Top 10 Best NBA Playoff Series of the 2010s
This is my rankings of the top 10 best NBA playoff series of the 2010s. When establishing criteria for the list, I made sure to factor in the magnitude of the playoff series, as a series later in the playoffs would take precedent over a series in the first round. The length of the series was of utmost importance, along with signature performances, and iconic moments.
#10 – 2015 Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers
A series often looked over by fans, this 2015 second round matchup featured the first 3-1 comeback of the decade, and asserted the Houston Rockets as one of the new legitimate contenders in the Western Conference. After beating the San Antonio Spurs in an insane seven game series, Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers appeared to be on their way to a conference finals against the Golden State Warriors. Despite being up 92-79 in game six, the Clippers could not contain the trio James Harden, Dwight Howard, and the over-performing Josh Smith for three straight games and would be sent home after a 113-100 loss in game seven.
The Clippers “Lob City” era took a devastating hit after the collapse, never winning another playoff series with Chris Paul again. For Houston, this would be the series that would solidify themselves as Western Conference title contenders for the remainder of the decade.
#9 – 2016 San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder vs Spurs series never seemed to disappoint in the playoffs. The final matchup between the KD/Westbrook duo and the Popovich dynasty proved to be no exception. San Antonio finished the regular season with its best record in franchise history, going 67-15 with the original big three along with some new faces. LaMarcus Aldridge and superstar Kawhi Leonard have already emerged as the most important pieces of the Spurs’ new era of basketball.
It would not be enough to slow down Oklahoma City, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would both average over 25 points per game in on their way to a series win in six games. This series would bring an end to the Spurs’ legendary big three, as Tim Duncan would retire that offseason.
#8 – 2015 San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Unequivocally the best first round matchup of the decade, this series between the reigning champion Spurs and the “Lob City” Clippers featured a championship atmosphere one rarely sees in the round of sixteen. Game seven proved to be the very best game of the series, and Chris Paul’s game winning shot was a perfect way to end it off.
Blake Griffin would have the best performances of his playoff career, averaging a series-high 24.2 points while matched up against hall-of-famer Tim Duncan. This Spurs-Clippers matchup had some of the most entertaining games you will see all decade, however I could not put it any higher due to its lack of significance compared to the next seven.
#7 – 2019 Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Similar to the series ranked before it, this early round matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors would become an instant classic due to its seven game length, signature performances, and one dagger of a shot to end the whole thing. It is impossible to discuss this Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup without mentioning Kawhi Leonard, whose 34.7 points per game in his first year with Toronto elevated the Raptors to a series win and to the franchise’s first NBA championship in 2019.
The Jimmy Butler/Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons 76ers team would put up incredible performances consistently, even tying up game seven in Toronto with only 4.2 seconds left. Toronto would have one last inbound, and the rest became history. If this was an NBA Finals series, it might have become the best ever.
#6 – 2010 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
What? A NBA Finals series that went seven games is not in the top five?? Yes, and while Kobe Bryant’s fifth finals victory was legendary, the series lacked the instant-classic games and performances that each of the top five series delivered on. Game seven would be the closest game, although neither team was able to get going offensively, which was reflected in the 83-79 score. Even Finals MVP Kobe Bryant shot 6-24 in the final game, accurately summing up the offensive output the entire series by the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. While it was yet another great chapter in the Celtics-Lakers rivalry saga, the series was more about the legacy that surrounded it than the actual games and performances that took place.
#5 – 2018 Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
The what-ifs you can create from this series are absolutely endless. While looking back on the KD Warriors’ course of domination, this was the only time a healthy Golden State team found themselves in an elimination game. Regardless of what you think of Mike D’antoni’s style of offense, his analytical strategy along with the backcourt duo of Chris Paul and James Harden pushed Houston to a 3-2 series lead.
That is where the luck would end for the Rockets, as a Chris Paul injury and 27 straight missed threes would have the team going home after seven games. This was James Harden’s real best chance to secure a championship in Houston, and the one time the Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors looked beatable.
#4 – 2012 Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics
Game 6 Lebron. There was no playoff series that put more pressure on King James to deliver than the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, especially once him and the Miami Heat found themselves down 3-2 against the Boston Celtics and their big three. Still searching for his first championship, Lebron would go on to put Miami on his back with a 45 point game 6 in one of the signature performances of his entire career.
The Heat would of course go on to win game 7, and were on their way to capture their first of back-to-back titles. On the other side, this Celtics loss marked the end of the Pierce-Garnett-Allen era.
#3 – 2016 Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Because of the NBA Finals that directly followed these games, fans can sometimes overlook 2016’s Western Conference Finals. In now way should that be the case, as this matchup would include some of the best games all decade and would have an everlasting impact very few series in history have replicated. Highlighted by the heroics of game six Klay, Golden State’s comeback shaped the future of the NBA beyond the 2016 season. After giving up a 3-1 lead, Durant would end up joining the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 offseason. It makes one wonder how different the league would have been if the Thunder could close out one more game.
#2 – 2013 Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
Every time I think about this series all I can hear is Mike Breen’s call on Ray Allen’s series saving three pointer. While that play is an all-time highlight, it is a disservice to the series to only remember that moment. This series was a seven game war battled by two perennial dynasties, with rosters filled with hall-of-famers young and old executing at an all-time high level. In a series filled with iconic moments, nothing tops the end to game six. Miami’s five point comeback in the last 28 seconds capped off with the iconic Ray Allen corner three point shot to send the game to overtime is some of the most electrifying basketball played in the history of the professional game. Add on a Lebron 37 point game seven, and you have one of the best NBA Finals of all time.
#1 – 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
Blocked by James! The hardest decision on the list was easily choosing between the 2016 and 2013 NBA Finals, as both were absolute classics with iconic moments throughout both. Ultimately I did decide to rank the famous 3-1 comeback at the top spot due the storylines surrounding the series along with the everlasting effect it would have on the NBA. The Golden State Warriors were one win away from being crowned as the greatest team in NBA history, as the 73-9 squad looked unbeatable all year and took a 3-1 lead against the Lebron James led Cavaliers.
Cleveland’s next three games would become the stuff of legend, with game seven being on the short list of best games of the entire decade as well. From start to finish, it would be tough to replicate this series’ on and off-court drama in a Hollywood movie, let alone in the NBA Finals.
This list was done by Dan Beairsto! You can find him on Instagram or Twitter
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