2016 was a great year for NBA fans, especially if you were a Cavs fan, and maybe not so much a Warriors fan. Regardless, we saw some great basketball in the 2015-2016 season and the offseason that followed it. It wasn’t just some things that caught us by surprise, but rather everything about it caught us off guard.
Thunder lose in the Western Conference Finals, change NBA landscape forever.
Kicking the top 10 off is OKC’s huge collapse in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors. Preceding the dubs at their own fortunes, the Thunder blew a 3-1 lead over the former NBA champs after knocking off a Spurs team that was on it’s last legs mentally and physically after capturing a title just 2 years prior. The Thunder finally looked to be avenging their 2012 appearance in the Finals when they were still so young and promising, except this time with the departure of James Harden, the team of Westbrook and Durant looked primed to walk right into a Finals meeting with the Cavs.
In actuality however, it took a absolutely crushing Game 6 loss for the Thunder to finally see the writing on the wall. After Klay Thompson lit them up for 11 three’s in the game, with the Warriors not yet finished writing NBA history, Thompson’s playoff record setting shooting display propelled the Warriors to a Game 7 back at the Oracle for the nail in the coffin.
Curry gets second MVP in consecutive years, this time unanimously.
Steph Curry set a new record for most-recorded 3-point field-goals in a regular season at 402, yes you read that right, accumulating over 1200 points alone on 3-point shots. That wasn’t the only milestone that he and the Warriors achieved but it does help add some insight into one of the greatest regular seasons from a player and team we’ve ever seen. Steph Curry led the Warriors through some of the most exhilarating games and at times himself appeared to be in his own world out on the floor. Some of the performances that Curry had last season were jaw-dropping and usually dominated media headlines for days on end.
And yet even with all of the praise and attention, there were still doubts about Curry receiving the award for a second time as some pinned him to be the shiny object that dazzled and swindled everyones vote. Well, even if that was the case the voters certainly didn’t seem to disagree as Curry made more history becoming the first player to be unanimously voted as Most Valuable Player.
Toronto Raptors reach Eastern Conference Finals for first time in franchise history
The Raptors had a great run last season after they made a push to become the 2nd best team in the East, and ultimately reach their first Eastern Conference Finals in the franchises history. A huge deal for the Raptor fans who have been longing for some success for the last few years with their great tandem of Lowry and Derozan.
While the Raps looked relatively dominant throughout the season, they definitely kept their fans on edge once the playoffs began. Looking back at it now – I said it at the time – the Raptors had one of the most difficult playoffs and it was usually to their own detriment. Toronto found themselves in 2 Game 7 situations before even meeting with the Cavaliers and while it was certainly the hard path taken, it did give some entertaining basketball in the Eastern playoffs.
Wade leaves Miami, Durant leaves Oklahoma City
Appropriately at #7 we combine 2 of the biggest moves in the NBA this past offseason, as if the Finals didn’t give us enough excitement, the moves made over the summer changed franchises and broke hearts.
Dwyane Wade was beloved in Miami (and still is) and its doubtful that will ever change after giving the franchise 13 years of greatness, including 3 NBA Championships. Sure he had to make room for both LeBron and Chris Bosh, but at the heart of the team it was Wade county through and through. After conversations broke down with Pat Riley, Hassan Whiteside receiving a max deal rather quickly and the franchises obvious pursuit of Kevin Durant it seemed as though Wade was pushed to the side in Riley’s list of priorities. Well for Dwyane, it was clear he was searching for more and was tired of being an afterthought, which ended up landing him in the windy city with the Chicago Bulls, or better known to Wade as home.
Kevin Durant was all the buzz throughout the entire offseason and for alot of us who weren’t Durant himself, Draymond Green, Steph Curry or his immediate family we were for the most part led astray that he would be considering any other team not named the Warriors. After the fact, it was clear that the courting from the Warriors players and the crushing defeat in the Western Conference Finals that Durant’s mind was made up – Oakland was the destination and it has been weird to see Durant in a Warriors jersey ever since.
Feb. 27 2016 – Warriors vs. Thunder, the game winner for the ages
The Warriors dominance was in full force when they met up with the Thunder for just the second time in the same month of February. The Thunder and Warriors games were 3 of the best games of last season because it served as a preview to the Western Conference finals. Our post-All Star hangover was met with possibly the best regular season game of last season as the Warriors and Thunder dueled it out all the way into overtime.
The game itself was back and forth the entire time, leading all the way up to the wire which is what we wish every NBA game was like as it brings the best out of players. In a crazy finish that saw Kevin Durant cough up a costly turnover leading to the fouling of Andre Igoudala who stepped up and hit 2 massive free-throws to send the game into OT. Overtime was once again a back and forth fight until Russell Westbrook had the ball in his hands as the final 20 seconds ran off the clock. Westbrook’s attack led him to a shot of hope as hit attempted to lay the ball up only to watch it bounce off the rim into the Warriors hands. With the rebound secured, the ball found Steph Curry who dribbled it just past half court with around 2 seconds remaining – the rest is history.
