Top 10 Playoff Series of the Decade - Part I

January 3, 2010

Here is our list for the top ten playoff series this decade. In coming up with this list, several important questions had to be asked:
(1) Was the series played at a high level?
(2) Was the series competitive?
(3) Was it exciting to watch?
(4) Was it memorable?

To make the list, any series had to have all of these qualities. Let's get started with ranking #10 through #6.

10. "2 Stars Collide" - Penguins defeat Capitals, 4-3 (2009, 2nd Round)

To say NHL Hockey has become largely irrelevant for many sports fans during this decade may be a mild understatement. The damage of the 2004-2005 lockout as well as poor television contract deals have caused the sport to be an almost forgotten part of American sports consciousness. However if a resurrection is to take place, it will be the play of its stars like Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin that draws the public back in.

In 2009 the two stars faced-off in a classic playoff series in which both players shined. What made the matchup of the two best players in the NHL that much more intriguing was the genuine dislike they seemed to have for each other and the contrasting "good guy" (Crosby) and "bad guy" (Ovechkin) images they projected. Each had 8 goals in the series and Ovechkin had 6 assists to Crosby's 5. However, Ovechkin's missed breakaway in the 2nd period of Game 7 was costly and Crosby's Penguins had the last laugh.

9. "Rivalry Renewed" - Celtics defeat Lakers, 4-2 (2008 NBA Finals)

This Celtics-Lakers matchup was a highly anticipated series between the two biggest rivals in the NBA. With the immense success of both franchises and the fact that they had met in the finals 10 times before, it was impossible for fans not to be swept up into the old 1980's rivalry once again.

Unfortunately, the series did not entirely live up to the hype, as many games were filled with sloppy play and mistakes. However, all of the first 5 games were competitive, highlighted by Boston's impressive comeback from 24 points down in Game 4. The win gave them a 3-1 lead and essentially clinched the series for them.

The stifling and physical defense of the Celtics mortalized a previously unstoppable Kobe Bryant and no other Laker appeared ready to step up. Game 6 was an enormous blowout as veterans Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and series MVP Paul Pierce brought the Celtics their first title since 1984.

8. "Wade Shines" - Heat defeat Mavericks, 4-2 (2006 NBA Finals)

The Miami Heat were down 2-0 to the Mavericks and trailing by 13 in the 4th quarter of Game 3. Yet Dwayne Wade refused to let the Heat lose as he scored 42 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Heat back to win in 98-96 in overtime.

Game 4 saw him score 36 points in a blowout victory and his leadership in Game 5 was phenomenal as his 43 points led the Heat to another close overtime victory, 101-100. Indeed, Wade was truly a one-man show, as teammate Shaquille O'Neal posted moderate numbers throughout the series and definitely showed signs that he had slipped considerably from his place as the NBA's most dominant player.

In Game 6 Wade closed the show in Dallas with 36 points and 10 rebounds, including 11 points in the 4th quarter, and simply took the game away from the Mavericks in a 95-92 victory. In all, Wade averaged 34.7 points in the series, including averaging over 40 in the 3 home victories that turned the series around. It was the best performance by an individual player in a playoff series this decade.

The Mavericks of course, in many ways allowed Wade to play the hero by blowing numerous leads and choking down the stretch of several games. Still, the classic comeback by the Heat and the stellar play of Wade mandate that this series make the list.

7. "Disneyland Comeback" - Angels defeat Giants, 4-3 (2002 World Series)

This battle of California teams will be remembered for its high offense and high drama throughout.

With the Giants leading the series 3 games to 2, the Angels staged one of the most impressive rallies in recent memory. Trailing 5-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning the Angels, spurred on by the "rally monkeys" in the stands, scored three runs in that inning and followed with three more in the 8th to claim a dramatic 6-5 victory.

It was the largest deficit overcome by a team facing elimination in the World Series. The victory set up an anti-climactic Game 7, which the Angels won comfortably by the score of 4-1.

The series will also be remembered as the only World Series played in by Giants star Barry Bonds. Bonds was an astounding 8-17 in the series (.471) with 4 homers, 13 walks, a .700 on-base percentage, and a 1.294 slugging percentage. However, he made a critical error in the 8th inning of Game 6 that helped the Angels complete their comeback in that game.

6. "The Beginning" - Lakers defeat Trailblazers, 4-3 (2000 Conference Finals)

During most of the decade in the NBA, the Western Conference was filled with vastly superior teams to the Eastern Conference. This was certainly true in 2000, as the two best teams in the NBA met in the Western Conference finals. The Lakers had won 67 games under new coach Phil Jackson and appeared poised to become a dynasty with a Shaq-Kobe combination that was just reaching its full potential. However, the Blazers were a balanced team loaded with athletic talents like Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudemire, Steve Smith, and Scottie Pippen.

After trailing 3-1 in the series, the Blazers stormed back to tie the series and led by 15 points in the 4th quarter of Game 7. The Laker players seemed overwhelmed by the moment and ready to repeat the meltdown strategy of previous years, when they had tried unsuccessfully to slow down and rely on their star center in the half-court as things got stressful.

However, Phil Jackson's advice to start the quarter? "Stop trying to force it in to Shaquille!" Instead, he angrily insisted the "role players" like Brian Shaw, Robert Horry, and Rick Fox, look for their own shots and stop being passive. The advice worked immediately as the Lakers picked up the tempo and everyone appeared to hit 3-point shots.

The Blazers now felt all the pressure and withered under it as they let the game slip away. The start of the newest Laker dynasty was officially ushered in by the now-famous O'Neal dunk off of a Bryant lob pass in the last minutes of the game.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.Com

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