I think we can all agree that Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs was an instant classic.
There were standout performances from league legends (Tim Duncan's 25-point first half, LeBron James' 18 points over the final 17 minutes). There were unforgettable moments (Kawhi Leonard's facial over Mike Miller, LeBron's block on Duncan, Tony Parker's clutch shots, Ray Allen's trey from the corner, Chris Bosh's big blocks, etc.). There were crucial coaching decisions (no Duncan at the end of regulation, Parker on the bench for stretches in crunch time, more playing time for Birdman). There were high stakes (Miami attempting to stave off elimination, San Antonio trying to avoid a seventh game).
And, to top it all off, there were five minutes of free basketball once regulation was through.
I think we can all also agree that Game 7 will have a hard time topping its predecessor, though you won't hear many complaints if it does.
Where the disagreement begins is in properly placing Game 6 in the context of NBA history. The finals have given birth to more incredible contests than I'd care (or even have time) to count. Finding a spot among the top 10 for Heat-Spurs will be no easy task, but we hear at Bleacher Report will do our best.
Feel free to disagree in the comments section below!
1980: Game 4, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Dr. J pulls off his famous baseline scoop in a 105-102 win for the Sixers.
1962: Game 3, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Jerry West picks off Sam Jones' inbounds pass and races the other way for a buzzer-beating layup to win the game.
1962: Game 5, Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Elgin Baylor goes for a finals-record 61 points (and 22 rebounds) to lead the Lakers to a 126-121 win in L.A.
2008: Game 4, Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Eddie House lead the C's back from a 24-point deficit to stun the Lakers on the road.
1957: Game 7, St. Louis Hawks vs. Boston Celtics
The rookie duo of Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn combines for 56 points and 55 rebounds to help the C's seal their first-ever title, at the expense of Bob Pettit's Hawks.
And the list goes on...and on...and on...
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's antagonism of the Boston Celtics began long before he helped guide the "Showtime" Lakers to the first of their five titles in 1980.
Six years earlier, Abdul-Jabbar played an instrumental part in pushing the C's to seven games while with the Milwaukee Bucks. Game 6 saw Boston and Milwaukee trade buckets down the stretch, with the Celtics' John Havlicek hitting a rainbow jumper to put the home team back in the driver's seat, at 101-100, with seven seconds left in the second overtime period.
But the opportunity was ripe for the Bucks to battle back. C's center Dave Cowens was stuck on the bench after picking up his sixth foul. That left Henry Finkel, his backup, to fend off Abdul-Jabbar.
As it turned out, Finkel was no match for Kareem. The Captain nailed another of his signature skyhooks to win the game and even the series at 3-3.
Boston went on to blow out the Bucks in Milwaukee in Game 7, 102-87.
Game 7 of the 2010 finals was about as tense (and intense) a contest as the NBA had seen in some time.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, anyway. The chips seemed stacked against the Purple and Gold, even though they were playing at home.
The Boston Celtics built up a 13-point third-quarter lead with a helping hand from Rasheed Wallace, who started at center in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins. Kevin Garnett was giving Pau Gasol all sorts of trouble. Even Kobe Bryant, who'd been brilliant throughout the postseason, couldn't find the range, finishing 6-of-24 from the field.
But Gasol (18 rebounds, four assists, two blocks) and Bryant (15 rebounds, 15 free-throw attempts, two assists, one steal) found other ways to chip in. Meanwhile, Ron Artest picked up the slack—finishing with 20 points, five rebounds and five steals—to lead the Lakers back from the brink and on to the 16th title in franchise history.
We've already discussed the merits of Game 6 between the Heat and the Spurs ad nauseam. After careful thought and analysis, No. 8 seems like a solid spot for the NBA's most recent thriller on this particular list.
That's no slight against Miami and San Antonio. If anything, fans of those two teams should be glad this game even survived the cut! I mean, did you see the "Honorable Mentions" slide?!
Also, these next seven classics were all pretty frickin' incredible...
You really only need two words to describe what happened in Game 5 of the 1997 finals: "Flu" and "Game."
Though, in the opinion of Tim Grover, MJ's trainer, Jordan's flu wasn't a flu at all, but rather the result of a deliberate attempt to poison the best basketball player who ever lived.
Of course, Michael did plenty to foil the plan, save for avoiding the illness altogether. He torched the Jazz for 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in a whopping 44 minutes of action that night.
What's more, the Bulls needed every bit of MJ's production to stave off Utah, 90-88.
Young NBA fans will probably look back to Russell Westbrook's 43-point outburst in Game 4 of the 2012 finals as the finest performance put forth by a player in a losing effort on the NBA's championship stage.
