Top 10 NBA Playoff Series of the Past 10 Years
With the NBA playoffs just a few short weeks away, its time for a look back at the best playoff series over the last 10 years.
The past decade has brought us series that pitted bitter rivals against each other, as well as matched upstarts against proven winners.
We have seen the improbable and the unexpected. The NBA playoffs will likely never match the NCAA Championships for sheer energy and upsets but it certainly has seen its share of both over the last 10 years.
Here, ranked from ten to number one, are the 10 best.
10 - 76ers vs. Raptors - 2001
Basketball is a team game. You can have the biggest, baddest, tallest and most talented played in the planet on your team, but if you don't surround him or her with four other players who understand the game, you are liable to lose.
Basketball is about team.
This series however proved that although there is no I in team, you can use the letters to spell ME. For the Sixers, the ME was Allan Iverson. The Raptors countered with Vince Carter.
Game one was a precursor of things to come with Vinsanity dropping 35 points while AI went for 36. In game two, Iverson came within a free throw of a double nickel and game three saw Carter reach the half century mark.
Two of the games best players were making this series their own personal showcase. Iverson surpassed 50 again in game five pouring in 52 points.
The numbers were staggering but basketball is about team. Its also about leading when the final buzzer goes off. In game seven with the Sixers up by a single point Vince Carter took the final shot. His fallaway jumper missed.
Big numbers are nice, winning is better. This series that highlighted individual play was won by the Sixers.
9 - Spurs vs. Suns 2007
Well, this series had a lot of intrigue. Unfortunately, little of it had to do with actual basketball.
The series itself was a hard-fought battle that was won by the Spurs 4-2. So, why does it make this list? Blood, check, and gambling. Sounds like the title of a Martin Scorsese film.
The blood game from a late game collision between Nash and Tony Parker that left Nash bleeding profusely. That hit forced him to miss the final minute of the game.
Late in game four Robert Horry fouled Nash hard, some would say unnecessarily hard. Steve Nash called it a good check. Leave it to a Canadian to throw out a hockey reference in an NBA game!
Then, there is Donaghy. Tim Donaghy, disgraced NBA official and habitual gambler, was one of the three refs who called Game 3. Did he try to affect the outcome? Was there a fix? Did he have money on this game?
The questions alone make me bristle. Sadly, its all possible.
One of the best NBA series of all time, probably not. One of the most intriguing, absolutely.
8 - Pistons vs Heat 2005
There was a time when Eastern basketball was a step below the style or level of ball played out West.
The Pistons win over the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals proved that a shift was in the works. Eastern basketball was every bit as good as that played out West and sometimes, even better.
The 2005 Eastern Conference Finals pitted the best the East had to offer and the series did not disappoint. Unlike others we have covered in this slide show, the series lacked a singular moment that all fans remember.
There was no amazing last second shot, or player who went for 60 to will his team to victory.
This series was more about two very good teams playing like a team. This was epitomized by the Pistons who lacked a true star, but were still a dominate team.
The series went seven games and was won on the strength of great defense. The Pistons simply reverted back to the defensive plan that worked the year before.
You see then they were defending Shaq and Kobe. This time, substitute Dwayne Wade for Kobe Bryant, Shaq remains the same.
The constant double- and even triple-teams Shaq saw would put this game in Wades hands. Sadly for the Heat, Wade went scoreless in the fourth. No Wade, no chance. Pistons in seven.
7 - Suns vs. Clippers - 2006
Neither team has won an NBA championship, yet the Suns enjoy a much more positive perception.
Where the Suns were seen as an up and coming franchise with potential, the Clippers were still working to get out from under the shadow of the roommates, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The city of Angels was in fact very excited at the possibility of a "hallway series". Thats what Clipper fan Billy Crystal dubbed the possible match-up between the Lakers and the Clippers.
The Clippers had done their part winning their first round series against the Nuggets. The Clippers first playoff series win in Los Angeles!
The Lakers however fell short of matching the Clippers losing the Phoenix Suns who would face off against the Clippers instead.
The Suns took game one in a playoff series that looked more like a track meet. Suns 130, Clippers 123.
The Clippers took game two in impressive fashion earning the split by taking the Suns in Phoenix. The two teams split their regular season match-ups so a 1-1 tie after two games was not unexpected.
