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Ranking the eight best NBA games of the 2010s

What were the best NBA games of the past 10 seasons?

With a new NBA decade beginning this fall, ESPN’s panel of experts is breaking down the very best moments of the 2010s. On Monday, Kirk Goldsberry ranked the 10 best shooters. Now, it’s time for our list of the greatest games.

For this ranking, our panel gave their top three picks for the best games from the 2009-2010 season through 2018-19. The list features career-defining playoff moments and a couple of the most entertaining regular season games of all time.

Let’s dive in.


8. Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics | 2012 Eastern Conference finals, Game 6

Score: Heat 98, Celtics 79

Date: June 7, 2012

Full highlights

Miami’s 19-point margin of victory underrates why this was such a good game. This one was all about LeBron James‘ dominant 45-point, 15-rebound performance in a must-win matchup, helping the Heat force a Game 7 at home.

Remember, this was the same Heat team that lost in the NBA Finals the previous year and was one loss away from having nothing to show for its splashy Big 3. James’ legacy was on the line, and he delivered.

The dominoes from this game also are intriguing. Ray Allen left for Miami that summer, then Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, breaking up Boston’s own Big 3. James won his first championship against the Thunder in 2012, and Miami repeated the following season. And OKC? Months after losing to LeBron in the Finals, the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets.

Would that trade have happened if OKC faced a less formidable Boston team in the Finals? We will never know. – Bobby Marks


Score: Trail Blazers 84, Mavericks 82

Date: April 23, 2011

Full highlights

Brandon Roy knows they weren’t all good shots, but he took them anyway. He had nothing to lose.

The three-time Blazers All-Star had been demoted to a bench role in the middle of the season after returning from double knee surgery. His career was on the brink. Just a few days before this iconic Game 4 performance, he had to keep himself from crying after logging sparse minutes in Game 2.

Portland was down 21 points before Roy sank a 3 at the end of the third quarter, trying to keep the 2-1 series from slipping away entirely.

“I just went into that game like, ‘Who cares?'” Roy told J.A. Adande in 2013. “I was loose. I just played.”

Then Roy scored or assisted on 12 of the Blazers’ 15 field goals as they erased the Mavs’ impossible lead in the fourth quarter. The last two were the very best.

He drilled a bold, and-one 3-pointer over Shawn Marion before swan-diving to the floor, injecting Andre Miller with maybe the NBA’s most endearing high step. Roy’s free throw tied the game. On the next possession, Roy came down and did what he always had done best: Create just enough space. His pull-up banked in over Marion and Portland held on for the win.

The Blazers lost that series a few nights later, but who cares? – Austin Tedesco


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Stephen Curry breaks his own record for 3-pointers made in a season, connecting on an NBA record 12 3-pointers in a single game, when he sinks a 32-foot shot in overtime to send the Warriors to a 121-118 win over the Thunder.

Score: Warriors 121, Thunder 118

Date: Feb. 27, 2016

For a game on a sleepy, cold Saturday night in late February, the stakes were cranked to unusual levels. The Warriors were the burgeoning juggernaut, winners of 52 of their first 57 games. The Thunder were maybe their greatest threat to immortality, a springy, rangy, athletic team with top-shelf talent. In front of a juiced crowd producing decibels normally reserved for mid-May, the ample amount of starpower was on full display.

With 14.5 seconds to go, Kevin Durant hit a wing 3 to put the Thunder up four, and it appeared — appeared! — Oklahoma City was about to notch a signature win. Klay Thompson answered with a quick layup, and then 47 minutes and 49 seconds of exceptional basketball was undone for OKC. Russell Westbrook inbounded to Durant, who was trapped in the corner. Like a quarterback in duress, he flung up a pass off his back foot, hoping for an answered prayer. After a scramble, Andre Iguodala drew a foul and made both free throws to force overtime.

But the game hadn’t even really gotten good yet.

The extra five minutes were back-and-forth; the dueling brilliance of Durant and Westbrook versus the Splash Brothers — the pure, archetypical version of it. Westbrook missed a jumper with nine seconds left in a tie game, Iguodala rebounded and sent an outlet pass to Stephen Curry. The way Curry took his time coming up the court was disconcerting to some, but in reality, he was just timing his steps to launch one of the most iconic shots in NBA history. Never expecting a 40-footer with time on the clock, Andre Roberson briefly turned his back, giving Curry the cue. Thunder assistant coach Darko Rajakovic was the only man in the building who could see what was coming, screaming for Roberson to get a hand up the moment Curry crossed the half-court line. But with an arena roaring at full throat, Rajakovic’s pleading went unheard.

