Ranking the Instant Classics of the 2012-13 NBA Season

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2013

Ranking the Instant Classics of the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    To anybody who believes that the NBA regular season lacks enthusiasm, you clearly haven’t been watching in 2012-13.

    The year at hand has provided drama, excitement and incredible performances, and while the storylines are always intriguing, it’s the games themselves that keep us coming back for more.

    If 2012-13 has taught us anything, it’s that the NBA truly is where amazing happens. You never know what will come next, but it’s clear which moments will stick in our minds for years to come.

Honorable Mention: Rip City Rallies Against Dallas

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    The Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks have established quite a history together.

    In the 2011 playoffs, Brandon Roy put on a historic show to lead a 23-point comeback with the third quarter winding down. In 2012, LaMarcus  Aldridge nailed the game-winning shot in overtime to steal one on the road.

    Then, in 2013, the Blazers did it again, with the team coming back and Aldridge showing why he can be counted upon in the clutch.

    On Jan. 29, Dallas had established a 20-plus-point lead in the third quarter. Portland's offense had gone ice cold in the second half, and the Mavs weren't letting up one bit.

    After the Blazers mounted another furious comeback, the final 30 seconds included a three-pointer from Nicolas Batum, a three-pointer from Dirk Nowitzki and a three-pointer from LaMarcus Aldridge. The series of long-range shots tied the game at 104 apiece, and Dallas would be given the final opportunity to score—or so we thought.

    O.J. Mayo was called for a charge on his way to the basket, leaving Portland 1.5 seconds to finish the comeback. The team got the ball to Aldridge, who scored with his patented fadeaway jumper to close out yet another close encounter with the Mavs.

10. Ray Allen Hits Game-Winner in Miami

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    It didn't take long for Ray Allen to feel welcome in South Beach.

    Just three games into the Miami Heat's season, the team was put to the test in a high-scoring matchup with the Denver Nuggets. Ray Allen did what he does best, which is hit big shots when the pressure is on.

    With just 6.7 seconds left, Allen nailed a three-pointer from the corner to put the team up 117-115. If that wasn't bad enough for Denver, the 2-guard was fouled and sent to the line—the last place you want a career 89.4-percent foul shooter to be.

    Allen scored 12 points in the fourth quarter alone, and he had 23 points in 29 minutes off the bench.

    Behind Allen's heroics, a number of great performances went seemingly unnoticed. LeBron James had a near triple-double, Kenneth Faried had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Chris Bosh put on a shooting clinic from start to finish.

    As often as Bosh is left out of the conversation—at least nationally—you have to give him credit for what he accomplished in this one. He scored 40 points on an extremely efficient shooting night, and without him, Allen may not have had the chance to hit the go-ahead bucket.

9. James Harden Torches Former Team

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    It seems like every time James Harden plays the Oklahoma City Thunder, he performs better than the time before.

    After combining for 42 points in two losses against his former team, the third time truly was a charm. The 2-guard scored a career-high 46 points on 14-of-19 shooting, and the Houston Rockets squeaked out a 122-119 win at home over the Thunder.

    While Harden has established himself as someone who can get to the rim at will, he reminded us against OKC that he's still dangerous from behind the arc. He knocked down seven of his eight three-point attempts, while also going 11-of-12 from the foul line.

    Like most instant classics, this one took a big-time comeback in the fourth quarter to get it done. With about seven minutes to go, the Rockets trailed by 14, but a 21-4 run gave them a three-point lead with less than two minutes to go.

    Harden wasn't the only one who performed valiantly, as Jeremy Lin poured in 29 points of his own; but the story in this one was about vengeance, as Harden finally got a win over the team that traded him less than four months prior. 

8. L.A. Dominates Fourth Quarter in N.O

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    The Los Angeles Lakers have been guilty of losing games down the stretch throughout 2012-13, but March 6 featured the opposite trend, as the team took down the New Orleans Hornets 108-102.

    Entering the fourth quarter, Los Angeles trailed by 18 points, and it looked as if the team's hopes of a playoff run would be seriously interrupted. However, a brilliant showing in the final 12 minutes kept hopes alive, as it outscored New Orleans 33-9 in the game's final quarter.

    The Lakers finished the game on an unreal 20-0 run, holding the Hornets to zero points over the final 6:47.

    L.A. got a superstar performance from Dwight Howard (20 points, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks), as well as a 19-point showing from Jodie Meeks off the bench; but the real heroics came from Kobe Bryant.

    Bryant dropped 42 points to go with his seven rebounds and 12 assists, and he scored 13 points in the final nine minutes.

    A win over one of the worst out West doesn't scream classic in most senses, but for a team that desperately needed to find its identity, closing out this contest helped propel it toward its goal of making the 2013 postseason.

7. Carmelo Anthony Introduces Brooklyn to New Rivalry

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    Carmelo Anthony had one of the hottest starts of anybody to begin the 2012-13 season. He established himself as the best player on one of the best teams out East, and that was never more apparent than when he scored 45 points on the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets.

    The first meeting between these two (on Nov. 26) saw Anthony score 35 in an overtime loss. This time, the game went down to the wire, but it was the Knicks who walked away victorious 100-97.

    For as many points as Anthony scored, it was his efficiency that helped him lead this group. He made 15 of his 24 shots, went 5-of-7 from the three-point line and nailed 10 of his 11 free throws. 

    Nobody could stop him, and nobody could match his production.

    But this game wasn't just about Anthony. Jason Kidd, a one-time Nets player himself, sank the game-winning three-pointer with 24 seconds to go in the contest.

    This was one of the top games of the year to take place before Christmas, and we can only hope it helped spark a rivalry that will provide many more classics for years to come.

