When we look back on the decade, we will remember 3 things: Lebron James, the Golden State Warriors dynasty, and Kawhi Leonard. The thing all three have in common is excellence in the NBA Finals, a key component to own any decade.
Speaking of NBA Finals, the NBA tends to produces a couple of classics in every decade. The 2010’s is no different as the decade produced three of the best NBA Finals of all time.
Today’s list will rank each NBA Finals of the decade from worst to best.
10. 2018: Golden State Warriors Defeat Cleveland Cavaliers (4-0)
This was the fourth and final rendition of the Golden State-Cleveland Finals, and it was by far the worst matchup of the decade.
The 2017-18 Cavs had no business being in the NBA Finals, but Lebron James literally carried them because that’s what he does. The roster was in shambles compared to what it had been years prior as Kyrie Irving was in Boston, half the team was traded by the deadline, and there was no continuity.
As for the Warriors, they were firing on all cylinders. Kevin Durant was making his claim as best player in the world, the core of the team had been playing in Steve Kerr’s system for years now, there was no stopping this incarnation of the Warriors.
The only game that anyone remembers from this series is Game 1 where Lebron James dropped 51 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. The Cavs almost stole Game 1. However none of that is remembered as JR Smith’s brain fart turned the whole game into a meme. James’ great play would continue throughout the 4 game series, but the heart was taken from the Cavs after the first game and the Warriors closed out the series.
Kevin Durant won Finals MVP for the 2nd straight year, averaging 28.8 points and 10.8 rebounds for the series.
Final Grade: 1/10
9. 2017: Golden State Warriors Defeat Cleveland Cavaliers (4-1)
Despite the all time great finals matchup these two franchises put together a year prior, the new wrinkle of Kevin Durant added to the Warriors ruined any kind of fun for the fans. The day Durant signed with the Warriors, it was a given the Warriors would win the title if they stayed healthy.
The Cavaliers were defending champions and ran it back with the same team. They ran through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, losing just one game. However they had yet faced a team like the Warriors, and it showed.
For the Cavs to steal a game in the series, it took an all time performance. They scored a record 86 points in a half just to steal a game and avoid getting swept on their home court. Only one game in the series was decided by 5 points or less, further showing the gap in talent between the two teams.
Final Grade: 3/10
8. 2014: San Antonio Spurs Defeat Miami Heat (4-1)
We can look at this series in a number of ways. The storyline of the Spurs on a season-long redemption tour to get the chance to avenge their previous Finals loss to the Heat was phenomenal. The Spurs team played one of the most beautiful styles of basketball in the history of the sport.
As for the Miami Heat, this was the last year of the disappointing Big 3 era. The age, wear and tear, and impending free agency all negatively impacted the team in their chase for a 3-peat. The talent was still there, and quite frankly they shouldn’t have been embarrassed the way they were, but I’d rather shine light on the Spurs than kill the Heat.
This was the series Kawhi Leonard truly broke out on a national level. In the final three games of the series, Leonard averaged 23.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks per game. He did so with incredible efficiency, shooting 68.6% from the field and 53.8 % from deep. His defense on Lebron James was also vital.
Speaking on the Spurs style of play, everyone ate in this series. The ball constantly moved, hitting open shooters at every part of the court.
The series was far from competitive, as the Spurs had won by a Finals-record margin of 70 total points.
Final Grade: 3/10
7. 2012: Miami Heat Defeat OKC Thunder (4-1)
The series itself was not an even matchup, but there was so much historical importance. Lebron James was coming off his most embarrassing performance in the 2011 NBA Finals where he shrunk in crunch time. The storyline heading into the series was would Lebron redeem his finals meltdown?
For the opposition, the OKC Thunder were the ascending team who were ahead of schedule. While extremely skilled and athletic, could they overcome their lack of experience?
The Thunder came out and shocked everyone, stealing Game 1 as Durant scored a game high 36 points. However that would be the only game of the series the Thunder would win. Miami won the next 4 games, but they were not blow outs. The series was highly competitive despite the 4-1 outcome.
LeBron redeemed himself, averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game. This performance earned him Finals MVP honors.
Dwayne Wade shined as well putting up 22.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.
The Thunder kids did their thing but were not ready to break through and win a title. It was also the last time we saw James Harden in a OKC jersey.
Final Grade: 6/10
6. 2015: Golden State Warriors Defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers
The first of the four matchups between the Warriors and Cavs was a good series, but remains one of the best “What if” Finals series of all time. The injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving put the Cavs at a huge disadvantage and robbed us of an all-time great Finals series. LeBron was running with Mathew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov, and still made this an entertaining series.
This was the first year of the Golden State Warriors dynasty. They were the baby face, underdogs, despite having a 67-15 record and league MVP Steph Curry. The trio of Curry, Klay and Draymond were making a name for themselves.
