Top 5 Most Exciting Basketball Games of All Time
There’s a thousand reasons why basketball is one of the world’s favorite sports to watch, play, and wager on. But in the end, it usually all boils down to the simple fact that basketball is exciting and unpredictable as hell.
And at the highest levels of the game, sometimes things get so crazy that a place is earned amongst the most exciting basketball games of all-time.
1976 NBA Finals, Game 5: Boston Celtics 128, Phoenix Suns 126
Sports fans tend to exaggerate the recent and devalue the past. So when a game that was played 40 years ago continues to get mention in best-game-ever discussions, you know it is worth the praise. Still regarded by many as the NBA’s greatest game ever, the fifth game of the 1976 NBA Finals between Boston and Phoenix was truly one for the ages.
The series had already been a feisty one, with an OT finish in game four, standout individual performances, and even a literal fistfight. Tied at two games apiece, Game 5 was a triple-overtime affair complete with clock controversies and both teams trying to use timeouts they didn’t have. In the first OT, John Havlicek made a shot with two seconds left that sent fans streaming onto the court. Two seconds had to be put back on the clock after it incorrectly ran out, resulting in fans attacking the referees and scorers’ table. A Phoenix buzzer beater eventually sent the game to a third overtime, where Boston finally pulled away to ultimately gain a 3-2 series lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
EuroBasket 1987 Final: Greece 103, Soviet Union 101
Greece are traditionally one of the more successful European basketball nations, having won the European Basketball Championships twice and being the only nation to defeat Team USA in their Coach K era. That first Eurobasket title was what really kick-started the popularity of the sport in the country that would eventually produce NBA-level talent.
Their opponent in the ‘87 Final was no slouch though. The USSR was the premier European basketballing nation at the time, having won 14 Eurobasket titles. They were heavily favored to win yet another crown against host Greece. After being down one at halftime, the Soviets fought back, sending the game to OT. But the underdog Greeks showed incredible resolve in front of the 17,000 cheering them on, and would eventually win 103-101, marking the first time a Greek national team had ever won a major trophy in any sport.
1998 NBA Finals, Game 6: Chicago Bulls 87, Utah Jazz 86
The 1998 NBA Finals between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls are proof that sometimes in sports, you know exactly what is going to happen, but that doesn’t make things any less exciting. Chicago dropped the first game of the series but rebounded to win the next three. Utah then squeaked out a Game 5 win in Chicago, sending the series back to Salt Lake City.
Surprisingly, it was looking like this series that was thought to be MJ and coach Phil Jackson’s last would go to seven games. Down three and with 40 seconds left, Michael would take Byron Russell one and one and make a quick layup to cut the lead to one. Chicago would then make a steal on Utah’s ensuing possession, and after dribbling out some of the clock, Jordan would hit a 20-footer to win the game and his sixth NBA Championship.
2009 Big East Quarterfinals: Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT)
A game going long doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s exciting. But that definitely wasn’t the case with the 2009 Big East Quarterfinals tilt between Syracuse and Connecticut that went six overtimes and was the longest in conference history.
Despite not leading at any point during the first five OTs, Syracuse would pull ahead in the sixth and eventually win 127-117. Before that happened, eight players fouled out, 93 free throws were shot, and 211 shots were attempted. The two teams tipped off at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden at 9:36PM and didn’t finish until 1:22AM, three thrilling hours and 46 minutes later. No one had predicted that the game would go on for as long as it did and many sports bettors who had put a wager on the game online sat up to watch the game.
2016 NCAA National Championship: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74
Going for their third national title in 11 years, the #1 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels were a small favorite against a #2 seed Villanova team that mostly breezed through its competition en route to the Championship game. The Wildcats looked every bit as starved for a title as they probably were, leading most of the second half including by as many as 10 with a little over five minutes to play.
But Carolina clawed back, and a desperation three from Marcus Paige tied the game with just inside five seconds remaining. For that shot, the game was likely already going to be remembered as one of the greatest. However, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made sure it would forever be cemented in our memories by hitting a 40-footer at the buzzer to give his school their first title in over 30 years.