After giving up an average of 122 points in the first two games to the Clippers the Suns played defense in game three. Staples was rocking for a basketball team other than the Lakers for the first time in history, however.
Los Angeles took game four, Suns countered with a win in game five. It was clear at this point this series was very evenly matched.
A Clipper win in game six left the Staples crowd believing; the Clippers were within one game of the Western Conference Finals.
The Clippers. Wow.
Then, it all fell apart. Clipper fans will always point to game five as the game it all began to dismantle. The Clippers were up 111-108 with 3.6 seconds to go in that game.
Coach Mike Dunleavy had rookie Daniel Ewing in the game. Ewing hadn't played all game.
With a foul to give Ewing inexplicably allowed Raja Bell to get off a three point shot that went. Who made the bigger mistake, Ewing by giving up that shot or Dunleavy by having a rookie in such a critical position?
Dunleavy is gone and Ewing plays ball in Poland. The Clippers haven't been the same since.
6 - Lakers vs. Trail Blazers 2000
This series represented the beginning of the resurgence of Los Angeles Lakers basketball. Some would say the start of a dynasty.
No powerhouse team gets to be there however without adversity. This series proved to be the heat that helped mold the young Lakers.
The Lakers took game one handily but were destroyed in game two. The Lakers showed poise and championship mettle by taking the next two games in the Rose Garden. Then, the fire was turned up.
The Blazers took game five in Staples. They also beat the Lakers in game six back in Portland. That set up a deciding game seven in the then-new Staples Center.
The Lakers were young and never really tested. Sure, they had Phil Jackson at the helm, but his championships came in Chicago, never in L.A. How would the team respond to the pressure of a game seven?
Portland was in control and led by 15 points in the fourth quarter. Generally, NBA games that see one team down by double digits with a single quarter to play are over. In Los Angeles, that's the crowds cue to hit the parking lot and beat the traffic home.
The Lakers however were out to prove they were for real. Prove it, they did.
The team went on a 15-0 run to inexplicably catch the Blazers.
Staples was rocking, but the best was yet to come. In what has grown to be a signature moment for the franchise, the Lakers were about to put an exclamation mark in one of the greatest fourth quarter comebacks of all time via a nice alley-oop pass.
Kobe Bryant provided the Alley, Shaquille O'Neal the Oop. The sight of O'Neal waving his finger as he ran downcourt was priceless. The Lakers were back in the Finals.
5 - Celtics vs. Hawks - 2008
The Celtics were back. Energized by the three amigos, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, they came into this first round match up with the Hawks confident.
The Hawks don't share the same rich NBA history that the Celtics do, few franchises do, but they were once a perennial playoff team. This year's Hawks didn't burst into the playoffs, rather, they limped in. The clubs 37-45 record did little to strike fear in the Celtics.
These were not the Hawks of Dominque Wilkins.
Unfazed, the Hawks were on a mission to prove that the first season matters little when the ball is tossed for the second season. They matched up well against the Celtics and aimed to prove it.
They dropped the first two games in Boston, big. The Hawks were gone. It was just a matter of time. Boston faithful were preparing their brooms.
Then, the unthinkable happened. The Hawks won. They weren't supposed to do that against the big, bad 66-win Celtics. Game three however went to the team Celtics coach Doc Rivers once suited up for.
Well, it was just one game. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and again, right? Nothing to worry about, no one in Boston panicked. Until game four.
Led by Josh Smith the Hawks shocked the Celtics and tied up the series. Smith, known for his high fly act, channeled Dikembe Mutombo in this one, blocking seven shots!
The Hawks believed.
Order was restored in game five, the Celtics routing the Hawks once again in Boston 110-85. The Celtics were poised to finish off the upstart Hawks in Atlanta.
Basketball however is a strange game, and the Celtics victory wasn't meant to be. Phillips arena was rocking and the Hawks played inspired basketball. It was a balanced attack that led the Hawks to the victory and an improbable Game Seven!
The Celtics had won every game against the Hawks in the regular season, but this wasn't the regular season. Everything about this team, from the crowds to the players themselves, was different. The Celtics were in for a battle and they knew it.