Game 1 of the series gave everyone hope that they would get a classic series. It was a thrilling overtime game that featured clutch shot making and defensive stops. In the same breath, Game 1 ruined any chance of us getting that classic series. Kyrie Irving fractured his kneecap and was sidelined for the rest of the series. Obviously it was a series altering injury, but to put it into perspective, Irving had put up 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks, including the game-saving block on Curry to force overtime.
Once Irving went down LeBron stepped up in a huge way. He turned into a one man wrecking crew averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists, but it wasn’t enough.
What I remember from this series was Game 2 and game 3 where Mathew Dellavedova put the clamps on Curry, allowing the Cavs to take a 2-1 series lead. Andre Iguodala stepped up for the Warriors while Curry went through his shooting woes. Curry eventually found his shot late in the series, and the Warriors came back to win the series 4-2. Iguodala won Finals MVP for his defense and consistent offense.
Final Grade: 6/10
5. 2019: Toronto Raptors Defeat Golden State Warriors (4-2)
You can give me the excuse that the Warriors were not at full strength, but I don’t want to hear it. Without Kevin Durant, the Warriors, while still a great team, became a team that could in fact be beat. It was the first time in two years that it wasn’t a given that the Warriors would win the title. But still the chance to 3-peat was on the table.
The Toronto Raptors gave everyone a breath of fresh air, as it was no longer a Cavs-Warriors finals. Toronto was also riding an all time high, making their first NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard put together one of the best playoff runs in recent memory averaging 31.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in the first three rounds.
History will likely only remember Kawhi Leonard, but the Raptors won this finals as a team. Game 1 was won thanks to Pascal Siakam exploding for 32 points. Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Fleet all had huge moments throughout the course of the series to help the Raptors win.
Averaging 28.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, Kawhi won Finals MVP and once again shut down a team that was looking to three-peat.
I hope the Raptors accomplishment doesn’t get overlooked in the history books because of Durant’s injury and Klay Thompson’s Game 6 injury.
Final Grade: 7/10
4. 2011: Dallas Mavericks Defeat Miami Heat (4-2)
I remember every little detail about this series as I was one of the few people who actually believed and rooted for the Mavericks to win. The storyline was David vs. Goliath, the Heat Big 3 against Dirk Nowitzki and role players.
The Heat were the most hated team in the world, but the bandwagon fans silenced the hate slightly. As for the Mavs, they were the baby face that everyone loved. Dirk was carrying a team of good, but not great players. He swept Kobe’s Lakers, and beat the young Thunder Big 3, on his way to facing the heat’s super team. There was nothing not to like about the humble 7 foot German.
After going up 2-1 in the series, Miami got over confident. James and Wade openly mocked Nowitzki which turned out to be a miscalculated move.
After being mocked, Nowitzki went on one of the best 3 game stretches in Finals history to close out the Heat. Nowitzki posted 23.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game over the last three games, including multiple clutch shots. Role players like Jason Terry and Shawn Marion came up with big time plays as well on the way to the biggest upset of the decade.
While Nowitzki and Terry were hitting clutch shot after clutch shot, James was shrinking under pressure in the 4th quarter of each game.
Final Grade: 8/10
3. 2016: Cleveland Cavaliers Defeat Golden State Warriors (4-3)
This was the pinnacle of the Cavs-Warriors 4 rivalry. The Cavs were at full strength this time around, and the supporting cast was improved. As for the Warriors, they won a record 73 games in the regular season, Steph Curry was the unanimous MVP, and life was good in the Bay Area. That is until it wasn’t.
Up 3-1 the Warriors were presumed NBA Champions as no team ever blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. There was no way anyone saw the 73 win team losing 3 straight games. And then Lebron James and Kyrie Irving went on an absolute tear.
The Cavs duo combined for a legendary 82 points in Game 5 to keep the Cavaliers alive as Draymond Green missed the game due to a suspension. James would continue his dominance in Game 6 with 41 points and 11 assists.
Despite both teams having multiple blow out wins in the series, we were set up for a Game 7, and arguably the best game of the decade.
Game 7 had a little of everything: defense, offense, clutch shots, defensive stops, runs by both teams, and tension. The first 3 quarters were back and forth, each team going on runs but never pulling away.
Fast forward to the final 4 minutes and both teams went ice cold. Neither team could score and you could feel the tension rise with each miss. And then LeBron James made the play of his career, catching an improbable chase down block on Andre Iguodala. Kyrie Irving would then go on to hit one of the most cold blooded shots in league history over Steph Curry. The Cavs completed the 3-1 comeback, and the Bulls 72-10 hat “Don’t mean a thing without the ring” lives on.
Final Grade: 9.6/10
2. 2010: Los Angeles Lakers Defeat Boston Celtics (4-3)
Anytime the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics link up, it is going to have everyone’s attention. The two teams combine for the best rivalry in the NBA, and are top 2 in NBA titles. The 2010 NBA Finals had even more eyes on it because of the classic 2008 NBA Finals between the two teams.
