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The 10 Best NBA Playoff Series of the 2010s


Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Ray Allen

You know what you need? Another decade list. Surely you haven’t seen one of those lately. I was rattling around Twitter and posted about the best games of the decade when someone asked about the best series, which got me thinking.

Here’s a list of the best NBA playoff series of the decade based on the quality of basketball, memorable moments, the stakes, and what the series meant.

Best Playoff Series of 2010s

1. Heat-Spurs 2013

This was the best basketball series of all time. Now, LeBron James had already won a title, as had Dwyane Wade (2) and Chris Bosh. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker all had more than one. The stakes aren’t what put it here.

But the execution level of these two teams, the quality of the play was the highest you will ever see. They were so evenly matched, between the Heat’s athletic dynamicism and the Spurs’ foundational discipline, that neither team had actions or matchups that they could just turn to and tilt the thing.

I covered that series and asked the players in it if it was the highest level of basketball, execution-wise, they’d ever been in. Players always downplay the present to try and contain hype. They did not, in this instance. They all agreed this was the best they had ever been in. Every single possession meant you had to pass perfectly because the rotations defensively were so sharp, the two teams were anticipating the extra pass and rotating ahead of it.

It was before the 3-point revolution would warp score differentials based on hot shooting. There were blowouts in the series in Games 2 and 3, but the entire tone of the series was legends facing off against legends.

Future Hall of Famers in that series: James, Wade, Bosh, Ray Allen, Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, Kawhi Leonard.

You also had memorable, high-level role players like Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Mario Chalmers.

Most memorable moment:

This is the only NBA playoffs moment I can recall where, collectively, the entirety of media row including some of the most stoic, hyper-professional writers you will ever find, collectively lost their minds. The entire row jumped up yelling expletives at how big a shot that was.

Everyone remembers Gregg Popovich subbing out Tim Duncan for inexplicable reasons, but I’ll always remember Popovich yelling on the sideline for them to push the ball. The Spurs were trying to catch the Heat off guard with a quick game-winner in that situation without a timeout, and the officials had to stop the game to confirm Allen was behind the line. Popovich was livid.

Underrated moment No. 1:

Parker stole homecourt and tilted the series with this incredible shot.

Underrated moment No. 2:

Danny Green seriously almost won Finals MVP. That’s a thing that happened. He went bonkers in Game 3 and was the leader in the clubhouse until at least Game 5.

Underrated moment No. 3:

Duncan had 25 first-half points to try and slam the door on Miami. He’d later miss this in Game 7:

How it will be remembered: A legendary series of the highest quality between two of the greatest teams in NBA history.

2. Warriors-Cavs 2016

The most legendary Finals series, ever. It featured the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, the greatest collapse in NBA Finals history (of a team that set the record for wins in a season no less) three of the greatest Finals performances ever by LeBron James in the final three games and another three by Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green’s nutshot suspension (for flagrant foul points and not the nutshot, remember), Andrew Bogut’s forgotten injury, The Block, The Shot, The Turnover, and The Stop.

I will go to bat, however, for this not being No. 1. The basketball was really sloppy throughout. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson didn’t even really show up until Game 4; the Warriors bench won Game 1 in large part and the blowout was so huge in Game 2 thanks to the Cavs putting up just 77 points that they didn’t need to score more than 35.

Warriors fans and most objective observers know that Curry was simply not the same after his knee injury in Round 1. Now, lots of guys have had to play through injuries in the Finals. And Curry still made that behind the back turnover and got shutdown by Kevin Love. But it factors in. Draymond Green’s suspension was just; the man led an all-out assault on Steven Adams’ ability to procreate in the previous series and finally it caught up to him. However, Green’s absence has to be mentioned as well.

(I will say, however, that I do not just hand the Warriors Game 5 if Green plays. LeBron and Kyrie were so locked in I’m not sure Green was going to be able to stop them, as great as he is.)

Bogut’s injury is what gets overlooked most. Bogut was the team’s best primary rim protector. Without him, Steve Kerr turned to Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao in Game 7 and the results were disastrous.

And then there’s Game 7, which, like a lot of Game 7’s, was stilted, awkward, and ugly. It wasn’t high-level basketball, it was a rock fight.

Most memorable moment: Take your pick…

Most underrated moment: The Stop isn’t overrated at this point, and the behind-the-back turnover is a GIF. But this one gets forgotten as a sign of just how completely unraveled, unhinged and undone the Warriors became in that series:

How it will be remembered: The greatest shining moment of arguably the Greatest Of All Time’s career, the greatest comeback and collapse in NBA Finals history.

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