Members of our #NBArank panel are recounting the greatest NBA Finals games. First, we asked five NBA writers to share their favorites. Now, Kevin Pelton is ranking his top 25 Finals games of all time. We'll unveil five per day. (Click here for 21-25, 16-20, 11-15 and 6-10.)
To rank the top 25 Finals games since 1980, Pelton used four criteria: the importance of the game, the quality of play in the game, the significance of the individual performances, and additional factors, such as an exciting finish, a memorable play or a great shot.
On to the countdown ...
1997 Finals, Game 6: Steve Kerr's shot
Score: Chicago 90, Utah 86
Result: Bulls win 4-2
After losing on a Jordan game-winner in Game 1 (No. 12 on our list), Utah didn't want to make the same mistake twice with the score tied late in Game 6. So instead, Jordan found another way to torment the Jazz.
When Jordan's drive drew help from John Stockton, Jordan dished out to Stockton's man, a wide-open Steve Kerr. Kerr, who had told Jordan "If he comes off, I'll be ready" in the huddle before the play, coolly knocked down a jumper for the lead. The Jazz still had five seconds to tie or take the lead, but Scottie Pippen stole the ensuing inbounds pass and directed it to Toni Kukoc, who dunked to cap the victory.
Before the final seconds, Game 6 had plenty of plot twists, as the Bulls rallied from a nine-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to take the lead before Bryon Russell's 3-pointer tied the game in the final two minutes and set up the deciding shot.
1988 Finals, Game 7: The wildest Game 7 in modern Finals history
Score: L.A. Lakers 108, Detroit 105
Result: Lakers win 4-3
Had Twitter existed in 1988, the bizarre conclusion of Lakers-Pistons Game 7 would have broken it.
Despite Detroit star Isiah Thomas being limited by the sprained ankle he played through in a classic Game 6 (No. 7 on our list) and despite the Lakers shooting 55.8 percent from the field, the Pistons stayed close thanks to 42 bench points from the trio of John Salley (17), Dennis Rodman (15) and Vinnie Johnson (10).
Down by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter, Detroit rallied to within one on a Bill Laimbeer 3-pointer with six seconds remaining. The Lakers threw long to beat the press and instead of running the clock out, A.C. Green dunked with two seconds on the clock. Then things got weird.
Though the Pistons still had a chance to force overtime with a 3, Lakers players, photographers and even fans began to flood the court. Play continued amidst the chaos, and Thomas lost the ball after running into Magic Johnson as the clock ran out. Referees simply whistled the game over and the Lakers won the championship.
1993 Finals, Game 6: John Paxson's shot
Score: Chicago 99, Phoenix 98
Result: Bulls win 4-2
Despite losing the first two games of the 1993 Finals at home, the Suns rallied to get the series back to Phoenix with a chance to win on their home court. Up two with 14.4 seconds left, it looked like Phoenix might get a home Game 7. The Bulls had other ideas.
After Scottie Pippen beat Charles Barkley at the top of the key, the Suns' defense broke down. Despite instructions from coach Paul Westphal not to leave shooters open, Danny Ainge had to offer help covering Pippen and then Horace Grant, which left his man, John Paxson, open beyond the arc. Grant found Paxson for the go-ahead 3, which went through the net with 3.9 seconds left.
As Kevin Johnson went up to shoot at the buzzer, Grant knocked the ball away, preserving the win and Chicago's three-peat -- the first since the Boston Celtics won eight consecutive championships from 1959 through 1966.
1998 Finals, Game 6: Jordan, Game 6
Score: Chicago 87, Utah 86
Result: Bulls win 4-2
By the end of their sixth championship run in eight years, the Bulls were running dangerously low on energy and staring at the prospect of a Game 7 -- which they never played in a Finals during their run -- on the road, having already lost a closeout Game 5 at home. Michael Jordan wouldn't let that happen.
Down three with 42 seconds left, Jordan took over with an incredible individual sequence. After scoring a quick basket to cut the lead to one, Jordan poked the ball away from Karl Malone in the post for a steal. He brought the ball upcourt and held it with the clock running down. Isolated against Bryon Russell, Jordan drove right, crossed over, helped guide a slipping Russell to clear space, and knocked down the go-ahead jumper with 5.2 seconds left for the last of his 45 points. When John Stockton missed at the other end, Chicago had its final title before Jordan's retirement and the dissolution of the roster.
"I think it was the best performance I've seen in a critical situation and critical game in a series," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said of Jordan's game.
2013 Finals, Game 6: Ray Allen pushes back the rope
Score: Miami 103, San Antonio 100 (OT)
Result: Series tied 3-3
Up five in the final 30 seconds, the Spurs were so close to their fifth championship that the NBA brought out the yellow rope used to secure the court for a trophy presentation. The Heat delayed the ceremony and forced overtime when Ray Allen made an improbable 3-pointer while falling out of bounds in the right corner with 5.2 seconds remaining. Miami withstood two San Antonio attempts to tie or take the lead in the final seconds to tie the series and force a deciding Game 7 that the Heat eventually won.
In addition to the final comeback, this wild game featured another Miami rally from down 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. After having his headband infamously knocked off, LeBron James scored 11 points in a 20-7 Heat run. James finished with his second triple-double of the series: 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. On the other side, the Spurs wasted a vintage performance from 37-year-old Tim Duncan, who had 30 points and 17 rebounds.
"It was by far the best game I've ever been a part of," said James. "The ups and downs, the roller coaster, the emotions, good and bad, throughout the whole game."