Over the course of this week, Andrew Unterberger counted down the 100 best things (here are Nos. 100-61, 60-41, 40-21 and 20-11) that happened from opening night to the start of the offseason in the NBA year that was. Read on and live the 10 greatest plays, games, photos, performances, celebrations, quotes, fights, achievements and fashion statements from the 2012-13 season, and begin counting down the long, lonely days and nights before the National Basketball Association is once again upon us.
10. Heat-Pacers Game 1
I’ll admit that I didn’t give the Pacers much of a chance of even competing with Miami, much less taking them to seven and downright looking like the better, more complete team for a good deal of the series. Game 1 was a pretty good indicator that Indiana was a worthy foe, however, and that the Pacers were going to be a tough out for the Heat, not just in this postseason, but likely in several more to follow. Paul George in particular proved that he could hang, hitting not only that jaw-dropping 30-footer to tie the game but three super-clutch free throws to put the team up in OT. And Roy Hibbert proved what a beast he could be in the middle on both sides of the ball — though not for the final possession, of course, as coach Frank Vogel yanked Hibbert for what ended up being a game-winning LeBron layup, a move that’s still probably being debated in a bar outside Bankers Life Fieldhouse right now.
It was probably a year too early for Indy to take the series, and the fact that the Heat squeaked this one out was probably a sign of that. But Game 1 showed that the East wasn’t going to roll over for Miami in this postseason as so many predicted, and likely won’t for the next few playoffs to follow, either.
9. The Draft
Who could’ve guessed how entertaining this year’s draft would be? With the least-hyped class in ages and seemingly no big draft day deals imminent, it seemed like the events at Barclays a couple weeks ago would come and go barely as a footnote to the season. Instead, we had a surprise No. 1 overall pick, a presumed top pick slipping out of the top five, a franchise-altering trade to go along with that fallen pick, and uh, Cody Zeller going fourth to the Bobcats. All of that, plus the consummation of the only-just-rumored megadeal merging the Celtics and Nets in Brooklyn, Doc Rivers and Bill Simmons having it out on the ESPN broadcast … it was almost too much to take in in just one night.
Of course, the best part of all was the fans’ back-and-forth with the Man of the Hour, Commissioner David Stern. Pausing before reading the No. 1 pick, giving Barclays the “let me hear it” ear cupping, criticizing the crowd for lagging in energy … it was a five-star performance from the Commish. And when the boos were finally replaced with cheers for Stern’s final pick as acting commissioner, it was among the most touching moments of the whole season — as was, oddly, the crowd turning around and booing the previously popular Adam Silver upon taking Stern’s place. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
8. The .1 Prayer
Will history remember just how insane and awesome this Tony Parker shot was, even though the Spurs didn’t end up winning the Finals? Well, they still show that buzzer-beater LeBron hit against the Magic in that 2009 series the Cavs eventually lost, right? For the record, this was way cooler than that.
7. Spurs-Warriors Game 1
Even more so than the Pacers with the Heat, I didn’t give the Warriors much of a chance against the Spurs — I thought they were gonna put Steph Curry and his merry band of three-point chuckers down in four. Game 1 proved the Warriors were for real, but more importantly, it was just an insanely good game — Curry’s 44 point night (and absolutely ridiculous third quarter), the Spurs’ comeback to save it in the fourth, Danny Green’s game-tying three-pointer in regulation, Kent Bazemore’s possible game-winner in overtime (Kent Bazemore!!), Manu Ginobili’s game-blowing three-point chuck and redemptive three-point game-winning make … even in the regular season, this thing would have been a classic.
For me, the craziest thing about this very, very crazy game: That I actually found myself rooting for the Spurs in it. I still can’t really explain why.
6. DeAndre Jordan over Brandon Knight
Yeah, yeah, so it wasn’t a totally fair posterization — it was a guard that DeAndre Jordan dunked on, Brandon Knight didn’t realize what he was jumping into, whatever. Don’t care: Dunk of the Year, easy. It wasn’t just the dunk itself, which was obviously incredibly ferocious and utterly remorseless. It was the atmosphere of the Staples Center, the Clippers fans and bench reacting like born-agains at a revival, even Blake Griffin himself speaking in tongues. It was DeAndre’s own reaction, giving a “Did I do that? Yikes!” expression that reflected a little semi-genuine guilt over his vulgar display of power. And of course, it was the brilliant performance of Brandon Knight, ultimate victim of the 2012-13 NBA season, appropriately allowing his body to crumple to the floor, and laying motionless for a second on the floor, unknowing (but inevitably) courting the season’s best Twitter hashtag.
This dunk was the greatest, and fie on anyone who says otherwise.