But for those who'd studied the Association for years (if not decades), Westbrook's blockbuster hearkened back to 1988, when Isiah Thomas pulled an even more stunning stunt in Game 6 between the Pistons and the Lakers. Zeke put together a finals-record 25-point quarter in the third, while limping around on a sprained ankle, to deliver the advantage back to Detroit.
The Pistons went on to lose the game, 103-102, and, eventually, the series.
Not that Thomas could be blamed for the shortfall. All he did was pile up 43 points, eight assists, three rebounds, six steals and a block at the Great Western Forum that night.
Tough to ask much more of him, especially when the Lakers landed five players in double figures, led by Magic Johnson's 22-point, 19-assist masterpiece.
Zeke's zany game might've been the greatest overall performance by a losing player in finals history. But, as far as moments go, Jerry West still takes the cake.
The Lakers were down two points with three seconds to go in Game 3 of the 1970 finals after New York's Dave DeBusschere buried a contested jumper from the free-throw line. Shortly after the shot went through, West caught the inbounds pass, dribbled three times toward his right, let fly a desperate heave from 60 feet and watched it bank off the backboard and through the hoop to force overtime.
No wonder they call him "Mr. Clutch."
L.A. wound up losing the game in overtime, despite 34 points from West, and conceded the series in seven.
Due, in part, to the "Willis Reed Game."
The Lakers' long history of Game 7 heartbreaks dates back to 1962. That year saw the Lakers make their first trip to the finals since leaving Minneapolis for L.A.
And marked the first of many clashes with the Boston Celtics that were to ensue over the nearly four decades that followed.
Elgin Baylor and Jerry West combined for 76 points in the deciding game of the 1962 finals. But the Lakers had no answer for Bill Russell, who tallied a jaw-dropping line of 30 points and 40 rebounds to lead the C's to a 110-107 victory, much to the delight of the crowd at the Boston Garden.
Who were all certainly thrilled to see Bob Cousy dribble out the clock in overtime, especially after watching with bated breath as L.A.'s Frank Selvy missed a shot at the end of regulation that would've won the title for the Lakers.
As far as drama is concerned, the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics saved their best for last.
The C's were heavy underdogs heading into the 1969 finals against the rival Lakers. L.A. featured Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in their respective primes alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Russell's archnemesis on the court, who'd joined the Lakers prior to the 1968-69 season. All indications were that the Lakers would take care of the aging Celtics at home in Game 7.
But that was part of the problem. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had already arranged for balloons to be hung from the rafters at the Forum in preparation for L.A.'s presumptive postgame celebration.
Instead, Russell took it as a slight against his team. He used those balloons to fire up himself and his C's teammates for what turned out to be one final run. Russell managed just six points that night, though John Havlicek (26 points), Sam Jones (24 points) and Don Nelson (16 points, including the winning basket at the buzzer) did more than enough to pick up the slack and help the C's survive a seesaw second half.
Russell walked away with his 11th championship in 13 years, while West, who scored 42 points in that seventh game, was left with the inaugural finals MVP trophy.
He still stands as the only player from a losing team to take home the award.
Michael Jordan never had the privilege of playing in a Game 7 in the finals with the Bulls, though he came awfully close. John Paxson and Steve Kerr each hit series-winning shots in Game 6s—in 1993 against the Phoenix Suns and in 1997 versus the Utah Jazz, respectively.
In 1998, Jordan took it upon himself to stave off a winner-take-all scenario in Salt Lake City. With the clock ticking under the 20-second mark and Chicago down by a single point, MJ stripped the ball from Karl Malone, dribbled up court and allowed precious time to evaporate before crossing up Bryon Russell and drilling the dramatic go-ahead jumper.
Those two points capped off not only a 45-point night for His Airness in a 87-86 win, but also Chicago's second three-peat of the 1990s and Jordan's career in a Bulls uniform.
Game 5 of the 1976 finals didn't decide a championship. It wasn't even televised live, what with the 1970s being the NBA's "Dark Ages."
Which is too bad, because this game was the classic to end all classics. The Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns needed three overtime periods to determine who would take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6.
Each of those overtimes featured at least one defining moment of its own, too. There was Paul Silas' illegal timeout in the first, John Havlicek's shot, Gar Heard's equalizer and fans storming the court in between in the second; and Glenn McDonald stepping up from the shadows to save the C's in the third.
Boston limped away with a 128-126 win and somehow had enough energy to finish off the Suns in Phoenix two nights later.