NBA Finals: Power Ranking the 5 Greatest Series Since Turn of the Century
The journey to get to this point may have been a bit unconventional, but the Miami Heat-Oklahoma City Thunder NBA Finals matchup is the showdown that many of us have been waiting for.
That doesn't mean that we're guaranteed to see a competitive series, however. And even if we do, it still may be a far cry from some of the fantastic battles that we've seen since the turn of the century in the Association.
So as the 2012 NBA Finals begins to heat up (no pun intended), let's take a look at some of the best championship matchups over the past 12 years. If Heat-Thunder turns out to be as good as any of these past series, then we're all in for a treat.
5) 2005: San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons
The Spurs-Pistons 2005 matchup is one of only two championship series this millennium that has gone the full seven games (the 2010 Lakers vs. Celtics Finals showdown is the other).
With two defensive-minded units squaring off for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, TV ratings were near record lows. As a result, millions of people missed out on one of the most spirited playoff series in recent memory.
The two teams split the first four games—all of which were blowouts. However, Game 5 turned out to be one for the ages as Robert Horry scored 21 points over the final 18 minutes—including the game-winning three-pointer to lead San Antonio to a 96-95 victory.
Detroit won Game 6 to tie the series at three games apiece, but lost Game 7 81-74 thanks to 25 points and 11 rebounds from Spurs' center Tim Duncan, who captured his third NBA Finals MVP award after the victory.
4) 2000: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers
No one knew it at the time, but the 2000 NBA Finals would signal the start of the most recent run of success for the Los Angeles Lakers.
A Kobe Bryant ankle injury in Game 2 (he would go on to miss Game 3 entirely) made this series closer than it should have been. That said, the Indiana Pacers deserve credit for giving the Lakers all that they could handle. Los Angeles had a 3-1 series lead, but Indiana shot 57 percent from the field in Game 5 and beat the Lakers 120-87 to force the series back to the Staples Center.
Back in LA, the Pacers simply had no answer for Finals MVP Shaquille O'Neal, whose 41 points and 12 rebounds gave the Lakers the Game 6, and Finals, victory.
3) 2011: Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat
With virtually every game going down to the wire, the 2011 NBA Finals is one of the more competitive series of all time.
Standing in their way, however, was a determined Dallas Mavericks team that was looking for retribution for their Finals loss against the Heat five years earlier.
Clutch shots ruled the day, and in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, the Mavs boasted two of the best players in the NBA with the game on the line. Dallas won the Finals in 6 games, Nowitzki was named MVP, and the team threw a massive blowout celebration on South Beach to commemorate the first title in team history.
Fun fact: While most people will remember Nowitzki's heroics more than anything else, Wade actually led all players in the series with a 26.5 PPG scoring average.
2) 2006: Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks
With the Miami Heat down two games to none and trailing by 13 points late in the fourth quarter of Game 3, many sportswriters had all but handed the title to the Dallas Mavericks.
Enter Dwyane Wade.
The Miami shooting guard was unstoppable during the final six-plus minutes of the contest, scoring 12 points and completely swinging the momentum of the game—and the series—in the direction of the Heat.
"(Wade) took over the game the last five, six minutes," said Heat center Shaquille O'Neal following the game. "He's the type of player that you just let him go and let him do his thing."
After winning Game 3 98-96, Miami would go on to win the next three games in succession to capture the NBA title.
For the series, Wade (who won the Finals MVP award) averaged 34.7 points per game.
1) 2010: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Looking back now, it almost seems too good be true: The two most storied franchises in NBA history squaring off for seven memorable games in a series that was decided in the final minute.
No fewer than four future Hall of Famers were on the floor as Kobe Bryant led his Lakers into battle against the much-heralded Boston Celtics' trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Lost in the shuffle was Rajon Rondo, whose Game 2 triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) helped Boston even the series at one game apiece.
The Lakers and Celtics would alternate wins over the next four games, setting the stage for an epic Game 7 at the Staples Center.
Despite a woeful shooting night from Kobe Bryant (6-for-24 from the field), Los Angeles was able to ice the game late thanks to a three-pointer from Ron Artest that put the Lakers up six with 1:01 left in the fourth quarter.
With the win, Bryant captured his second consecutive Finals MVP and the fifth championship ring. The title was the 11th won by Lakers' head coach Phil Jackson, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.
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