Ranking the Top 10 Best NBA Finals Games Since 2000
I'm not sure how best to respond to Tuesday night. I'm still quivering in delight just thinking about it.
Game 6 was the BEST NBA Finals basketball game I've ever seen in my life.
Hyperbole? Perhaps. Maybe I'll settle down after 48 hours. Maybe my rapid eye movement and heart palpitations will return to normalcy before dinner. But right now, in this moment...OH. GAWD.
Consider the stakes. If the Spurs had won, we’re looking at Tony Parker’s second Finals MVP, Gregg Popovich as the fourth-best NBA coach of all-time (Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley), Tim Duncan as the best player of his generation and the Spurs as the team of this still young millennium.
Not so fast.
As highlights of “The Headband Game” continue to loop in our mental YouTube players, let’s add some context to the chaos. We know Game 6 was the best game of these 2013 NBA Finals…but was it also the best game of this millennium (2000-present)?
There’s only one way to be sure. Time to reverse rank the best ten games of the past decade-plus.
T-10. Game 2, 2004: Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers
"It's all about rising to the challenge. High stakes. I know I can rise to that."—Kobe Bryant
The Game: 2004 NBA Finals, Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Game 2.
What Happened: After losing to a feisty Pistons team at home in Game 1, the Lakers were thirsty for payback. Kobe posted a 33-4-7 masterpiece, capping off his performance with a dagger three over Rip Hamilton to force overtime. Detroit fought hard, but the Big Four (Kobe, Shaq, Payton & Malone) ended up tying the series at 1-1.
Moment You Remember: Kobe’s left wing triple over Rip Hamilton.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Ben Wallace’s reverse jam (with the replay to break playing over OutKast’s “I Like The Way You Move”!)
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Kobe Bryant—33 points, but only 2 made field goals in the painted area—a harbinger of what was to come.
Series Result: Detroit over Los Angeles, 4 games to 1.
T-10. Game 5, 2010: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
"I wasn't in a personal duel…I didn't notice that we were going back-and-forth scoring at the time. He's a tough player. He makes shots." Paul Pierce on Kobe Bryant’s Game 5 performance.
The Game: 2010 NBA Finals, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics, Game 5.
What Happened: Kobe went ballistic for 38 points, including 23 straight from the midway point of the second quarter to the near end of the third quarter. No matter. Paul Pierce matched Kobe’s output with 27 points of his own, and Boston took a 3-2 series lead back to Los Angeles for a chance to close on the road.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Rajon Rondo shoving Ron Artest (who flopped!).
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Lakers shooting—Kobe Bryant (13-27), rest of team (18-51).
Series Result: Los Angeles over Boston, 4 games to 3.
9. Game 4, 2012: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat
"He was hurting...but that's what it's about this time of the year. It would hurt more if we lose the ballgame, so it feels a little better if you can win it."—Dwyane Wade on LeBron James' epic finish
The Game: 2012 NBA Finals, Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat, Game 4.
What Happened: Let the Russell Westbrook show begin! Westbrook erupted for a series-high 43 points in an epic Game 4 that seesawed between him and an unusual Miami triumvirate—LeBron (26 points), Wade (25 points), and Mario Chalmers (25 points).
Miami was down two points when LeBron caught a leg cramp that forced his untimely exit. However, after a quick respite, James reentered the game, limped across half court and buried a three to rob Oklahoma City of a crucial win and push them to the brink of elimination.
Moment You Remember: LeBron’s deep triple on one leg.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Russell Westbrook’s tip slam. Not for the faint of heart.
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Russell Westbrook—43 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists.
Series Result: Miami over Oklahoma City, 4 games to 1.
8. Game 1, 2013: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat
"It was a crazy play. I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn't work out like I wanted it to. At the end I was just trying to get a shot up."—Tony Parker
The Game: 2013 NBA Finals, San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat, Game 1.
What Happened: The team with the longer break prevailed.
After watching Miami take a beating over the last week from the powerful Pacers, San Antonio brought a new style of game to South Beach. After tight possessions and tough hoops, Tony Parker used the entire 24-second clock to bury a jumper to put the game on ice and give San Antonio the early series lead.
Moment You Remember: Tony Parker’s wild shot over Lebron to seal the W.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Tim Duncan’s jumper at the buzzer to end the first half.
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Parker had 10 of San Antonio’s 23 fourth quarter points.
Series Result: ??????????????
7. Game 7, 2010: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
“This was the hardest one by far. I wanted it so bad, and sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up.”—Kobe Bryant
The Game: 2010 NBA Finals, Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Game 7.
What Happened: Kobe Bryant’s 6-of-24 shooting game happened. Rasheed Wallace’s last meaningful game happened. Pau Gasol being the focal point of the Lakers offense happened.
And a sweet, cerebral Ron Artest from QUEENSBRIDGE! interview happened.
It was a gritty game with an unpredictable ending—Ron Artest for 3. Bang.
Moment You Remember: The Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest draining a three (34% 3FG in series) to put Lakers up six with less than a minute remaining.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Pau Gasol’s stat line: 19 points, 18 rebounds.
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Rebounds: Lakers 53, Celtics 40.
Series Result: Los Angeles over Boston, 4 games to 3.
6. Game 3, 2006: Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat
"The basketball gods were good to us tonight, that's all you can say."—Pat Riley
The Game: 2006 NBA Finals, Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat, Game 3.
What Happened: We learned that Avery Johnson vs. Pat Riley isn’t a fair fight.
Miami entered Game 3 with two losses on their ledger and were in search of new life after getting waxed down in Texas by Dirk’s boys. Nowitzki and Dallas jumped out quick and held a 13-point lead with six minutes to spare.
