clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NBA Finals history: How East vs. West has played out in the title series

The West has had more success recently, but the East leads the all-time series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks handles the ball against Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on February 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks handles the ball against Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on February 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NBA Finals feature the winner of the Eastern and Western conference after three playoff rounds. The NBA has had 73 Finals in its history with the most recent series coming inside the Orlando bubble due to the COVID pandemic.

This year, the Phoenix Suns will take on Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. It’ll be the first time since the 2018 Finals where both conference’s No. 1 seeds missed the Finals. Prior to that, the 2012 Finals featured a matchup with no No. 1 seeds.

Here’s a look at how the East and West teams have fared in the Finals.

After George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers put the West in front during the 1950s, the Boston Celtics gave the East the advantage with eight straight championships in the 1960s. Bill Russell was the dominant force during that era, but the NBA had less teams then. The Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks also won championships during this time.

Things started to even out during the 1970s and 1980s with the Lakers and Celtics primarily racking up titles. The Golden State Warriors, Washington Bullets, Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers also lifted trophies during this era, but those years belonged to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The Detroit Pistons won two titles in the late 1980s to end LA’s bid for a three-peat before Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls took over the 1990s.

The Bulls won six titles in eight years during the 1990s with the Houston Rockets getting a couple championships in when Jordan retired. The San Antonio Spurs and Lakers gave the West five championships from 1999-2003 before the East got back on the board with the Pistons in 2004. The championship rotated between the East and West for the next four seasons before the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks added three titles for the West.

LeBron James made eight straight Finals from 2011-19, winning three times with teams from the East in the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors had their own dynasty during this time as well, adding three titles in five Finals trips. James won a fourth championship in 2020, but this time he added a tally for the West.

The East holds a 39-34 advantage over the West in Finals heading into the 2021 series. In the last 10 years, however, the West has a 6-4 lead. Go back 20 years and the West’s advantage grows to 13-7.