The 2021 NBA Playoffs are set to start on May 22nd and the excitement within the league is palpable. As the business end of the season approaches, multiple key storylines are playing out. With several teams gunning for the final playoff spots, it's time to understand what makes the NBA postseason special.
In recent memory, we have witnessed playoff series that became instant classics. Last postseason saw the Denver Nuggets overcome a 3-1 deficit against the LA Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals. The Miami Heat also made light work of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoff bubble.
In this article, we will rank the five greatest series of the NBA Playoffs during the 2010s. It will be a difficult one, as there were certainly more than five eye-catching playoff series in the decade. However, a few stand out for the teams, players and dynamics involved.
#5 2010 NBA Finals - LA Lakers vs Boston Celtics
The NBA Finals will always receive more praise and love than other rounds of the NBA Playoffs, especially if it features the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics. This iconic series between the two historic rivals easily makes the cut as one of the greatest postseason matchups of the 2010s.
The 2010 NBA Finals paired the LA Lakers and Celtics for the 12th time in a deciding matchup of the NBA Playoffs. Kobe Bryant's team eventually won a hard-fought, seven-game series against the Green Nation, two years after Kevin Garnett and company had taken glory against LA.
The LA Lakers made use of their home-court advantage to take a comfortable win in Game 1, but the Celtics struck back in Game 2 behind Ray Allen and his eight three-pointers.
Phil Jackson's LA Lakers won Game 3 at Boston, before Doc Rivers' Celtics took games four and five to return to LA with a 3-2 lead. The Lakers forced a Game 7 after tying the series at three apiece behind Kobe Bryant's 26 points.
The seventh game was a great defensive struggle, and even though the Celtics enjoyed a 13-point lead in the third quarter, the LA Lakers eventually took the victory and the franchise's 16th NBA title.
Bryant was named Finals MVP after averaging 28.6 points, eight rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. It was his fifth and final NBA championship, and his second consecutive Finals MVP award.
#4 2012 Eastern Conference Finals - Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics
The aging Boston Celtics' 'Big Three,' guided by Rajon Rondo, took on the Miami Heat and their own 'Big Three' with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Miami was the favorite to win and an early 2-0 advantage in the series proved it.
However, Boston roared back at the TD Garden. They took two consecutive wins, including an overtime victory in game four. LeBron James fouled out and Dwyane Wade missed the game-winning shot, which allowed Boston to even the series.
Momentum was back on Boston's side, and the C's took the fifth game in Miami, putting the then championship-less James under a lot of pressure. However, James crushed the Celtics' hopes of sealing the series with an incredible outing of 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists to force a seventh game.
It was arguably James' best performance in an NBA Playoff game, and he eventually led the Heat to the NBA Finals with 31 points and 12 rebounds in the deciding game.
James won his first NBA championship in the 2012 NBA Finals after taking down Kevin Durant's OKC Thunder in five games.
#3 2019 Eastern Conference Semis - Toronto Raptors vs Philadelphia 76ers
The Toronto Raptors' run to their first championship in the 2019 NBA Playoffs was filled with big performances from Kawhi Leonard. The team's biggest moment came in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semis against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Toronto won the first game at home, but Philadelphia took a 2-1 lead in the series after consecutive wins, guided by Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid. Toronto struck back, winning the fourth game at Philly and taking a 3-2 lead after winning the fifth game at home.
Philadelphia forced a Game 7 with a 112-101 win in Game 6, behind Butler's 25 points.
In Game 7, Leonard elevated the Raptors to a 92-90 victory to send the team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Kawhi's shot was the first game-winning buzzer-beater in a Game 7 in NBA history and will be remembered forever for the four bounces it took off the rim before going in.
Leonard averaged 34.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and four assists per game in the series, and he then led the Raptors to the NBA championship. He also earned his second Finals MVP award. Kawhi Leonard left the Raptors at the end of the season and signed with the LA Clippers.
#2 2013 NBA Finals - Miami Heat vs San Antonio Spurs
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs each played a competitive series to reach the 2013 NBA Finals.
The Spurs team comprised players that were already proven winners in the NBA, with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginóbili on the court. Legendary coach Gregg Popovich guided the Spurs from the sidelines. San Antonio was looking for its fifth Larry O'Brien trophy in the series.
On the other end, Miami were looking to become back-to-back champions in their third straight NBA Finals appearance.
The Spurs won the first game at Miami in a close encounter (92-88), but Miami took a convincing 103-84 win in the second game. The Spurs blew the Heat out in Game 3 in San Antonio, behind Danny Green's 27 points.
The Heat and D-Wade looked revitalized in Game 4, as the shooting guard put up 32 essential points for the Heat. LeBron James also put up 33 points in the win.
The Spurs won the fifth game, with Parker scoring 26 points, and the series returned to Miami with San Antonio looking for just one more win to seal the title. The sixth game looked like the perfect moment for the Spurs to end the series, as they led by five points with 28 seconds left.
James made a three-pointer to put the Heat within reach. An offensive rebound by Chris Bosh (after James missed the game-tying three) gave Ray Allen the chance to make one of the greatest clutch shots in NBA history.
The Heat won in OT, and then James scored 37 points in Game 7 to give Miami back-to-back NBA championships. LeBron also earned his second straight Finals MVP trophy.
#1 2016 NBA Finals - Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors
The 2016 NBA Finals series is the biggest highlight of LeBron James' career. It is also the most important moment in the city of Cleveland's sporting history.
The Golden State Warriors were the reigning NBA champions and posted a record-breaking 73-9 record in the regular season. The team made it to the NBA Finals to play against the Cavaliers after overcoming a 3-1 deficit versus the OKC Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
In the NBA Finals, Golden State took a 2-0 lead after two blowouts in Oakland. The Cavs then took Game 3 behind James' 32 points. Stephen Curry scored 38 points in the fourth game to give Golden State a seemingly decisive 3-1 lead. No team had overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.
However, James and Kyrie Irving scored 41 points each in the fifth game, while Draymond Green was suspended for the Warriors.
James added 41 points in Game 6 again as the Cavs tied the series with a solid 115-101 win at home. In Game 7, the two teams battled hard but found scoring hard to come by in the fourth quarter. The game was tied at 89 points apiece from the 4:39 mark until Irving hit the eventual game-winning three-pointer with 53 seconds left.
With 1:50 remaining, James made one of the most impressive and iconic defensive plays in NBA history, blocking a layup attempt by Andre Iguodala that would've been crucial in the low-scoring fourth quarter.
Eventually, the Cavs took a 93-89 win to upset the Warriors and complete the first comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. James won his third Finals MVP award after leading both teams in every major statistical category throughout the seven games.