Ranking Most Thrilling Series of the 2013 NBA Playoffs

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 31, 2013

Ranking Most Thrilling Series of the 2013 NBA Playoffs

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    The 2013 NBA playoffs have already produced rising stars, impossible endings and a surprising number of hotly contested series.

    In Round 1 alone, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors shot past the third-seeded Denver Nuggets, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder played a handful of close ones and the Chicago Bulls enjoyed an epic series with the Brooklyn Nets.

    Then, in Round 2, the Warriors and Spurs got together for a six-game set that included some massive comebacks (or collapses, depending on how you look at it).

    Best of all, the series with the most thrilling action is still going on between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. With the best player in the world going up against the league's most imposing defense, it's no surprise that the Eastern Conference Finals have produced a ton of eye-popping moments.

    Yep, these playoffs have been fantastic so far, and we haven't even reached the NBA Finals yet.

Honorable Mention: Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs

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    The Western Conference Finals can't officially make the list of the most thrilling series from this postseason because it was over in only four games. But this was no ordinary, ho-hum sweep.

    The Spurs needed a pair of overtime wins to seal the deal in Games 2 and 3. Memphis gave a game effort throughout the brief series, but a dominant 37-point closeout performance by Tony Parker in Game 4 sucked most of the drama out of the finale.

    Perhaps the most entertaining part of the four-game sweep was watching the Spurs swap out the 2013 robot version of Tim Duncan for the 2002 edition whenever they had to go to overtime. Hey, if there's a better explanation for Duncan's absurd spikes in performance during the extra periods, I'd love to hear it.

5. Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs

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    Fresh off a four-game sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers (remember them?) in the first round, the Spurs didn't have much reason to be worried about their second-round foes, the ascendant Warriors.

    After all, the Dubs hadn't notched a road win against San Antonio since the Clinton administration. All the Spurs had to do was handle their business at the AT&T center, snatch a game in Oakland at some point and cruise to the conference finals.

    That plan made plenty of sense—until the Spurs found themselves trailing by 16 points with less than four minutes remaining in Game 1. Not only were the Warriors about to notch their first win in San Antonio since 1997, they were on the brink of blowing out the Spurs and stealing the series' momentum in a big way.

    But the Spurs clawed back, taking advantage of a stalled Warriors offense and drilling big shots to take Game 1 in double overtime. Curry's 44 points came in a losing effort.

    Undaunted, the Warriors snatched Game 2 and then split a pair of home games, returning to San Antonio with the series tied at 2-2.

    Golden State wasn't the same team in Games 5 and 6, as Andrew Bogut and Curry were both completely broken down by exhaustion and balky ankles. The Spurs took the series in six games, but there was a real chance that the Warriors could have won if not for a couple of predictable—but still devastating—injuries.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets

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    When the playoff shuffle at the bottom of the Western Conference resolved itself on the last day of the regular season, everyone was psyched to see that the Houston Rockets would be taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

    The matchup had almost everything a fan could ask for.

    A pair of high-octane offenses trying to outscore one another, rendering the shot clock irrelevant? Check.

    James Harden, a freshly minted superstar, facing off against the team that traded him away just a few months earlier? Check.

    Two coaches in Scott Brooks and Kevin McHale who probably hadn't drawn up more than three actual offensive plays between them all season long? Check.

    Kendrick Perkins' cranky face squaring off with the impossibly sweaty, perpetually exhausted Omer Asik? Check?

    Anyway, the injury to Russell Westbrook took some of the air out of this one, but the Rockets made the series interesting by fighting back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 6. Games 2, 3 and 4 were all decided by three points or fewer, and Kevin Durant basically got to roam free without Westbrook for the final four games of the series.

    It was exciting stuff, just like everyone had hoped.

    Plus, Patrick Beverley became an official enemy of the state of Oklahoma. (Don't look that up; just take my word for it.)

3. Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets

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    Andre Miller won Game 1 of the Denver Nuggets' opening-round tilt against the Warriors by taking over the game down the stretch. His driving layup against rookie Draymond Green provided the capper, but he had been putting his old-man skills to work for the bulk of the fourth quarter.

    After that, the Warriors (and Curry in particular) went a little nuts.

    Golden State hit nearly 65 percent of its shots in Game 2, and Curry's 30 points and 13 assists led the way. Then, in Game 3, the Warriors made 53 percent of their shots, got 41 points from the combination of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry and held on to take a 2-1 series lead.

    The story was the same in Game 4. Thanks to 56 percent shooting and a where-did-that-come-from breakout game by Green (13 points, six rebounds, four steals and two assists), the Warriors notched a 115-101 win.

    All the while, though, Denver was sprinting up and down the floor, bodying Curry relentlessly and scrambling all over the place on D. And even though the Warriors ran off three straight wins, the Nuggets always seemed a quick burst away from retaking the lead.

    Golden State took the series in six games, dispatching a Nuggets team that won 57 games during the regular season. Not every contest was close, but the pace was so fast and the shot-making so unbelievable that this series deserves its position at No. 3 on this list.

2. Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls

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    First things first: There was some truly ugly basketball in the first-round series between the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets. Neither team scored efficiently, and by the end of the series, Chicago's short rotation was running on fumes.

    But as the only series to go the full seven games, it has to rate highly here. In fact, on the strength of a truly epic Game 4 alone, this matchup was easily one of the best in this postseason.

    In that triple-overtime stunner, Nate Robinson and Joe Johnson traded a pair of memorable clutch shots at the end of the first overtime period. Robinson's floating banker remains one of the enduring images of these playoffs. Of course, those huge shots came after Robinson tallied 23 points in the fourth quarter to raise the Bulls from the dead.

    Other highlights from the series included the Bulls' already depleted bench being ravaged by the stomach flu, Joakim Noah somehow playing despite a nasty case of plantar fasciitis and the surprisingly resilient Nets forcing a Game 7 after falling behind 3-1.

1. Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat

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    I know what you're thinking: How can a series that isn't even over yet rank No. 1?

    Well, if you're at all interested in watching some serious, high-level basketball, this one has already provided more of that than any other so far.

    The Heat and Pacers are both excellent teams, but their totally distinctive styles make the ongoing strategic adjustments fascinating to watch. Indiana's defensive execution has been phenomenal, but the Heat's elite offense has still managed to score at a rate that is nearly identical to the one it posted in the regular season.

    There have been highlights aplenty, too.

    Paul George buried a 30-footer to force overtime in Game 1, hit three high-pressure foul shots in the extra period to give the Pacers a one-point lead and then gave up the game-winning layup to LeBron James on the final possession.

    LeBron struck again, taking over the third quarter in a Game 5 Heat win that seemed on the ropes until James put the entire team on his back once more.

    And if it's controversy you're after, this series has already had some of that, too.

    The entire basketball-viewing world questioned coach Frank Vogel's decision to pull Roy Hibbert in a couple of late-game situations in Game 1. That firestorm paled in comparison to the one that has cropped up more recently about the rampant flopping in the series.

    That's nothing a few fines can't fix, though.

    There have been plenty of actual hits though, including Birdman's sideswiping of Tyler Hansbrough. The refs even struggled to call that one correctly, tagging the Pacers big with a technical apparently for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (he wasn't the one who actually made contact with Chris Anderson, prompting the shove) and then not backing down.

    In addition, Paul George has solidified himself as a star on the rise, Hibbert has more than justified his max-salary deal and Andersen has made something like 110 percent of his shots (slight exaggeration).

    This series has had a ton of breathtaking moments and individual highlights, but the most entertaining part of the entire experience is watching two fantastic teams go at each other relentlessly. Both squads are confident, both have stars and both fully believe they'll win this series.

    Good stuff.