They played Game Seven the way a veteran team whose backs were against the wall should play. They dominated, ending the Hawks dreams with a convincing victory.
You think home-court doesn't matter that much in the NBA playoffs? Don't tell that to the Boston Celtics. If the Hawks had the home-court in this one it might have been Josh Smith screaming "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!"
4 - Mavericks vs. Warriors - 2007
NCAA college basketball is a hotbed for upsets. How many of you had Butler vs. Duke for the championship?
Exactly. Trying to predict an NCAA bracket correctly is like trying to get Barry Bonds to admit to PED use. Darn near next to impossible.
The NBA playoffs are a different animal. Number one seeds beat number eight in a best of seven. Case closed. That was the fact before the Mavs laced 'em up against the Warriors.
This series was really only about how many games the Warriors might manage to win, if any.
The story angles for this series, even outside of the obvious mismatch, were plentiful.
Mavericks were in the Finals the year earlier and hungry to make it back.
No team had won 65 games in the regular season and failed to win at least one playoff game.
Don Nelson, coach of the Warriors, spent 10 years with Dallas.
Let the rout begin!!
Well, not so much.
The Warriors got the split in Texas most all teams want heading into a seven-game series. They played confident ball and seemed to take Dirk Nowitzki, who would go on to win the MVP, out of his game.
There was no chance they could really win the series however, was there?
The Warriors held home court by taking both games at an energized Oracle Arena. Somehow, miraculously, the eighth seeded Warriors had the Mavericks on the ropes three games to one.
One game away from NBA history.
Nowitzki managed to find his rhythm in game five. He carried his Mavericks to a victory despite inspired play from Baron Davis. Game Six shifted back to the Bay area.
It was there that the Warriors sealed the deal. With Davis limited with a sore hamstring, it was Stephen Jackson who led the way. With the crowd playing sixth man, the Warriors dominated, taking the game and the series.
3 - Celtics vs. Bulls - 2009
Now this was a series, a classic series in every sense of the word. It was also Derrick Rose's coming out party.
When you match Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in anything at all in basketball, you have done something. When you do something not even Michael Jordan did, well, you have done something special.
Rose led the Bulls to an upset victory over the favored Celtics in game one, his first-ever playoff series. Michael Jordan didn't do that.
He scored 36 points in game one; only Abdul-Jabbar can say the same in his playoff debut.
This series however was about more than just Rose, it was a match-up of two teams that enjoyed competing so much that four quarters weren't enough.
Game one went to overtime. Bulls up one games to none.
Game two and three were boring, they only went four quarters. Yawn. Celtics up two games to one.
Game four was an overtime thriller that was settled in two overtimes. Bulls tied up the series that was just starting to heat up.
The teams that seemed to have a knack for finishing four quarters tied, were now deadlocked in this amazing series.
Game five went to overtime as well. The third game out of five that went extra frames. This one was won by the Celtics who now seemed the upper hand.
As incredible as the series had been, it was only just warming up. Game six was one for the ages.
Tied at 91 after four quarters. Tied at 99 after the first over time. Tied at 108 after the second overtime. Wow. Would three overtimes be enough to settle this one?
With the Celtics down by one Rajon Rondo drove and pulled up for the game winner. Rose however would have nothing to do with that sending the shot back to preserve the win.
Game seven was a yawner by comparison with the Celtics moving on. These two franchises set a record for most overtime periods played in a single series with seven.
If you can watch this series, game six especially, and not enjoy basketball, well, you just aren't a fan.
2 - Lakers vs. Spurs - 2007
Some series are remembered for game after competitive game. Others, the majority of them, are remembered for a singular moment. Sometimes, those moments overshadow the actual series.
Does anyone remember who won the 2004 meeting between the Lakers and Spurs? Possible. Anyone recall how many games it took to decide a winner? Maybe. How many remember .04 however? Mhm, exactly.
The Spurs and Lakers are arguably the franchises of the decade. They met in 2004 at their peak. The Lakers were loaded with Hall of Famers Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Kobe Bryant.
The Spurs countered with Tim Duncan, Mano Ginobli, Tony Parker and former Laker and big-shot specialist, Robert Horry.
Oh yeah, the Lakers also had a point guard named Derek Fisher on the team.
