The 2018 NBA Playoffs have begun after an awfully long and fun regular season. This year, the postseason will see a bunch of firsts. The Minnesota Timberwolves managed to get a playoff ticket for the first time in 14 years. We have the Philadelphia 76ers finally reaping the benefits of The Process. A team like Houston Rockets that can legitimately match-up with Golden State’s death lineup. As a playoffs inauguration ritual, let’s review the top 5 non-finals playoff series from the past 2 decades.
Top 5 Playoff Series
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings (2002 West Finals)
Result: Los Angeles Lakers 4 – 3 Sacramento Kings
Widely regarded as the best playoff series of early 2000s, the western conference finals from the 2002 playoffs is no surprise on this list. This series had everything from Kobe and Shaq to the famous Fab Five lineup and even some rigging allegations.
So it began, both teams split the first two games. Game 3 saw the Kings really come out on top of the Lakers with a 103-90 road win. Carrying that momentum into Game 4, they lead the Lakers by 24 at one point and for once, it looked like the Lakers dynasty was in danger. As it would happen, the Lakers would come back within 2 points of the Kings before Robert “Big Shot” Horry assassinated the Kings with a game winning 3 off of Vlade Divac’s tip on the Kings’ defensive end. Big Shot Rob scored 11 of his 18 points in the final period.
In game 5, the Kings came back to take a 3-2 series lead on a Mike Bibby game winning jumper. The Lakers were all business in games 6 and 7 and wrapped up the series before three-peating their way onto establishing one of the most dominant dynasties of all time.
This series had so many What If moments. Divac’s tip rebound that went right into Horry’s hands. Mike Bibby getting some revenge in game 5. The controversial officiating in game 6. NBA as we know now could have been entirely different if not for this series.
2. Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs (2006 West Semis)
Result: Dallas Mavericks 4 – 3 San Antonio Spurs
In the battle of two of the greatest power forwards of all time, Dirk Nowitzki and his Mavericks were able to get the better of Tim Duncan and reigning champs and top seeded San Antonio Spurs 4-3. Five of the seven games were decided by 5 points or less. The Spurs took game 1 but the Mavericks fired back right at them with 3 straight wins. Spurs came back to win games 5 and 6 to level the series for a game 7.
In a game 7 that went to overtime, we got a duel for the ages. Dirk Nowitzki (27 PPG, 13 RPG) scored 37 points and 15 rebounds. Tim Duncan (32 PPG, 11 RPG) responded with 41 points and 15 rebounds of his own. Jason Terry came third in scoring with 27 points on ridiculous shooting splits. The 2006 Dallas Mavericks were able to overwhelm one of the best Spurs teams ever and go all the way to the finals.
3. Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls (2009 East First Round)
Result: Boston Celtics 4 – 3 Chicago Bulls
In this 2 vs. 7 seed first round series, we saw probably the most unexpected 7 games in NBA history. Role players were rising up to the playoff lights, 4 out of 7 games went to overtime and the it took the defending champions Celtics everything to get out of the first round against a .500 team. There were so many lead changes every game it doesn’t even make sense. For starters, Ben Gordon lead all scorers (24 PPG) after 7 games in a series featuring the likes of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Ray Allen dropped 51 points in game 6 and the Celtics still lost the game in triple OT. Rajon Rondo had to average damn near triple-double numbers over the course of these 7 games against a team that had no business toying around with the Celtics.
At the end of the day, what we got was an all time great first round series, arguable the greatest ever. Celtics eventually did come out on top in game 7 but this very easily could have gone the other way.
4. Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics (2012 East Finals)
Result: Miami Heat 4 – 3 Boston Celtics
The Celtics – Cavs rivalry will always be remembered as one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. The tipping point came in the 2012 playoffs. A little backstory, just a season ago LeBron had left Cleveland for Miami in free agency and joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They had already been to the finals once and lost in spectacular fashion. LeBron had all the pressure on him to deliver on his promise. With an ageing but nevertheless resilient Boston Celtics squad still in the playoffs, fulfilling that promise was not going to be easy.
Miami Heat handled their business quite well for the first two games, winning comfortably. The Celtics would go on to win the next 2 home games. Game 5 would establish this series as one of the best ever. With a minute to go in regulation, the Celtics lead 87-86. Paul Pierce drained a cold blooded three-pointer right in LeBron’s grill to ice the game. Celtics win 94-90. What followed in game 6 was the meanest, greatest and unstoppable version of LeBron James. LeBron dropped 45 points on 19 of 26 shooting, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished 5 assists in one of the greatest playoff performances ever. For the series, LeBron averaged 33 and 11 and closed out the series in game 7 with ease, on his way to his first chip.
5. Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs (2015 West First Round)
Result: Los Angeles Clippers 4 – 3 San Antonio Spurs
Another first round classic. The defending champions San Antonio Spurs had slipped down to the 6th spot in the western conference. The Spurs big three was way past their prime and Chris Paul and party were looking to get though the first round in 4 games. What followed was an epic seven game series. In a back and fourth affair, every team would win alternatively starting with the Clippers. Tim Duncan was still effective with averages of 17PPG and 11 RPG. Reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard lead the Spurs in scoring with 20 PPG.
It has to be mentioned again that nobody expected this series to competitive but the Spurs are still the Spurs. The final game of this series has to be one of the best game sevens of all time. Clippers got pushed to their bones in game 7. Tim Duncan dropped 27 and 11 on Blake Griffin in a highly competitive match-up down low. For the Clippers, Chris Paul lit the court on fire with 27 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the perimeter and 9/13 overall. Blake Griffin recorded a triple-double with 24 points, 13 boards and 10 assists and the Clippers beat San Antonio 111-109 by the skin of their teeth.