6. He had 29 points and 8 assists as Phoenix looked to fire themselves into the NBA Finals, but a nail-biter ended with a 106-105 win for the Supersonics, extending the series to a winner-takes-all Game 7.

With 37,000 Sonics fans packed inside the Seattle Kingdome, the Supersonics looked for their shot at redemption and a second chance at the NBA Finals in consecutive years. Center Jack Sikma had an outstanding game with 33 points and 11 rebounds while Gus Williams had 29 points of his own and Dennis Johnson put up 26. The Supersonics won the game 114-110 and returned to the finals where they defeated the Bullets this time around for their first and only NBA Championship.

  1. 2011-2012 NBA Western Conference Finals: Oklahoma City Thunder vs San Antonio Spurs

Finals Series Total Games: Six
Winner: 4-2 Thunder

By the time the 2012 playoffs came around, the San Antonio Spurs were a well-established force in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder, on the other hand, were the new kids on the block.

This was a young Thunder team made up of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. The Spurs, led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, were expected to take the series and advance. Things certainly appeared to be heading that way when the Spurs claimed the first two games of the series at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. But the Thunder made a statement in Game 3, winning by double digits and holding the veteran Spurs to just 82 points.

After leveling the series in Game 4, the return to San Antonio became the talk of the playoffs with the Thunder looking like they could pull off the series upset. Kevin Durant was on fire with 36 points in Game 4, and the Thunder took control by winning the fifth game on the road.

Returning to Oklahoma City, the Thunder claimed the series in six games, sending one of the league's most exciting young teams to the finals.

  1. 1992-1993 NBA Western Conference Finals: Phoenix Suns vs Seattle Supersonics

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Suns

Charles Barkley endured a tough time with the Philadelphia 76ers, often trying to force the Sixers through deep playoff runs single handedly. After he was traded to the Suns in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang, things turned around for Barkley and the Suns made the Western Conference Finals.

Barkley was named the league MVP and was looking for a first trip to the Finals to add to his resume. The two sides split the first four games before the reigning MVP took over.

In Game 5 Charles Barkley put up 43 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for a stunning triple double, supported by Dan Majerle’s 33-point night. Despite Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and Ricky Pierce all having strong games, Barkley’s monstrous performance gave the Suns the advantage in the series.

But Seattle wasn’t done yet as they forced a Game 7 after a double digit win in the sixth meeting. They held Barkley to 13 points in that game, seemingly working out how to silence him and tipping the series back in their favor in the deciding game. The only problem was that MVP Barkley returned. He dropped 44 points in Game 7 with a stunning 24 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end. The Suns headed for the ‘93 Finals where they would meet Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

  1. 1995-1996 NBA Western Conference Finals: Seattle Supersonics vs Utah Jazz

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Supersonics

What a duel the 1996 Western Conference Finals was between Gary ‘The Glove’ Payton and Shawn Kemp of the Supersonics and Karl ‘The Mailman’ Malone and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz.

The East was dominated by the Chicago Bulls that season, winning 72 games in the regular season, and the Sonics and Jazz were fighting for an opportunity to upset their season in the NBA Finals.

The Seattle Supersonics took a 3-1 lead in the series after a close contest in Game 4, but the Jazz avoided elimination in two straight games including a blowout 118-83 win in Game 6. The final game took place at the KeyArena at Seattle Center, and after four tough quarters of basketball the Supersonics pulled in front and claimed a 90-86 win.

Despite losing in ’96, Utah would continue to be a force in the West for the next couple of years, led by Jazz all-time greats in Malone and Stockton, making it to the NBA Finals in both 1997 and 1998, where they would fall short on both occasions against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

  1. 1994-1995 NBA Western Conference Finals: Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs

Finals Series Total Games: Six
Winner: 4-2 Rockets

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 1994-1995 NBA Playoffs with the best record in the NBA and their sights set on a trip to the finals. The defending champion Houston Rockets just edged their way past the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Western Conference semifinals, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to fight their way back and advance to the next round.

