The Best NBA Finals Series Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2021

The Best NBA Finals Series Since 2000

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    LeBron James and Stephen Curry
    LeBron James and Stephen CurryMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Although the NBA Finals are the most anticipated moment of any season, not every championship series is highly entertaining. But when a matchup is competitive, especially for six or seven games, it isn't soon forgotten.

    Since 2000, the best NBA Finals have included last-minute clutch shots and incredible individual performances.

    Along the way, the series have developed iconic NBA memories—from Big Shot Bob and Ray Allen's corner three to the Death Lineup and a first ring for superstars. Basketball fans can quickly identify these storylines solely on the year of the Finals.

    The list is subjective, but factors for the order include duration of the series, key moments and overall competitiveness.    

8. Heat vs. Mavericks (2006)

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    In 2006, Dwyane Wade became a legend.

    After the Dallas Mavericks took Games 1 and 2, D-Wadethen a third-year guardput the Miami Heat on his back. He scored 42, 36, 43 and 36 points over the next four contests, leading a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback in Game 3 and buried the game-winning free throws in overtime of Game 5.

    Between his total production and his clutch shots, it's one of the greatest individual performances in NBA playoff history.

    The series also ended in dramatic fashion; Jason Terry missed a last-second three-pointer that would've sent Game 6 to overtime. Instead, the Heat won the franchise's first championship.      

7. Warriors vs. Cavaliers (2015)

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    During the first of four consecutive NBA Finals matchups, the Golden State Warriors busted out an iconic lineup.

    Golden State jumped ahead 1-0 with an overtime win, but LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers responded with an overtime victory in Game 2 and a five-point win in Game 3. As a result, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr changed the lineup.

    Andre Iguodala replaced Andrew Bogut, showcasing a "Death Lineup" with no player taller than 6'8". It proved devastatingly effective and swung the series in the Warriors' favor.

    Stephen Curry would've been a deserving MVP, averaging 26.0 points and 6.3 assists in the series. Iguodala notched 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game but brought home the MVP in no small part because of his Death Lineup contributions.     

6. Celtics vs. Lakers (2008)

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Every so often, win-now moves pay off exactly as hoped. That's the story of the 2007-08 Boston Celtics.

    In the offseason, they acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in trades with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Seattle SuperSonics, respectively. They linked up with Paul Pierce, giving the Celtics hope of forgetting the second-worst year in franchise history. Boston won just 24 games during the previous season.

    Led by this Big Three (and Rajon Rondo), the Celtics went 66-16 and toppled the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.

    Game 1 is remembered as the Wheelchair Game in which Paul Piercewho just needed a bathroom breakseemingly overcame a leg injury to hit two critical threes. Boston held off a furious Los Angeles charge in Game 2 and overcame a 24-point deficit in Game 4, while the Lakers earned six-point and five-point wins in Game 3 and 5.    

    Boston closed out an otherwise greatly competitive series with a 39-point demolition of the Lakers in Game 6.

5. Mavericks vs. Heat (2011)

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    In 2011, the Mavericks prevented Miami from turning a win-now summer into an immediate championship. And they earned a little revenge in the process.

    Dallas fell to the Heat in the 2006 Finals but outlasted Wade, James and Chris Bosh in a thrilling six-game series.

    Miami won 92-84 in Game 1 before Dirk Nowitzki's winning layup with 3.6 seconds remaining sealed Game 2 for Dallas. Miami responded with an 88-86 victory in Game 3, but the Mavericks earned an 86-83 win in a roller-coaster Game 4 full of lead changes.

    And then, The Jet became a franchise hero. Jason Terry sparked a fourth-quarter surge in Game 5 and scored a team-high 27 points in Game 6 to seal the Mavs' first title along with Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.    

4. Lakers vs. Celtics (2010)

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    Los Angeles controlled Game 1, but the next three contests included a tie or one-point margin at some point in the fourth quarter. Boston snagged two of those victories, evening the series at 2-2 before grabbing a six-point victory in Game 5.

    Although the Lakers cruised to an 89-67 triumph in Game 6, that fourth-quarter stress returned in the decisive clash.

    Entering the fourth quarter of Game 7, Los Angeles trailed 57-53. Kobe Bryant scored 10 points in the frame, and Pau Gasol added nine. But Ron Artest, who now goes by Metta Sandiford-Artest, emerged as the unlikely hero. His three-pointer with 1:01 left effectively iced the Lakers' 83-79 win.

    This would be the fifth and final championship of Kobe's career.      

3. Spurs vs. Pistons (2005)

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    Ah, the year of Big Shot Bob.

    Robert Horry spent most of his 16-year NBA career as a top reserve, yet he built a reputation for hitting clutch shots in the playoffs. In 2005, his heroics stung the Detroit Pistons.

    Horry punctuated a 21-point performance in Game 5 with a three with 5.8 seconds remaining to hand the San Antonio Spurs a 96-95 overtime win. The iconic shot followed Manu Ginobili's 15-point fourth-quarter Game 1 explosion and preceded a dramatic finish to the series.

    Detroit earned a hard-fought victory in Game 6a back-and-forth clash with 23 lead changes. And in Game 7, the Spurs and Pistons entered the fourth quarter tied. San Antonio ultimately pulled away in the closing minutes for an 81-74 win.       

2. Cavaliers vs. Warriors (2016)

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    There is a reasonable argument for Game 7 overrating the appeal of the 2016 Finals. The closing game is the only matchup that had a winning margin in single digits.

    But the series was just packed with storylines.

    Most notably, Cleveland recovered from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in Finals history, and it was over a 73-9 Golden State squad that had beaten the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' regular-season record.

    Draymond Green's one-game suspension following a flagrant-1 foul on LeBron afforded the Cavs a lifeline, and they capitalized perfectly. James and Kyrie Irving both scored 41 points in Game 5, and LeBron repeated the output in Game 6.

    And in Game 7, LeBron's chasedown block on Iguodala prevented Golden State from breaking a tie with 1:50 to play. Roughly one minute later, Irving drilled the game-winning triple that propelled Cleveland to its first championship in franchise historyand the city's first major sports title in 52 years.    

1. Heat vs. Spurs (2013)

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    While hearing the name "Robert Horry" brings immense joy to Spurs' fans, "Ray Allen" does the exact opposite. The sharpshooter stole a championship out of San Antonio's grasp in 2013.

    To begin the series, the Spurs nabbed a 92-88 victory behind Tony Parker's late layup. Miami and San Antonio alternated comfortable wins through Game 5which had a 10-point margin, but the Spurs led by no fewer than eight in the fourth quarter.

    Allen's time to shine arrived in Game 6.

    Trailing 94-89 with 20.1 seconds left, LeBron hit a three. Kawhi Leonard split two free throws, leaving a glimmer of hope for Miami. Chris Bosh rebounded a missed three and passed to Allen, who buried a game-tying three. He also scored four of the Heat's eight points in overtime, sparking a 103-100 win.

    Although the Heat never trailed in the fourth quarter of Game 7, their lead hovered in the range of two-to-six points until there were less than 20 seconds remaining in a nerve-wracking 95-88 victory.

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