6. Miami and Boston Go Down to the Wire—Again

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    The Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat sure know how to make things interesting.

    Throughout the early part of the 2012-13 season, the question surrounding the Heat was whether or not they could flip the switch. They had been playing seemingly uninspired basketball—especially on the defensive side of the floor—and we all wanted to know if they could get back to business whenever they wanted.

    Entering their March 18 matchup with Boston, they had answered that question, as they were in the midst of a 22-game winning streak. They also showed that they can flip the switch in the middle of a game, as they came back to win 105-103 after a 17-point first-half deficit.

    This game was full of brilliant performances. LeBron James went for 37 points and 12 assists, Mario Chalmers put in a surprise 21 points and Jeff Green exploded all over TD Garden for 43 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

    The Celtics couldn't put an end to the winning ways of the Heat, but they gave the home crowd one of the best shows of the year.

    This was the second time these two teams went down to the wire in just a matter of months—but more on that later.

5. Kevin Durant Scores a Career High Against Dallas

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    Kevin Durant is hands-down one of the best scorers there is. If you have any doubt in your mind, just review the tape from the Oklahoma City Thunder's 117-114 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

    The small forward gets his points in a number of ways, and that's how he managed to score 52 against Dallas. He hit from behind the arc, dominated the mid-range and was perfect from the foul line, going 21-of-21.

    The 24-year-old had the luxury of going to overtime, but that hardly dilutes the fact that he scored the league's most points in a game at that point in the season.

    What's easily forgotten about this contest is that Durant didn't do it on his own. Russell Westbrook scored 31 points on 12-of-26 shooting, Serge Ibaka grabbed 14 rebounds and the team as a whole completed 33 of its 36 shots from the charity stripe.

    This was a good group effort, but Durant earned his praise when he scored nine points in overtime and nailed the go-ahead bucket.

4. Kobe Bryant's Heroics on Display Against Toronto

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    The 2012-13 season has seen Kobe Bryant establish two very distinct modes of operation.

    The first is facilitator, where he stops shooting and looks only to get his teammates involved. The second is a much more familiar version of the superstar, as he puts the ball in the basket at a rate that only he and the world's best are capable of.

    On March 8, Bryant found a way to put both sides to use, as he collected 41 points and 12 assists in a win against the Toronto Raptors.

    As impressive as those numbers are, it's not the box score that people will remember. Toronto felt as if it would win this game the entire way through—that is, until Bryant took over late.

    The 2-guard nailed three long-range shots with the fourth quarter winding down, and needless to say, none of them was easy. He put the Lakers on his shoulders, as we've seen so many times throughout his career, and he forced an overtime that looked improbable at best to begin the final period.

    Bryant's greatness culminated with about 10 seconds left in overtime when he dribbled around a double team, attacked the paint and threw it down to give L.A. a two-point lead. This game came down to Bryant's execution, and a 118-116 finish was welcomed by all who were rooting for this group to make the playoffs.

3. Stephen Curry Catches Fire in NYC

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    It's no secret that Madison Square Garden has seen its fair share of solid showings. The historic Manhattan venue seems to bring out the best in people, and the New York Knicks have been the victims of many high-scoring performances.

    Stephen Curry would prove to be no exception, as he exploded for a career-high 54 points on Feb. 27. 

    The 6'3", 185-pound point guard was coming off a 38-point outing the night before against the Indiana Pacers. You knew he had it in him to go off, but his accuracy from behind the arc is what stole the show.

    On the night, Curry nailed 11 of his 13 attempts from deep range. For those keeping track, that's 33 points on three-pointers alone, and that's one away from tying Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall for the most completions in a single NBA game.

    At one point, Curry scored 15 straight for the Golden State Warriors. It didn't matter which defender the Knicks threw his way.

    The only thing that would have made this performance any better would have been a win. The Knicks escaped 109-105, but it's Curry's outing that had people buzzing as soon as it was done.

2. Miami's Epic Comeback in Cleveland

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    The stage was set. The Miami Heat's historic winning streak was about to come crashing down in the arena LeBron James used to call home.

    It would have been poetic justice for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their passionate fanbasebut it wasn't meant to be.

    On March 20, the Cavaliers had established a 27-point lead in the third quarter. The problem was that they were without Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao, so when Miami began to make its run, they lacked the leadership to stay afloat.

    In the fourth quarter alone, James recorded 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. He finished with a triple-double, and he was the catalyst for the 27-point comeback that took place in just eight minutes and 37 seconds.

    If the thought of James returning to Cleveland hadn't been swirling enough already, this game officially brought that notion to surface. Between the home team blowing the lead and a fan running onto the court (pleading for James to return to the Cavs), this game was full of storylines.

    The Heat's 98-95 victory gave them 24 wins in a row, and it provided enough drama to make it one of the top games of the 2012-13 season.

1. Rondo-Less Celtics Take Down Defending Champs

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    It took two overtimes, but on Jan. 27, the Boston Celtics got their first win over the defending champion Miami Heat—and they did it without Rajon Rondo.

    The Celtics' point guard was a late scratch for this one, meaning a last-second roster change put Avery Bradley into the starting lineup. Bradley's performance was unmemorable to say the least, but the battle between rivals ended up being anything but forgettable.

    Despite a monster output from LeBron James (34 PTS, 16 REB, 7 AST, 3 STL) and a 16-rebound showing from Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett willed their squad to victory with two great performances of their own.

    Garnett had 24 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, while Pierce recorded 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

    The Celtics' inspiring 100-98 victory showed that they could compete with the best, even without Rondo. This would end up being crucial moving forward, as it turned out a torn ACL would keep the point guard sidelined for the rest of the season.