Members of our #NBArank panel are recounting the greatest NBA Finals games. First we asked five NBA writers to share their favorites. Now, Kevin Pelton is ranking his top 25 Finals games of all time. We'll unveil five per day.
To rank the top 25 Finals games since 1980, Pelton used four criteria: the importance of the game, the quality of play in the game, the significance of the individual performances and additional factors, such as an exciting finish, a memorable play or a great shot.
2011 Finals, Game 2: Mavs rally in South Beach
Score: Dallas 95, Miami 93
Result: Mavs tie series 1-1
Game 2 of the 2011 Finals was tied at both the end of the first quarter and at halftime, but by early in the fourth the Miami Heat had opened up a commanding 15-point lead and appeared well on their way to taking a 2-0 series lead.
Then, in a reversal of Game 3 of the 2006 Finals between the two teams, the visiting Dallas Mavericks made an unlikely comeback in Miami.
With the Heat going more than three minutes without scoring, Dallas rallied to take the lead on a Dirk Nowitzki 3-pointer with 26.7 seconds remaining. Mario Chalmers answered with a 3 of his own to tie the score out of a timeout, setting the stage for Nowitzki to be the hero. His driving, left-handed layup with 3.6 seconds left gave the Mavericks the lead and proved the game winner when Dwyane Wade missed a long, running 3 with Nowitzki contesting at the buzzer.
Much like in 2006, the comeback proved pivotal in the series. The Heat won Game 3 in Dallas, which would have given them a virtually insurmountable 3-0 lead had they won Game 2. But the Mavericks won the next three games to avenge their 2006 defeat.
1991 Finals, Game 1: Lakers upset MJ's Bulls
Score: L.A. Lakers 93, Chicago 91
Result: Lakers take 1-0 series lead
After finally beating the rival Detroit Pistons to advance, the Chicago Bulls got off to a rocky start in their first NBA Finals of the 1990s. Chicago had gone 11-1 in the postseason before the visiting Los Angeles Lakers upset them in Game 1.
The Lakers used a strong third quarter to take a three-point lead into the final period. Michael Jordan, who finished with 36 points and 12 rebounds, helped key a Bulls comeback that gave them a two-point lead in the final minute. Enter Sam Perkins. Years before he became known as a 3-point shooter (he shot just 28.1 percent on 3s in 1990-91), Perkins hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 14 seconds on the clock. Jordan's shot rattled out on the other end and Chicago, out of timeouts after the teams traded free throws, could only get up a desperation attempt before the buzzer.
The Bulls shook off the defeat to win the next four games and their first title. The Game 1 loss ended up being one of just two Chicago suffered in the postseason -- with the other, against the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference semifinals, also coming by just two points.
2006 Finals, Game 3: Wade wills comeback win
Score: Miami 98, Dallas 96
Result: Heat begin comeback, force series to 2-1
Down 2-0 in the series and 13 during the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the 2006 Finals, the Heat's championship hopes were fading. No team in NBA history had, or has, overcome a 3-0 deficit. Miami staved off those long odds with a late comeback.
The Heat outscored the Mavericks 22-7 over the final 6:15, with Wade (who finished with 42 points on 14-of-26 shooting and 13 rebounds) contributing 12 of them. But it was another guard -- future Hall of Famer Gary Payton, a Miami reserve at age 37 -- who made the biggest bucket. With the score tied, Payton hit a long 2-pointer with 9.3 seconds remaining to give the Heat the lead.
Dallas squandered a chance to tie when Nowitzki split two free throws with 3.4 seconds on the clock, and Wade tipped away a lob for Josh Howard at the buzzer.
The comeback proved a turning point in the series. After losing the first two games, Miami won four in a row and its first championship in franchise history.
1984 Finals, Game 2: Gerald Henderson's steal
Score: Boston 124, L.A. Lakers 121 (OT)
Result: Celtics tie series 1-1
After taking Game 1 at Boston Garden, the Lakers had a chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead back home to L.A. Behind 29 points from James Worthy, the Lakers led by two with 18 seconds left and had possession after Kevin McHale missed a pair of free throws.
A series of Lakers mistakes let the Boston Celtics back into the game. With Boston trapping instead of fouling immediately, Worthy tried a cross-court pass to Byron Scott -- only for Gerald Henderson to come up with an interception and take it in for the tying layup. The Lakers still had a chance to avoid overtime, but Magic Johnson -- perhaps unable to see one of the game clocks, then courtside rather than atop the basket -- nearly dribbled the time out before passing to Bob McAdoo as the buzzer sounded.
Overtime belonged to the home team. Reserve Scott Wedman made a jumper off a Henderson feed to give Boston the lead for good and tie the series at 1-1. The victory proved crucial as the Celtics rallied from a 2-1 deficit, which could have been a disastrous 3-0 hole, to win the series in seven games.
2010 Finals, Game 7: Kobe struggles but Lakers prevail
Score: L.A. Lakers 83, Boston 79
Result: Lakers win series 4-3
The deciding game of the 2010 Finals was one of the most competitive slugfests in modern NBA history, as both teams struggled to score against intense defense.
Early on, it looked like the Celtics were headed to a second Finals victory over the Lakers in three years. Boston won the previous meeting between these teams in 2008, and the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in the Finals the following season.
The Lakers mustered just 14 points in the first quarter and trailed by 13, 49-36, shortly after halftime -- but they were able to stay in the game with dominant rebounding. Taking advantage of the absence of Boston center Kendrick Perkins, who had torn his ACL in Game 6, they grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, including nine by Pau Gasol. The extra chances powered a Lakers comeback. After struggling all game, Kobe Bryant scored 10 of his game-high 23 points (on 6-of-24 shooting) in the fourth quarter.
A contested 3-pointer by Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) gave the Lakers a six-point lead with just over a minute remaining and L.A. held on for the victory and the team's 16th championship. Phil Jackson won his 11th and final championship as a coach.