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The NBA’s 10 best games of the 2010s

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From the Cavs’ incredible Game 7 win over the Warriors to Ray Allen’s championship-clinching shot for the Heat, these are the NBA’s best games of the last decade.

Ray Allen’s iconic shot for the Miami Heat.
Ray Allen’s greatest moment.

As a follow up to last week’s article about the top 10 most entertaining games from the 2019-20 season — as ranked with an algorithm created by Thuuz Sports — here’s a look at the 10 most entertaining games of the entire decade. Enjoy.

10) Houston Rockets 98, Portland Trail Blazers 99: May 1, 2014

Any game that forever freezes you to where you were when you watched it is special. Few can do it. Most leave a hazy aftertaste, where you think you remember where you were, who you were with, what you were eating, and whether it was raining outside. But in reality it’s just fog.

For those who witnessed it live, Damian Lillard’s series-ending moon shot against the Houston Rockets was the rare sporting event that obliterated all five senses and momentarily stopped time.

It’s a fun series to reminisce about. At the time, I was recapping games for ESPN’s TrueHoop blog, Red94, and vividly remember the immortal release point on LaMarcus Aldridge’s baseline turnaround that made Dwight Howard and Omer Asik (remember him?) look so helpless, as well as how confident and smooth Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Wesley Matthews moved around the court before injuries ruined them.

Anyway, Lillard didn’t want to put the end of Game 6 in his hands — he needed to. In his mind, no other options ever existed. Before the play begins, Lillard is a panther in tall grass. The second Nicolas Batum gets handed the ball on the opposite sideline, he cannonballs up, claps his hands with enough force to let everyone in the building know “this is not a drill” (the play was originally designed for LaMarcus Aldridge), catches the pass, rotates his shoulders, then drops the curtain.

9) Memphis Grizzlies 117, San Antonio Spurs 116: Dec. 17, 2014

This game went into triple overtime, but the end of regulation is the best part. A flurry of game-tying threes in the last seven seconds, capped off by Marc Gasol stepping through Manu Ginobili’s blanket coverage to bank in a prayer as the buzzer sounded. It was the most improbable big shot of the decade ... until Tim Duncan one-upped him at the end of the second overtime with a one-dribble fadeaway over Gasol’s fingertips that ricocheted off the backboard, twirling around the rim, and somehow dropped in.

8) Oklahoma City Thunder 119, Toronto Raptors 118: Mar. 20, 2014

This was the only game on this list that was unrecognizable solely from the date and two teams. But when viewed through the prism of Kevin Durant, at or near his lanky overlord peak, it becomes a recovered artifact.

Let’s start at the end. The Thunder were down by eight with 48 seconds left in double overtime when Durant wiggled free for an open three.

About 45 seconds later he stuck another one, this time from the left wing, drifting towards the sideline with a hand in his face to give the Thunder a one-point lead. By his side? Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, and Derek Fisher.

This was Durant at his most lethal, near the end of a 41-game streak in which he never scored fewer than 25 points (the third-longest in NBA history). If he were a character in a novel, the editor would ask the writer to turn down the volume. Durant is too absurd for real life, let alone someone’s imagination.

7) Oklahoma City Thunder 133, Memphis Grizzlies 123: May 9, 2011

A few months ago my wife and I were eating dinner at a restaurant that had a massive projector screen behind the bar. On it, for no discernable reason, was this game. When I asked our waiter why it was on, he looked at me like I had two eyes. “Dude, that game was incredible.”

He’s not wrong. It was a pivotal Game 4 that went into triple overtime. What a blessing.

6) Cleveland Cavaliers 93, Golden State Warriors 89: June 19, 2016

Pretty much since it happened, the last few minutes of this game have rattled around my head like a flawed, inescapable pop song. I’ve watched, discussed and thought about them thousands of times. Over and over. They’re some of basketball’s most historic moments, clustered together in one messy crescendo that then led to Draymond Green’s parking lot phone call which sent a wrecking ball through competitive balance’s front window.