5. The Bulls end the Heat’s 27-game winning streak
Others may have been looking ahead to Heat-Spurs, and wishing the Bulls would just roll over to give that upcoming meeting of the two best teams in the NBA — likely the last obstacle in between the Heat and win-streak immortality — the historical heft it deserved. I didn’t care. I would have been fine with the Bobcats beating the Heat in a blowout on the road if it would’ve just ended the damn thing. Still, it did feel right-ish that the victory should come at the hands of the Bulls, the Heat’s erstwhile greatest rival in the East in the midst of a lost, injury-plagued season. Ending their enemies’ chance as history was the best they could do for their season, and they played accordingly, as seemingly every player on Chicago (particularly Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler and Carlos Boozer) gave one of their finest performances of the season in the name of Beating the Heat.
And still, it felt like every time the Heat scored, it would be the beginning of an unextinguishable hot streak to run the Bulls out of the building. It wasn’t until the clock actually read 0:00 (and then maybe not for a few seconds after that) that I actually felt secure that the Heat streak was actually done with. And then I was an absolute smilin’ fool for the rest of the week, comfort in the knowledge that there was one piece of immortality LeBron and company would be denied in this otherwise most giving of NBA seasons.
4. Steph Curry scores 54 against the Knicks
He was a League Pass favorite among NBA fans and the darling of Bay Area hoop heads ever since he was drafted, but the true Legend of Stephen Curry had been mostly dormant for his NBA career — he would hit threes and light up scoreboards and delight fantasy owners, but not quite capture the nation’s imagination the way he did at Davidson during the 2008 NCAA tournament. That all changed on a Wednesday night in February, when NBA fans worldwide flipped over to watch Steph light up the Knicks at MSG, ending with an incredible 54 points on 18-28 shooting, including 11 threes in 13 attempts, with each knockdown more unbelievable than the last. (And of course, it had to come against the Knicks, as if they weren’t already haunted enough to have missed out on Curry by one pick in the 2009 draft.)
That said, the Warriors did end up losing the game — take a bow, Raymond Felton — but the only people who’ll remember that are the people who remember that Josh Hamilton technically lost the 2008 Home Run Derby. It was that impressive a performance, and though Steph took it all to the next level in the playoffs, this was still the moment that truly announced the arrival of the NBA’s next great superstar.
3. Kobe’s last stand against the Warriors
Speaking of Steph, he had 47 points and nine assists in this game, which would normally be a decently headline-grabbing night at the office. But absolutely nobody was talking about Stephen Curry after this game, because of what happened with Kobe Bryant. In the midst of carrying the Lakers to a playoff bid — LA won seven of the last eight games Kobe played, with No. 24 averaging 29/8/7 over those games — Kobe had taken on a workload no player in his mid-30s should possibly have to shoulder, and you could practically see his body breaking down over the course of LA’s late-Friday game against the Warriors in mid-April, yet another in a long line of games that the Lakers absolutely had to have. Kobe did his utmost to keep the Lakers in the game amidst the Curry fireworks, scoring 35 before tearing his Achilles on a routine drive, hitting two free throws, and limping off the Staples Center court to thunderous applause for one last time before the still-unthinkable news came down: Kobe Bryant was done for the season.
I’ll never forget that sight of him limping off, surely knowing that this wasn’t one of the garden variety injuries he’d played through all year — hell, that he’d suffered two or three of earlier in that game — and just hoping his teammates would be able to finish the job. (Remarkably, they did.) There were moments in the NBA season more exciting or important than this, but none more emotional — even the Kobe haters out there had to get a little choked up at watching this great of the game leave it all on the court, in a way that few would ever dare to, and that fewer still would even be able to.
2. Bulls-Nets, Game 4
I’ve already written about this game — the Nate Robinson game, 23 in the 4th quarter, CJ Watson’s blown dunk, triple-OT, I’m sure you remember — from just about every conceivable angle. I won’t go over it all again here, but I’ll just say this: If there’s a game higher than this on this list, you can better believe it was one of the greatest NBA games ever played. And, well…
1. Heat-Spurs, Game 6
True story: This game is the first thing that shows up in YouTube when you search for “Game 6.” OK, that’s probably a recency bias at play. But still, I bet if you talk to any NBA fan for at least the next decade, and you just say “Game 6″ without any further context, they’ll have a pretty good idea what game you’re referring to. That’s how monumental this one was. Games like this just don’t happen in the Finals — games with health-advisory momentum swings, games with storylines that shift every two minutes of game action, games where victory is all but certain until it isn’t, games with every single thing you’d want from an NBA game. It’s a pretty rare thing when you can watch a game and actually feel sports history changing with each play, it’d only be slightly hyperbolic to say that’s what this game felt like for 48 straight minutes. (And then another five after that, just for the hell of it.)
How the Heat snatched this one away from the Spurs, I’ll never really understand — like Leigh Ellis, I still can’t even believe it happened at all. But simply put, this game was as good as professional sports gets, and I just hope that 10 or 20 years from now, I’ll have gotten over it enough to appreciate having been around to witness it.