Greatest first-round playoff series ever: '15 Clippers-Spurs or '09 Celtics-Bulls?
On the night of its last regular season game, San Antonio needed a victory to grab the West's No. 3 seed. Unfortunately for the Spurs, their loss to the Pelicans (who had to win to make the playoffs) dropped them all the way down to the conference's sixth position. The defending champs, winners of 55 games and one of the few teams on everybody's short list of title contenders this season, were forced to take on the 56-win Clippers on the road in Round 1.
The series gave us championship-caliber basketball in the first round of the postseason. Three games were decided by less than five points, with the final Game 7 coming down to a heroic last-second shot by Chris Paul. A single play, a call by a referee, or possibly even one more minute of action is all that stood in the way of the Spurs moving on and potentially defending their title. But it was the Clippers who advanced, with San Antonio shockingly eliminated in Round 1.
Was it the best first-round series in league history?
Doc has coached in two of the greatest first-round series ever -- this, and '09 Bulls-Celtics.
The 2008-09 Celtics were better than the championship squad from the year before. A 19-game winning streak in November and December helped Boston begin the season 27-2. The C's were 44-11 when Kevin Garnett hurt his knee. The Garnett-less Celtics still managed to finish 62-20 and earn the East's second seed in the playoffs. Boston drew a 41-41 No. 7 Bulls squad featuring Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose and an out-of-his-mind Ben Gordon.
I was at Games 1 and 2 at the TD Garden. Rose scored 36 points in the opener, helping Chicago grab a heartbreaking 105-103 OT victory.
Gordon nearly crushed Boston's soul in Game 2, scoring 42 points on 14-for-24 shooting (with a wide variety of absurd takes from all over the floor). The Bulls led by five with two-and-half minutes remaining, but Ray Allen (30 points) buried a pair of season-saving threes in the final 30 seconds to lead the Celtics to a 118-115 win.
Boston rode that momentum to an easy 107-86 victory in Game 3 in Chicago. In Game 4, Gordon drilled a clutch three-pointer to send the game into a second overtime, and the Bulls held on for a 121-118 win.
Back in Boston for Game 5, the C's trailed by double-digits entering the fourth quarter. Allen fouled out with five-and-a-half minutes left, but Paul Pierce sank a game-tying jumper with 10 seconds remaining to send it to OT. Pierce scored six more in overtime, and put the Celtics up by two with four seconds to go. But it took Brad Miller missing a pair of free throws (the second intentionally) with two seconds on the clock for Boston to hang on, 106-104.
At that point the series was already the first in NBA history to include three overtime games. Just for good measure, the two clubs decided to take things into triple-OT in Game 6. Allen poured in 51 points in 58 minutes of action, but the Bulls escaped 128-127 to force Game 7.
The Celtics took control of Game 7 with a 29-11 second quarter. Chicago was within five in the final minute, But Boston held on for a series-clinching 109-99 victory.
Seven overtimes in seven games, with five of them decided by a single possession.
Greatest first-round series ever? You be the judge.