They were rewarded with a series matchup against the Spurs, who were the conference favorite and a serious contender for the NBA Championship that year. However, the Rockets never backed down. They won the first two games of the series on the road at the Alamodome in San Antonio in front of a boisterous Spurs crowd. The league was stunned by the back-to-back upsets as the league's most dominant team suddenly faced a potential playoff exit. 

But in a complete turn of events, San Antonio evened it up on the road in a series that saw the home team lose in all of the first four games. Tied once again at 2-2, the Spurs were back as the favorite. Yet Houston beat them once again in their own backyard before closing out the series 4-2 in Houston.

The series was headlined by the matchup between Hakeem Olajuwon and Spurs big man David Robinson, and it was the Rockets star Olajuwon who won that battle. Olajuwon had 42 and 39 points in the final two games of the series, firing the Rockets into the NBA Finals to defend their title (which they did with a dominant win over the Orlando Magic).

  1. 2017-2018 NBA Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Warriors

This series between the Warriors and the Rockets is without a doubt one of the most exciting conference finals series in recent memory. The Warriors were chasing their fourth straight appearance in the finals and held the crown as defending NBA champions, while James Harden and Chris Paul were playing at their absolute peak and challenging for their own turn on the big stage.

Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets stacked up well against the Warriors. James Harden was a premium three-point shooter and Chris Paul was able to run games with the very best of them from the point guard position. Houston were prepared defensively for a series against a Warriors team that now also featured Kevin Durant, and the series got off to a hot start.

The two franchises traded wins, tying the series at 1-1 and then 2-2 before the Rockets pulled away with a 3-2 lead in Game 5, but it came at a cost. Chris Paul pulled his hamstring and been ruled out of the remainder of the series, just as the Rockets had the upper hand. 

Without him the momentum shifted back the other way. The Warriors crushed the Rockets 115-86 in Game 6, and even with James Harden's 32 points and 23 from Eric Gordon in the finale of the series, it was the Warriors who came out on top and headed for the NBA Finals to defend their title.

The series definitely has a ‘what might have been’ feel to it, and many feel Chris Paul will always be haunted by the dreadful timing of such an unfortunate injury. The first five games had the makings of one of the best NBA playoff series we’d seen, but Paul’s injury took the edge off just enough to surrender the series to the Warriors.

  1. 1987-1988 NBA Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs Dallas Mavericks

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Lakers

The L.A. Lakers were the giants of the Western Conference in the 1980s. Pat Riley had built a team around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and the Lakers had run through the West numerous times. They’d featured in the Western Finals seven times in the last eight years prior to the 1987-88 season and won six of those series.

They returned once again in the 1988 Western Conference Finals, but this time they’d face a new challenger. The Dallas Mavericks had just put together their best season in franchise history and were making their first appearance in the conference finals.

It was the superstar Lakers led by Kareem, Magic and league MVP James Worthy against the challenging Mavericks led by Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman.

The Mavs struggled in the first two games in the Forum, suffering double digit losses in both games and heading towards getting swept as the Lakers once again muscled their way into the NBA Finals. However, on the return to the Reunion Arena in Dallas, the Mavericks fought back.

Mark Aguirre led Dallas to a double-digit win in Game 3 and then an inspired performance in Game 4 by Derek Harper, who scored 35 points, leveled the series at 2-2. Suddenly the series was far more competitive than expected. And after the Lakers claimed Game 5, the sixth in the series was a back and forth classic, ending 105-103 to Dallas. While the Lakers eventually claimed the series in Game 7, the Mavs had made it a thoroughly entertaining spectacle, and proved themselves as a talented team by taking the ‘Showtime Lakers’ to seven games, the first time anybody had done so.

  1. 1999-2000 NBA Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs Portland Trail Blazers

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Lakers

The Lakers’ Kobe and Shaq era under Phil Jackson’s coaching stint started with an astounding series against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2000 NBA playoffs.

Kobe Bryant was still a young talent and had just received his second NBA All Star Game honor. Little did anybody know that this young Lakers team was about to become a dynasty over the next few seasons, dominating the West and claiming three straight NBA titles.