Heading into the series, the storyline was indeed redemption for the Los Angeles Lakers. It seems weird to have a reigning champion out looking for redemption, but the Lakers did as the finals win against the Magic didn’t satisfy their void of losing to the Celtics.
To be very specific, Kobe Bryant was eagerly waiting to get his chance at redeeming himself for the 2008 Game 7 blowout loss. He knew the importance of the rivalry, and it was personal for him to capture his 5th ring to have one more than Shaq.
For the Celtics, they wanted to win a second ring, to avoid losing the chance at having a dynasty. A core of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo should have more than one title.
Both teams went through the gauntlet to reach the Finals. The Celtics had to knock off Dwyane Wade’s Heat, Lebron James’ Cavaliers, and Dwight Howard’s Magic. The Lakers had to run through a young OKC Thunder team, and Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire’s Suns. Not to mention this was their third straight finals appearance.
The series was a back and forth battle all series long. The Lakers took Game 1 on the back of Kobe’s 30 points, while the Celtics evened it up with Ray Allen’s 32 point explosion in Game 2.
The Lakers took a 2-1 series lead thanks to an overall great team game. They got contributions from everyone. However the good vibes in the Lakers locker room would quickly be erased. The Celtics won both Game 4 and 5 despite Kobe posting his two best offensive games of the series. With the Lakers backs up against the wall down 3-2, Kobe and Phil Jackson aimed at a new approach.
In Game 6 the Lakers focused all their attention on the defensive end. They held the Celtics to a series low 67 points as the Lakers recorded the series’ only blowout. Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace combined for 32 points and 19 rebounds, giving Kobe the help he needed. This set up yet another Game 7 between the two iconic franchises, and what a game it turned out to be.
Game 7 was another defensive matchup and an offensive struggle for both teams. The Celtics found themselves up 11 points in the second half and on the brink of getting blown out in another Game 7. But they didn’t, as the Lakers fought back and took a three-point lead with under two minutes to play.
This is where Kobe showed his growth as a player. The Celtics sent a double team Bryant’s way and rather than forcing a shot over two defenders, he hit the open man. Metta World Peace knocked down the dagger 3 pointer, and the Lakers won 83-79, capturing their 16th NBA Championship.
Kobe Bryant was named Finals MVP averaging 28.6 points and 8.0 rebounds for the series.
This all time great finals series kicked off the decade there right way.
Final Grade: 9.8
1. 2013: Miami Heat Defeat San Antonio Spurs (4-3)
It is hard to describe how great the 2013 Finals was as it featured everything an iconic series needs: A villain, the Heat filled that role. A lovable baby face, the Spurs got that covered. Clutch shots and heart breaking moments, look at games 6 and 7.
This was probably the best of the Heat teams. Miami finished with an NBA-best record of 66-16, including a historic 27-game win streak in the second half of the season. Lebron was at his very best, playing stress free having finally captured a ring the previous year. Lebron was one vote away from being the unanimous MVP, and nearly won Defensive Player of the Year.
Wade was still “Flash” as his knee injuries had not slowed him down. Chris Bosh finally felt comfortable in his role as the 3rd option, and the bench was deeper than ever with Ray Allen, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier.
With all that said, the Heat still found themselves seconds away from losing the NBA Finals. But how did such a great team get that close to losing? Here is how.
Tony Parker set the energy for the series with his Game 1 dagger, which was almost waved off as the shock clock expired milliseconds after the ball rolled off his fingers. In the next four games of the series, the two teams exchanged blow out victories. In Game 5, the Spurs starters combined for 107 of the teams 114 points, giving the Spurs a 3-2 lead.
Game 6 is when the series became “GOATED.” With the Heat down seven points heading into the fourth quarter, Lebron James put on his cape and scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Even with that offensive explosion, the Heat still found themselves down 3 with 20 seconds left.
We all know what happens next. In the words of Mike Breen:
“James catches, puts up a three, won’t go, rebound Bosh back out to Allen his three pointer BANG! Tied game with 5 seconds remaining!”
Ray Allen’s shot is one of those moments that you know exactly where you were, what you were doing and who you were with when it sunk through the net. The Heat went on to win in OT and force a Game 7.
What gets lost in the shuffle of the madness that was Game 6, is that Game 7 was also a phenomenal game. Game 7 was an all out brawl from the opening tip. Neither team led by more than 7 points, and every time you looked up it was a one possession game.
Veteran Tim Duncan posted 24 points, 12 rebounds, and a rare 4 steals as this could be his final shot at winning a title. A young Kawhi Leonard dropped an impressive 19 points and 16 rebounds. As for the Heat, Chris Bosh went scoreless in the biggest game of his career. Luckily for the Heat Wade scored 23 points and Shane Battier provided a crucial 18 points off the bench.
But in the end, like all of his Finals wins, LeBron was the deciding factor in the Heat’s victory. His game-sealing bucket over Leonard was just icing on the cake of his Game 7, 37 points and 12 rebounds performance.
Final Grade: 10/10