The Dunk contest heard around the world
If as picture was a thousand words then this top 10 list wouldn’t be enough to even begin to describe the high level of entertainment that the Dunk Contest brought fans worldwide back in February this year. Everyone’s seen it by now, if you haven’t then I don’t know what to tell you other than you’ve missed out on one of the best Dunk Contest’s since the battle between Jordan and Dominique back in 1988.
For years the Dunk Contest was losing it’s “wow-factor” and was forever being compared to the last time it truly took the NBA world by storm in 2000 by Vince Carter and company. That was until this years past All-Star Weekend where the seemingly unchallenged Zach Lavine was met head-to-head by Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon. The 2 made it to the final round without much competition, but once they began their final dunks it quickly turned into a “anything you can do I can somehow do inhumane-video-game-style better”.
For a moment in time we were in the trance of some of the most amazing stretch of dunks that I personally have ever seen. The best part about all of it is that it was everything that encompasses the Dunk Contest – mind-blowing dunks, 2 or more competitors battling it out and dunks being completed in less than 3 attempts.
Kobe’s Finale in LA
In 2016 believe it or not there was another attraction in the league not named the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers Kobe retirement tour of the United States kicked off early into the 2015-2016 season and didn’t stop for anybody. The Lakers became a travelling spectacle purely for fans to get a final glimpse of Bryant that in turn took the Laker’s focus completely off of basketball and just through them into a sideshow all season.
Regardless, all good things must come to an end and given Bryant’s track record, his final game of his career couldn’t have ended any better being at home and giving a performance that was only fitting for Kobe to exit on. Unbelievably, the Warriors make another return into 2016 storylines as Kobe’s last game happened to coincide with the night that the Warriors were going for their 73rd win against the Grizzlies. However, in true Kobe fashion he stole the show by dropping 60 points against the Utah Jazz in a close game and eventually winning that game to much of the delight of the fans in Staples that night. It was truly Bryant’s showcase of everything his career was in LA and his loyalty to the franchise has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Laker’s in history.
Move over Chicago, there’s a new record in town.
The questions that eventually surrounded the Warrior’s completing the feat that was 73 regular season wins is something that will haunt the franchise for years to come. However to most people it’s debatable that this had anything to do with how the Warrior’s playoff run eventually ended.
The Warriors started off the season going on a 24-0 run on the league and had the NBA media in a frenzy from there onwards as they scrambled to try and explain just how dominant the Warrior’s were being and if it was fair on the rest of the league. As the season went on the wins began to pile up, they had stats that would almost begin to guarantee wins – unbeaten at home, up by 15 at any point they win etc.
It was incredible to watch and with all the hypothetical 1996 Bulls vs 2016 Warriors match-ups aside it now etches them into the history books, for a record that was seemingly untouchable, the Warriors proved that basketball had changed and was in a new phase of how the game will be played for decades to come.
The big 3’s big moment
By now i’m sure you can guess whats coming at #1, but before that could even happen there was a series of events that deserve their own top 10 spot. The big 3 of Cleveland came together for one reason and like a previous LeBron lead team in Miami the beginnings were not so smooth and their trip to the Finals was not how they wanted it to turn out with injuries being a big part of their failures.
So how do you bounce back from a year of criticism as a team as well as LeBron shouldering alot of the criticism as he likes to do? In a 7 game series with the Warriors it all built up to one of the great 5 minutes of basketball in NBA Finals history. What will forever be tagged as “The Block, The Shot, The Stop” marks one of the greatest achievements in Cavaliers history.
The Block was one of the defining moments in LeBron’s illustrious career as he sprinted from half court to deny Andre Igoudala a go ahead bucket for the Warriors. The Shot was Kyrie Irving’s arrival to the grand stage, in one of the most gutsy isolation situations with so much on the line, it was too much Uncle Drew to handle. Lastly, The Stop which remains as one of the most underrated defensive plays to this day. With Kevin Love switched on to Steph Curry it was a true hold-your-breath moment as Curry danced on Love with several dribble moves, something that all year resulted in bigger players having a 3 drilled right in their face. This time however, Kevin Love re-wrote the script and challenged Curry just enough.
Capping off this list was the biggest moment of 2016 for obvious reasons, and with fandom aside, no mater which team you back it’s difficult not to admit that the 2016 NBA Finals was something special. A series that boasted some of the biggest storylines and history between 2 teams in just 2 years. A build up that almost didn’t happen.
If you’d like to really dive deep into the #1 moment of 2016 then I urge you to read the breakdown of just how important these storylines were.
What a year and hopefully 2017 will bring us just as many moments if not more.