Spurs were up two games to none after beating the Lakers by 10 both times in San Antonio. Game three went to the Lakers, as did game four.
The teams were deadlocked and returned to Texas for game five.
Some basketball haters say that the only time a game is worth watching is in the final seconds. True fans know otherwise, but the haters had a point about this game. It began with 5.4 seconds.
72-71 Lakers. The ball is inbounded to Tim Duncan. He is guarded by Shaq. Shaq's defense is intense, he pressures Duncan into a ridiculous shot from the top of the key.
Duncan is on the floor, the crowd goes crazy, the players go crazy. The only one calm as a cucumber is coach Gregg Popovich. The game belongs to the Spurs. There just wasn't enough time for the Lakers to pull this one out.
There were only 0.4 seconds left.
You know the rest. Nice pass from Gary Payton to D-Fish.
"One lucky shot deserves another" is how O'Neal summed it up. Classic line, classic shot, classic series.
No, that didn't win it, the Lakers needed another game to make it official. They got it in game six, but the series was over the game before - with 0.4 seconds on the clock.
1 - Lakers vs. Kings - 2002
Hard to believe for some, but these two teams shared the same state, technically. You see, here in California we know that there are three states within the boundary we call California.
Southern California has the beaches, the stars, and the Lakers. Central California is farm country. Well, as farm as California gets.
Then there is Northern California, home to San Francisco, colder weather and the Sacramento Kings.
When the Kings relocated to Sacramento from Kansas City a player was excited about the move to California. Reggie Theus, the Kings best player at the time, set his teammate straight by letting him know Sacramento wasn't California.
There is general animosity between the two regions that only intensified as the Kings became better. This was a rivalry in every sense of the word...the likes of which we haven't really seen since.
The Kings were a great team, but they knew a championship ran through L.A. The Lakers were powerful and pulled every trick in the book to let the team from up North know they weren't winning any championship at their expense.
Shaquille O'Neal called them the Queens. Ya, it was like that.
It was in the midst of all that anger and tension that divided a state that the Kings and Lakers met to decide the Western Conference Champions!!
This series was pressure packed from the beginning. Every game was close and full of drama. The reason this series makes the list however is because of a singular moment.
Its one of those moments in sport we all remember. Right up there with Kirk Gibson's home run or Mike Eruzione's goal.
Where were you when Horry hit that shot?
The Kings were in control of the series and the Lakers. They had a 2-1 lead going into game four. A win in Los Angeles would put the Northerners in the drivers seat.
The early 2-0 lead the Lakers enjoyed was short-lived. The Kings went on a tear and dominated. The Lakers weren't just losing, they were getting demoralized, at home, by their bitter rivals.
When the lead hit 24, the screams in Pleasonton could be heard as far South as Hawthorne. The Lakers, however, began to chip away.
It seemed like it would all be for naught however, they were closer but the clock was working against them. After Vlade Divac made 1-of-2 free throws the Lakers found themselves down by two with only 11 seconds left to play.
Then, it happened.
The ball was inbound to Kobe Bryant. He drove and shot but missed thanks to pressure by Divac. Shaquille O'Neal grabbed the rebound but his shot also missed, once again thanks to pressure from Divac and Chris Webber.
With just seconds left Divac reached up for the rebound. If he secures it and the Kings win. Hug that ball and return to Sacramento with a commanding 3-1 lead. Instead, Divac tapped the ball away from the basket.
Well, only Divac knows for sure, but I have an idea.
Divac was a Laker in 1991. That year the Lakers were playing the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals. They weren't the favorites but were clinging to a one point lead in game six with seconds left to go.
A win, sends them to the Finals.
Portland has the ball, the shot goes up but misses. Magic Johnson grabs the rebound and with just a little over 2 seconds on the clock he throws the ball over his head.
The ball rolls, and rolls, as the seconds tick off the clock.
Game over, Lakers win.
Was Divac trying to emulate MJ by tapping the ball out? Hmmmm.
Sadly for the Kings and Divac, the ball he hit didn't find wide open space like Magics did, it found Robert Horry.
You know the rest.
Incidentally, the coach for the Kings in this series was Rick Adelman. Guess was pacing the sidelines as coach of the Blazers when Magic threw that ball downcourt. Ya, Rick Adelman. You can't make this stuff up.