But before all of that happened, they were 3-1 down to the Blazers and down double digits in the potential series-ending Game 5. The Blazers had Rasheed Wallace leading their scoring and a veteran Scottie Pippen after his domination with the Chicago Bulls. When they took a heavy lead in the fifth game the series looked to be over, but the Blazers went cold in stunning fashion and the Lakers clawed their way back in.

Not only did the Lakers survive that game, but they continued to survive until Game 7 at the Staples Center, where they’d play for the NBA Finals berth in front of the Lakers fans. Rasheed Wallace led the game with 30 points, but it wouldn’t be enough to overthrow Kobe and Shaq as they completed the 4-3 comeback and went on to win the first of three straight NBA Championships.

  1. 2001-2002 NBA Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs Sacramento Kings

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Lakers

The Lakers third straight trip to the Western Conference Finals saw them matched up against the Sacramento Kings, who were led by one of the league's brightest stars in Chris Webber.

While Kobe and Shaq were taking the league by storm, they never faced a test quite like the Kings, with these two franchises recognized as the most powerful in the NBA at the time. Many believed that whoever won the series would likely manage the Eastern champion New Jersey Nets without too much trouble in the finals.

The Kings front court combination of Webber and Vlade Divac paired with Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic is one of the greatest Kings rosters ever assembled, and they took it to the defending champion Lakers in the final Western Conference series.

The two sides traded wins to tie the series at 2-2, each winning a road game within the first four. Kobe’s 30-point night in Game 5 proved not enough as the Kings stole the win in a 92-91 thriller.

Controversy then surrounded the series in Game 6 with referee Tim Donaghy swaying fourth quarter decisions heavily in favor of the Lakers, who shot 27 free throws in the fourth to the Kings nine. The series was tied at 3-3 and Game 7 went all the way to overtime.

The Kings had been in control of the game and had a lead in the second half, but the Lakers scrapped their way back into it and survived four quarters despite the Kings having multiple opportunities to put it away. It was Kobe and co. who would prevail in the extra minutes, leading them to the three-peat against the Nets in the finals. 

While the Lakers won the series, the 2002 NBA playoff matchups between Kobe’s Lakers and Chris Webber’s Kings are some of the best battles since the turn of the millennium.

  1. 2015-2016 NBA Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Finals Series Total Games: Seven
Winner: 4-3 Warriors

The 2016 Golden State Warriors roster had just dominated the regular season from start to finish. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and head coach Steve Kerr’s Warriors won a record 73 games in the regular season on their way to defending their NBA title.

Their final stop in the West playoff bracket matched them up against a fierce Oklahoma City Thunder team with both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant playing at their very best.

The Warriors failed to stack up against the Thunder in the first four games of the series and quickly found themselves down 3-1 in the series (in a somewhat surprising turn of events). It looked as though OKC was about to end the Warriors dynasty before it got off the ground as everybody had written off the Warriors as they headed back to the Oracle Arena for Game 5.

Yet the defending champions prevailed and won back-to-back games in the fifth and sixth matchups of the series. Klay Thompson dropped 11 three pointers in Game 6 to help the Warriors back to a 3-3 series, but they found themselves behind again early in the seventh game on their home court.

In the Game 7, Golden State dug deep defensively and slowed Durant and Westbrook enough to get back in the game, eventually claiming the series and completing the 4-3 comeback in stunning fashion. Steph Curry had 36 points in the game and the Warriors moved on to defend their title against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where they would suffer the same ‘3-1 lead’ fate they had just dealt the Thunder.

Because of the Warriors dominance at the time, many forget just how good that Oklahoma City team was when led by Westbrook and Durant. It was the best series in Thunder playoff history and a series they came so close to winning. We were robbed of a possible repeat of the series too when Durant left OKC and joined forces with the Warriors for the next two seasons, where they would win another two championships.

Parameters for Ranking

This list is constructed based on the competitive nature of each series, which will be remembered by NBA fans for various reasons. Whether it was the clash between seasoned veterans and up-and-coming talents, or the battle between two superstar-led starting lineups, the level of competition between the two great rosters is the key factor that determined their ranking. In the end, the legacy of each series is shaped by its competitiveness.

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