Despite the evidence to the contrary, 2016’s seven-game thriller tops the charts
Since the 1980s, the NBA has been growing in popularity and each decade has brought new superstars and memorable moments. Back then, fans tuned in to watch Larry Bird face off against Magic Johnson as the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met in the NBA Finals each year from 1984-1987.
In the 1990s, fans saw the rise of Michael Jordan who “three-peated” twice during that decade. The Lakers and San Antonio Spurs ran the table in the western conference during the 2000s, only missing 2006 when Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks met Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal’s Miami Heat squad in the final series.
This past decade belonged to LeBron James, who made it to the finals every year from 2011-2018. Although he only won three of those appearances, that run is still one of the most impressive feats in sports history.
So with all these great players, fantastic rivalries, and unforgettable moments, which NBA Finals series should be heralded as the “greatest of all time?” Is it 1984 when Bird and Magic finally met for the first time? Should Jordan’s sixth title in 1998 take the top spot? What about 2008 when the Celtics and Lakers rivalry heated back up?
Actually, It is none of those.
I submit to you the 2016 iteration as the best NBA Finals of all time.
Yes, I know this series took place pretty recently. Yes, I am aware of the mountain of great championships available to choose from. And yes, I took time to consider other series before choosing this one.
The 2016 Finals had everything an NBA fan could ask for: star players, great teams, a wild storyline and a shot heard around the world. For those of you that need a replay, or even if you just want to relive the moment Kyrie Irving broke the collective hearts of everyone in the Bay Area, the NBA has a great “mini-movie” recapping the series.
For context, the 2016 Golden State Warriors were perhaps the most dominant team in NBA history, breaking the record for most wins in a single regular season, winning 73 of 82 regular-season games. This roster featured Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green, and was coached by Steve Kerr, who had won five NBA championships as a player.
Out of the East, James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 57-25 regular-season record and looked to win a championship for his hometown team. Although they had lost to the Warriors on this same stage in the previous season, the Cavs were without star players Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for much of their playoff run in 2015.
Games 1-3 were all blowouts with the difference between scores ranging from 15-33 points. Golden State had won Games 1 and 2 at home while Cleveland took the third on their home court. The Warriors bounced back with a 10-point win on the road to take a 3-1 series lead headed back to the Bay. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they would have to play the next game without Draymond Green, who, while a hot-head, was key to their game plan.
In a must-win Game 5, James and Irving each put on a performance of a lifetime. The duo put up 41 points each and forced a Game 6, to take place back in Cleveland.
James posted another 41-point game in Game 6, and the Warriors looked like they were crumbling under the pressure. Curry fouled out late in the game and whipped his mouthpiece into the stands in frustration, which resulted in a technical foul and his subsequent ejection from the game. The Cavs took Game 6 by a score of 115-106 to set up a memorable Game 7.
With 20 lead changes and 11 ties over four quarters, the whole series came down to the final five minutes of the game. Thompson tied the game at 89-89 with 4:39 left on the clock, but the Warriors would fail to score again for the rest of the game.
With 1:50 remaining, Iguodala looked to take the lead for the Warriors, but James blocked his layup attempt from behind, pinning it on the glass. Following a missed three-pointer from Curry and a Cavs timeout with 1:08 remaining, Irving stepped up with one of the most ice-cold, clutch moments in sports history.
Irving got the ball from the inbound, dribbled to his right and was guarded by Curry. As Irving moved to his right, he stepped back behind the three-point line and fired a fadeaway shot over Curry, who was in a great position to defend.
His shot fell, giving the Cavaliers a 92-89 lead with under a minute left to play. After a couple of missed shots from the Warriors, James hit one last free throw to seal the deal and bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Cleveland for the first time in the franchise’s history.
I know NBA fans got a little tired of seeing the Cavaliers and Warriors in the Finals every year for what seemed like an eternity (2015-2018), but this little rivalry gave us the best NBA Finals of all time. In 2016, the league’s best player put on the best performance of his career, brought his team back from being down 3-1 in the series against the best team in the league, and won his hometown team’s first championship in franchise history. How could it possibly get any better than that? Allow me to answer that — it can’t.