“Bang! Baaaaaang! Oh, what a shot from Curry!” announcer Mike Breen howled.

The roar went dull; the Thunder slumped in complete shock. Curry strutted, screamed and shimmied. It was his 12th 3-pointer of the game, tying an NBA record. It was the kind of shot that felt more fable than real, the magnum opus moment in a relentlessly mesmerizing season of 73-win dominance. – Royce Young


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Former Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NBA history. Take a look back at the Black Mamba’s 60-point performance in his final game.

Score: Lakers 101, Jazz 96

Date: April 13, 2016

Mamba Out (Kobe Bryant, 2016)

What were the details behind Kevin Garnett’s final game? Tim Duncan’s? Ray Allen’s? When stars retire sans injury, the game itself often is a blank canvas of messy moments and nostalgia that the mind fills — a picture with a clear outline from afar but a lack of detail or form when investigated up close.

Kobe Bryant’s final game, though, is indelibly clear at any distance.

The Lakers trailing by 10 points with 3:04 to play? Bryant scoring 17 of the final 19 to seal a win? The contest was brimming with a variety of hallmarks that brand it as a “Kobe game” (50 shot attempts?). And that doesn’t even delve into the edges of the night — how Shaquille O’Neal sat courtside and challenged the retiring Laker to score 50; how the Lakers issued 336 credentials for media from 40 countries; how a finale between two teams eliminated from contention drew as much attention as a historic Golden State squad seeking its 73rd win of the regular season. (The Warriors issued approximately 350 credentials that night.)

Retirement parties in the NBA, in the best of circumstances, are Monets. Yet in the case of Bryant, the send-off wasn’t simply a final image, but a tour through the exhibit of Kobe, capturing an entire oeuvre in a single night. – Andrew Han


4. Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat | 2011 NBA Finals, Game 2

Score: Mavericks 95, Heat 93

Date: June 2, 2011

Full highlights

This seesaw Finals battle ranks among the greats, not only because of the starpower — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion — but also the impact it had on the legacy of an all-time great.

After splashing a corner 3 with 7:14 left in the fourth quarter to put the Heat up 15, Wade held his follow-through in front of the Mavs bench, with James joining him in celebration shortly after. In the first season of the Big 3 era, Miami’s master plan was working to perfection. The Heat looked far too dynamic for the aging Mavericks and appeared well on their way to a 2-0 Finals lead.

But behind Jason Terry, Kidd, Marion and Nowitzki, the Mavs went on a 20-2 run to take a 3-point lead with 26 seconds remaining. The Heat’s Mario Chalmers drilled an open corner 3 shortly after with 24.5 on the clock. Then Nowitzki scored his ninth consecutive point with Bosh checking him, spinning past the agile big man for a left-handed finish, even more impressive given the torn ligament in his left middle finger. Wade’s buzzer heave misfired, and the Mavericks stayed alive, ultimately going on to knock off the Heat in 6 games.

If the Mavs didn’t go on that run — holding the Heat to just one field goal after that Wade 3 — would Nowitzki be seen as one of the greatest of all time never to win a ring? – Mike Schmitz


3. Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder | 2016 Western Conference finals, Game 6

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After a rough first half against the Thunder, the Warriors storm back to force Game 7 of the Western Conference finals behind outstanding performances from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who set a playoff record for 3s with 11.

Score: Warriors 108, Thunder 101

Date: May 28, 2016

As Klay Thompson took the court for the fourth quarter of Game 6, Stephen Curry had a message for him.

“This is your time,” Curry said. “Put on a show out there, and have some fun.”

Everything was lining up for the Thunder until this moment. After years of heartbreak, OKC had unleashed length and athleticism around Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in overwhelming fashion. They had an eight-point lead and were only 12 minutes away from making it back to the Finals for the first time since the James Harden trade.

Then Thompson erupted for 19 fourth-quarter points, leading Golden State to a stunning 108-101 victory. At one point in his shooting spree, Thompson let one go from a few steps in front of the half-court line, barely squaring up and Westbrook in his face. It was just one of the many times he looked automatic and unstoppable.

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