Best 7-Game Series Ever?

The Miami Heat took Game 7 at home last week and their second championship in a row. They went back and forth with the San Antonio Spurs for most of the game but pulled away in the last few minutes, winning 95-88. It was all done without a single point from Chris Bosh.

LeBron James had a great game, of course, scoring 37. Dwyane Wade chipped in nicely, and Shane Battier was the star off the bench, going 6-for-8 from three-point land, reminiscent of Mike Miller’s surprise contribution in the close-out game last year. Mario Chalmers didn’t shoot well, but found his way towards 14 points in Thursday’s contest.

For the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard continued to look like a rising star, and he seemed to be the only Spur that could keep the game close in the final quarter. The Spurs’ Big Three — Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili — were very quiet, if not detrimental, down the stretch, especially Ginobili with two egregious turnovers. Danny Green was shut down for the second straight game, despite having a great series overall.

The final game was only the third close contest of the entire seven-game series, including Games 1 and 6. Game 7 was almost lived up to the previous game, but I think Game 6 was the peak of the series: The Heat were on the brink of extinction and Ray Allen hit a tremendous three-pointer to put it into overtime and his team would force a Game 7. There were so many memorable individual plays from Game 6, as I recounted in my last post.

So the lingering question is, “Was this the best seven-game Finals the NBA has had in its history?” You can definitely make the case that both teams were very strong and that, as the series went on, it was unpredictable which was going to win. You can also argue that this series wasn’t that great because of the many blowouts in the middle games. But, I think someone can make the argument that these two teams were so elite that if one let their guard down for even a few minutes, the other one would take advantage and blow them out.

The best?

The last NBA Finals to go seven games involved the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in 2010, with the Lakers winning. Before that, it was the Spurs over the Detroit Pistons in 2005, a.k.a. the series all about defense. There have only been 17 Finals that have gone to seven games before this year; the road team has only won three of those series, so Miami held serve this year.

The 2010 Finals involved two teams that cover very large markets — Boston and Los Angeles — and both have very storied histories with numerous titles between them. It was also a rematch of the 2008 Finals, except Boston won that time. Given that background, the 2010 seven-game series may be your pick for best Finals that went the distance. Just like 2010, this year’s Finals involved teams that had won a championship within a decade prior — the Spurs in 2007 and the Heat last year. With that criteria, I confess that my favorite Finals over the past few years was seeing the Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat in six games in 2011, which involved seeing a team that was new to a title, with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, among others, getting their first championship over a Heat team in its first year of the Big Three and still looking for chemistry. If Dirk and the Mavericks wouldn’t have stepped up that year, the Heat might be looking at a three-peat right now.

Since the Mavericks-Heat series only went six, I’ll toss that out of the current debate. I think you can make a case that the Heat and Spurs put on the best seven-game Finals the NBA has seen, but it’ll probably come down to which teams in the league you’re partial to and how many Finals you’ve seen in your lifetime. The choice is yours, but I don’t think anybody would fault you for choosing this year’s.

And finally…

On another note, this year’s Finals did quite well with its television ratings. It started out a little slowly, but the ratings were rising steadily by Game 4. The last two games averaged more than 20 million viewers, with the finale averaging about 26 million throughout the broadcast. Game 7 was the second-highest broadcast for the NBA on ABC ever, falling behind Game 7 from the aforementioned Celtics-Lakers 2010 series, which averaged more than 28 million viewers. Game 7 this year was the most-watched program on all of television in more than four months, and the whole series was up 5 percent from the 2012 Finals. This year’s series was also the second-most-watched Finals since 2004, with only (again) the Celtics and Lakers series beating it out.

If I were to trust Wikipedia’s numbers, this year’s Finals’ TV ratings are on par or better than most of MLB’s World Series matchups over the past seven years, including Game 7 of the Spurs and Heat beating out the last Game 7 of the World Series (in 2011). I thought I’d throw in this comparison for those who suppose the NBA is on the decline. It’s still not in Super Bowl territory, but it will compete with just about anything else you want to throw at it today.

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