The weeks that followed this game felt like a fever dream. Live, the immense weight of it all just sort of sat on your chest. It’s impossible to process consequential sports history in real time; simply watching it yields indescribable emotions. Breathing is not easy. If my phone rang I didn’t hear it.

Very few games, if any before it, have ever prompted the number of nicknames this one did: The Block, The Stop, The Shot. There’s no shorthand for greatness, and most of these moments elude language. But context isn’t even necessary for another NBA fan to know what you’re talking about when one gets mentioned. All were epic feats of athletic dynamism — or tragic misadventures, depending on your perspective — that will live on forever.

(Sidebar: The most underrated sequence came right after Love somehow hung on for dear life in front of Curry at the top of the key, when Kyrie Irving channeled his inner Icarus. With 30 seconds left and a three-point lead, Irving raced the length of the court and nearly dribbled the ball out of bounds. The obvious play was to sit tight and burn clock. Was he bored? Did he want to be the hero, after already hitting the heroic shot? Did he completely forget that it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals? Has anyone ever asked Irving about that play?)

There is a whiff of “I mean, somebody had to win” syndrome when you re-watch the end of this game. The players were exhausted. The offense was stilted and formulaic. Both teams knew each other too well. Grace was gone. All that might be true, but sports aren’t scripted. It’s what makes them so compelling. And even after beauty gets stripped from the play-by-play, there’s no denying this game’s pantheon position.

5) Golden State Warriors 121, Oklahoma City Thunder 118: Feb. 27, 2016

This game was an asteroid colliding with Earth. When Curry hit the biggest shot of his career — an overtime game-winner from about 32 feet — it opened so many eyes to a revolution in real time. Everyone who watched it remembers where they were. (What they probably don’t remember is that OKC had the led for 51 minutes.)

This game was important. And if judged solely on excitement, it’s an all-timer.

4) Denver Nuggets 137, Portland Trail Blazers 140: May 3, 2019

A couple days before Game 4, a must-win for the Nuggets that doubled as the peak of Jamal Murray’s career and can be seen below...

...was Game 3. A quadruple-overtime showcase for Nikola Jokic (33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists in 65 minutes!), Murray (34 points in 55 minutes!), CJ McCollum (41 points in 60 minutes!), and, most importantly, Rodney Hood, who had ice water flowing through his entire body during the final overtime.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy7qwD1BY8Y

The craziest part about this game is it probably would’ve gone to five overtimes if Jokic didn’t miss a free-throw with 5.6 seconds to go. It’s an instant classic either way.

3) San Antonio Spurs 129, Golden State Warriors 127: May 6, 2013

The Spurs won this game and this series — Manu forever! — but this was the Warriors’ point of origin, a double-overtime adrenaline rush that reset expectations for Curry and Klay Thompson. (At the time, Draymond was still coming off the bench.)

It’s hard not to call this one of the most pivotal games of the century. It changed everything.

2) Cleveland Cavaliers 109, Golden State Warriors 108: Dec. 25, 2016

This game featured the second-most-impressive shot of Irving’s career, an operatic mid-post turnaround over Thompson’s near-perfect contest that gave Cleveland a one-point lead with three seconds to go.

The basketball in this one was objectively more thrilling than what we saw in Game 7 the previous season, but it’s still kind of weird to see it this high.

1) Miami Heat 103, San Antonio Spurs 100: June 18, 2013

I mean, were you expecting anything else?

Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals had it all. And by “it all” I mean one of the most cinematic climaxes in basketball history. Few plays are deserving of their own oral history. This was, from Gregg Popovich’s decision to pull Tim Duncan off the floor to Chris Bosh and Ray Allen having the split-second wherewithal to grab, twirl, and hopscotch behind the three-point line for a shot that changed the course of history.

If you’ve seen it once you’ve seen it one thousand times. It was pure shell shock, a picturesque work of art that perhaps no other player could have pulled off.

Spurs fans would rather chug vinegar than watch that final minute ever again. But low moments make the highs taste that much sweeter. There is no progress without struggle, etc. And you didn’t need to care about the teams in the game to drown in your own flop sweat as it neared conclusion.

Only a few games are powerful enough to make your body react involuntarily. This one did.