The Ten Best Basketball Games of 2015

Honorable Mention

Miami Heat 105, Philadelphia 76ers 101 – Fianl regular season game: Just kidding.

NC State 71, Villanova 68 – NCAA 2nd Round: One of those games that refused to stop being fun.

Duke 92, North Carolina 90 (OT) – Regular season: The biggest rivalry in basketball goes to overtime in a classic.

UCLA 60, SMU 59 – NCAA 1st Round: Refs bungled the ending of this one with a late goaltending call, which made it even crazier.

Notre Dame 67, Butler 64 (OT) – NCAA 2nd Round: The hardest omission from the top ten. Featured a litany of wacky turnovers, missed opportunities, and ended with a blocked 3-pointer.

#10 (TIE)

Warriors 108, Cavs 100 (OT)

Cavs 95, Warriors 93 (OT)

Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals

Stephen Curry (R) of the Golden State Warriors attempts to steal the ball from LeBron James (L) of the Cleveland Cavaliers during overtime in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals in Oakland, California on June 4, 2015. The Warriors defeated the Cavaliers 108-100 in overtime. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

This year we had the first NBA Finals series to ever begin with two overtime games. Both were nearly deserving of the list, so let’s cheat and include the two as a pair.

The first featured two missed Cavalier attempts at the win in regulation before the Warriors small ball lineup blitzed to a big overtime lead.

The second had LeBron post 40 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists…and need a late miss and an even later turnover by Steph Curry to escape Oracle with a win.

#9

Notre Dame 77, Duke 73

Duke led for most of the game, but were outscored by the Irish 19-8 in the final 10 minutes of the game. Jerian Grant simply refused to lose. He scored 23 points and added 12 assists before taking it upon himself to forbid the Irish students from rushing the court after the win.

grant.0

#8

Wisconsin 71, Kentucky 64

NCAA Final Four

wisky

The best team in college basketball lost to the best player in college basketball, in what will be remembered as a legendary coach’s swan song from the game. Kentucky held a four point lead with 5 minutes to play. Every single second of this game was exciting. It probably even had good commercials.

#7

Georgia State 57, Baylor 56

NCAA First Round

I could write thousands of words about the importance of upsets and Cinderella stories, but wouldn’t we all just rather watch Ron Hunter fall out of his chair?

ron hunter

There has never, in the history of the wonderful NCAA Tournament, been a moment more suited for the “One Shining Moment” montage. Ron Hunter, coaching from a stool due to an injury suffered celebrating their tourney birth with his son, watches said son drill a 30-something footer to beat a 3-seed and proceeds to tumble from the stool. It will never be beaten.

#6

Duke 68, Wisconsin 63

NCAA Championship Game

via USATSI
via USATSI

This will come off crazy, but I firmly believe that the 2015 versions of Wisconsin, Duke, and Kentucky were among the best college teams of the last 25 years. All three of them, if they were to escape one another and time travel to almost any other year, would be more than capable of winning the championship, if not be expected to do so.

The three chances we had to see these three teams play each other (the early season Duke-Wisconsin game and now numbers 6 and 8 on this list) gave us stellar play and perfect competition. If scientists need a reason to look into time travel, setting up a 2015 Kentucky-Wisconsin game is good enough for me.

#5

Warriors 123, Pelicans 119 (OT)

Western Conference Quarterfinals, Game 3

One of my favorite things about basketball is that certain highlights leave me in disbelief, even in the months and years to follow.

The Pelicans needed this game to keep the series within reach. After hitting a three with his team down 15 with under 15 seconds to go, Steph Curry gave himself a chance to extend the game.

I did not believe he made this shot. I still don’t believe it. I may never believe it.

You can count the more amazing shots in basketball history on one hand.

#4

Harvard 53, Yale 51

Ivy League Championship

header

You can call me biased for ranking this so high. That’s OK.

The game took place in the iconic building which serves as this blog’s namesake. I sat at center court on press row, directly between equally raucous fanbases. It was the loudest arena I’ve ever heard in my life, for both teams. The dispatch I wrote here on the blog afterward reads more like a kid in a candy store than a professional writer, though it’s still one of my favorite PB pieces ever.

You can scoff at me ranking this higher than the NBA Finals or the NCAA title game. This was two very good teams, who hate one another, in the perfect setting, battling for a championship. It ended in a two point win for Harvard after Yale missed their last shot. It was perfect.

#3

West Virginia 62, Kansas 61

How high does a game deserve to be ranked, simply for having the best ending? The RJ Hunter shot was great and the Curry shot unbelievable, but this regular season game had without question, the best final nine seconds of any contest in 2015. Here are all nine of those seconds, in one GIF.

wvu kansas

Keep in mind, that Perry Ellis layup at the end is not to extend the game. Neither was the Juwan Staten made layup before that. In nine seconds of game play, and only a smidge more of real time, one player made a shot to take the lead and another missed one to win the game.

#2

Clippers 111, Spurs 109

Western Conference Quarterfinals, Game 7

While most sports fans itched to find a way or a place to watch the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, basketball fans were treated to the best NBA game of the calendar year. The only first round series to feature two legitimate title contenders went to seven games and was decided by this:

The Spurs window could have closed on that shot (it hasn’t but could have). The Clippers could have taken a step towards removing the monkey from their back (they didn’t but could have).

Those parentheticals may diminish the importance of this game now, but that night, this game was EVERYTHING.

#1

Kentucky 68, Notre Dame 66

NCAA Elite 8

The stakes of this game were unmatchable.

Kentucky looked to keep their perfect season alive. Notre Dame was led by two seniors (Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton) eager to reach the Final Four and extend their careers.

For 39 minutes and 15 seconds, the two teams played to a grinding standstill. Karl-Anthony Towns announced himself as the premier NBA prospect in America, finishing with 25 points.

And in then end, as with every great basketball game, it would come down to one shot. Everything we remember about this game, these teams, and this year changes if Grant’s shot falls at the buzzer.

But he missed, Kentucky survived, and the rest is history.

**

Header image via Andrew Weber

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

 

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