And then, the comeback commenced. When the dust cleared, Dirk owned the choker label, Gary Payton earned his keep, and the Heat got back in the series.
(Dirk would repay the favor five years later in similar fashion. SPOILER ALERT!)
Moments You Remember: Gary Payton’s first hoop of the 2006 Finals; Dirk Nowitzki’s missed free throw.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Shaq went 2-of-2 from the free throw line late when it counted.
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Dwayne Wade: 42 points, 13 rebounds, 13-18 FT.
Series Result: Miami over Dallas, 4 games to 2.
5. Game 5, 2005: San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons
"I saw Rasheed bite and said: 'Oh, let me stay out here,' "—Robert Horry
The Game: 2005 NBA Finals, San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons, Game 5.
What Happened: I’ll be doggone! After four underwhelming blowouts, the NBA Finals finally got Motown serious in Game 5. It was a low-scoring affair for the first three quarters, until Robert Horry.
“Big Shot Bob” ignited the San Antonio offense, dropping all but two of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to win San Antonio the game and give them NBA Finals' pole position.
“My first option in those moments was Robert. He's a winner. He's been in that situation so many times. Everyone knows what he does."—Manu Ginobili.
That’s everyone…except for Rasheed Wallace.
Moment You Remember: Robert Horry’s inbound pass, quick setup on the left wing, and MONEY.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Robert Horry’s dunk! And the foul!
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Robert Horry—–21 points (19 in fourth quarter and OT), 7 rebounds.
Series Result: San Antonio over Detroit, 4 games to 3.
4. Game 2, 2011: Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat
"You can just sense it in us that we weren't going to give up, we were going to be resilient."—Jason Terry
The Game: 2011 NBA Finals, Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat, Game 2.
What Happened: Already holding a 1-0 series lead, Miami’s players began to taunt the Mavericks following Dwyane Wade’s pose after a made corner three that put the Heat up 15. Dirk Nowitzki laughed off the diss and proceeded to destroy the Heat, scoring the last nine points in a furious Dallas rally.
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Dallas had a 22-5 run to close the game (Dirk: 24 points, 11 rebounds).
Series Result: Dallas over Miami, 4 games to 2.
3. Game 1, 2001: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers
“I'm glad nobody bet their life on [us losing] because they'd be dead now. Everyone said we can't do it, and that drives us."—Allen Iverson after Game 1
The Game: 2001 NBA Finals, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Game 1.
What Happened: Allen Iverson. Against arguably the best Lakers team of the three-peat, the diminutive MVP guard carried his overmatched team to a shocking Game 1 victory in Los Angeles. Iverson finished with 48 points in the overtime win, snapping the Lakers’ undefeated 2001 postseason run to that point.
Moments You Remember: Allen Iverson’s baseline jumper in Tyronn Lue’s grill, and then…the step over.
Moment You Don’t Remember: Did you remember that Shaq put up a 44 point, 20 rebound Game 1? Have you seen this video? This is why the cross-town Clippers drafted something called a “Michael Olowokandi” with the No. 1 overall pick.
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Iverson’s first half—30 points. ‘Nuff said.
Series Result: Los Angeles over Philadelphia, 4 games to 1.
2. Game 4, 2008: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
"It was really supposed to be a middle pick-and-roll with Kevin and Ray, and Ray waved Kevin off because he liked the matchup that he had already, so he didn't want to bring another defender in to help. It was a great call by Ray. The layup was just tremendous."—Doc Rivers on the Ray Allen layup to seal the Game 4 comeback.
The Game: 2008 NBA Finals, Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Game 4.
What Happened: “Well, what did you think about this game Mike Benjamin from 2008?”
“The rhythmic sounds of swishing nets in the forum were replaced by a chorus of clangs, gasps, and my absolute favorite, doinks. The artistic five-on-five display that I'd grown accustomed to seeing from the Lakers was usurped by an anarchist rebel (Kobe) that attempted to snatch victory from the rejuvenated Celtic bunch. Unfortunately for the city of Los Angeles, Fake M.J. was unable to avoid becoming a footnote in the Celtics' greatest comeback performance in NBA history.”—Me, five years ago.
Moment You Remember: Ray Allen putting the Sa-Sha Shake on Sasha Vujacic. Left Sasha frozen in carbonate.
Moment You Don’t Remember: James Posey, with the shot clock running down…Cash.
EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night: Five players in double figures for the Celtics (Pierce 20, Allen 19, Posey 18, Kevin Garnett 16, Eddie House 11).
Series Result: Boston over Los Angeles, 4 games to 2.
1. Game 6, 2013: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat
The Game: 2013 NBA Finals, San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat, Game 6.
What Happened: The best NBA Finals game since MJ’s Flu Game.
The intensity was ratcheted up from the outset, finally hitting DEFCON 5 after consecutive threes from King James and Basketball Jesus (Ray Allen) tore the roof from AmericanAirlines Arena. Tony Parker’s fadeaway floater from the baseline fell short, and the Heat proceeded to regain their footing and outwork the older Spurs in the extra session.
Lost in the shuffle: Tim Duncan’s virtuoso first half performance (25 points, 8 rebounds); Danny Green’s devolution back to pumpkin; the reinvention of Chris Bosh as a rebounder and defensive anchor.
Moments You Won’t Remember in 3 Years: Mike Miller’s shoeless three-pointer; Dwyane Wade’s terrible post-up play down the stretch.
EJ’s Neat-O Stats of the Night: LeBron James—32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals; LeBron & Wade points per 100 possessions playing together (100.8), LeBron on court without Wade (131.7)
Series Result: ??????????????????