Warriors vs. Spurs: Was Game 1 Best Playoff Game In NBA History?


May 7, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs bench players celebrate following a three point basket by San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) during game one of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors at the AT

First off, any superlative designated without concrete proof will be subject to opinion, and determining the “best” is an impossible exercise that serves not to come to a definite conclusion, but to show further collective appreciation for an incredible game.

As a Golden State Warriors fan, the last 15 or so minutes were as excruciating for me as I imagine they were exciting for an objective viewer, and while I have definitely experienced more “enjoyable” games, from an objective perspective, Game 1 was the pinnacle of basketball entertainment.

Historically, several factors have embedded games in our collective memories, and Game 1 had them all.

In the supposedly star-driven NBA, individual performances often stand above team results. We do not remember Game 6 of the 1980 NBA finals as the time the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers to clinch the series.  Instead, that game was made legendary by Magic Johnson’s brilliant performance in the absence of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Tales of Magic Johnson starting at center and playing every single position have persevered without regard to the team-level circumstances or results of the game, other than a basic knowledge of its importance and victor.

Similarly, Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, is often described as “The LeBron Game,” or more accurately, “one of several LeBron games.” Individual performances tend to capture attention to a greater degree than team-generated victories, and in Game 1, Stephen Curry provided plenty of individual achievement.

Curry was struggling through a mediocre night, but exploded in the third quarter, scoring 22 points as the Warriors seemingly put away the Spurs. What makes Curry’s performance even more memorable from a historical perspective are the stylistic differences between Curry and the great scorers of NBA history.

Here is Curry’s third quarter shot chart.

Curry only attempted two shots at the rim, and did not earn a single free-throw. Instead, Curry’s transcendent shooting provided the scoring punch. As such a singular, unique skill, Curry’s shooting amplifies his dominance, and leads to many of the more awe-inspiring shots made by any NBA player.

Along with individual performances, odds-defying comebacks are common among the NBA classics. Reggie Miller’s late game heroics against the New York Knicks inspired a 30-for-30 feature, and the name of a popular blog. In the reverse of Monday’s result, a San Antonio regular season game was immortalized when Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds to complete an improbable comeback.

Though equal parts comeback and collapse, Game 1 provided all the drama of these incredible games.  The San Antonio Spurs became the first team ever to win a playoff game after trailing by 16 points in the final four minutes, moving teams in that unenviable situation to 1-393 all-time.

If Stephen Curry’s 2013 playoff-high 44 points and a record-setting comeback were not enough, the game went through two overtimes and came down to the final possession.  Manu Ginobili’s clutch three-pointer sealed the Spurs’ victory and put the finishing touches on the historically great Game 1.