Halfway through 2011, we’ve seen our fair share of blowouts, walkovers, and uneventful wins.But alongside this overwhelming majority of ordinary games is a handful of great games.
The definition of a great game is hard to pin down.
Does a great ending automatically make a game “great”? Can a meaningless Tuesday-night baseball game truly be “great”?
To rank the best games of the year so far, we used three criteria: drama, level of play, and stakes.
Simply, a game is great if it’s dramatic, well-played, and meaningful.
With two leagues locked out and a general lack of big time sporting events in the second half of the calender, these might make up the bulk of the year-end list as well.
The 2011 Sugar Bowl will be remembered as Jim Tressel's last game as head coach of Ohio State. But the game itself was well-played and featured one of the most dramatic endings of the year.
On the first drive of the game Terrelle Pryor fumbled, but the ball somehow avoided a mass of Arkansas players and dribbled into an Ohio State receiver's hands for a touchdown.
It only got crazier from there.
Down 31-26 with a minute to go, Arkansas blocked a punt deep in Ohio State territory but was unable to scoop up the ball and run it into the endzone. Instead the Razorbacks had 1st and 10 on the Ohio State 20. Ryan Mallett threw an interception one play later, and the game was over.
Roger Federer was 178-0 all time when he won the first two sets of a major single's match.
And then Jo-Wilfried Tsonga unleashed a stunning comeback to take the final three sets of their Wimbledon quarterfinal match and move on to the semis.
Tsonga allowed Federer only one break point, and played with more speed and energy than the ageing Swiss.
With Federer off his game, this match struggled in the 'level of play' category. But the size of the stage and the unprecedented nature of the comeback made it great.
Playing through a 101 degree fever, Dirk Nowitzki scored 10 fourth-quarter points and the Mavericks completed their second comeback of the NBA Finals, winning Game 4 86-83.
LeBron James came up amazingly small, taking only one shot in the entire fourth quarter and scoring just eight points in the game.
The stakes could not have been higher. With the win, the Mavs avoided the 3-1 series deficit that no team has ever overcome to win an NBA Finals.
They ended the game on a 21-9, including a clutch go-ahead layup by Dirk with 14 seconds left.
With the rustiness of a 37-day gap between the regular season and BCS National Championship Game, the two most potent offenses in the country were surprisingly unexplosive.
Auburn held an eight-point lead late in the fourth quarter when Cam Newton coughed up the ball. Oregon then tied the game with a touchdown and a critical two-point conversation with 2:30 to go.
On the ensuing drive, Auburn running back Michael Dyer looked to be tackled for a five-yard gain. But his knee never hit the ground, and he was able scamper all the way down to the Oregon 22 yard line.
Auburn milked the rest of the clock, and made a title-winning field goal as time expired.
The game was disappointingly sloppy, but any National Championship Game that goes down to the final seconds gets big points for high stakes and high drama.
Dumb fouls, questionable calls, clutch free throws: the final 2.5 seconds of this second round NCAA Tournament game was the most dramatic ending to any game this year.
Butler thought they had it won when Andrew Smith made a layup to make it 70-69 with 2.5 seconds left. But on the in-bounds pass Butler guard Shelvin Mack clattered into Pitt's Gilbert Brown near half-court, sending him to the free throw line. Brown made the first to tie the game at 70. But when the second free throw clanged off the rim, Pitt's Nasir Robinson inexplicably fouled Butler's Matt Howard 90 feet from the hoop with 0.8 seconds left.
Howard sank a free throw, and Butler's second-straight run to the National Championship Game continued.
Ohio State was supposed to be the one juggernaut in an NCAA Tournament defined by parity.
But in their Sweet 16 match-up against a young Kentucky team, the Buckeyes buckled and eventually lost on a 15-foot jumper by Kentucky's Brandon Knight with five seconds left.
This was one of the most well-played game in a generally poor NCAA Tournament. The teams combined for just 18 turnovers.
It was also one of the tensest games of the tournament. There were 12 lead changes in the second half alone. The largest lead for either team was just seven points. And from the 10-minute mark in the first half on, neither team led by more than four.
This was one of the most well-played games of the playoffs. Each team turned the ball over just one time, and Drew Brees still threw for 400 yards in a losing effort.
Despite a dreadful 7-9 regular season record, Seattle ended up stunning the defending-champion Saints in a 41-36 upset that featured big play after big play, and one of the best touchdown runs in NFL history.
With 3:30 left, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch scored on an epic 67-yard run that literally made the ground shake around the stadium.
The Saints came back, making it 41-36. But their onside-kick attempt failed and Seattle ran out the clock to complete a frenzied upset.
The first night of the 2011 NFL postseason featured one of the most dramatic finishes in recent NFL playoff history.
Peyton Manning and the Colts seemed to have executed one of their token game-winning drives to advanced past the Jets. Manning led his team down the field and Adam Vinatieri nailed a 50-yard field goal to put the Colts ahead 16-14 with 53 seconds left.
But Antonio Cromartie returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards. Mark Sanchez connected on a huge pass to Braylon Edwards. And the next play Jets kicker Nick Folk made a game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired.
After losing Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Game 2 could not be more meaningful for the Mavericks.
But deep into the fourth quarter, Dallas was looking at a 2-0 series deficit in the eye. They trailed LeBron and the Heat 88-73 with 7:15 left. And Dwyane Wade was posing in front of the Mavs bench after burying what seemed like a game-ending three pointer.
But the Heat made just one field goal from there on, Dirk Nowitzki scored his team's final nine points, and the Mavericks shocked the Heat 95-93.
Dallas delivered one of the great comebacks in NBA history, scoring an amazing 22 points in the games final eight minutes. Their dramatic rally was capped by Dirk's left-handed layup over Chris Bosh with 3.6 seconds left.
This one had it all. The stakes were high, with the Thunder desperately needing a win to avoid a 3-1 series deficit. The level of play was incredible, with both teams hitting big shot after big shot. And the drama was unavoidable, with the game twisting and turning through three epic overtimes.
Memphis made three miracle shots to keep the game going, but eventually Russell Westbrook and the Thunder outlasted the Grizzlies in a classic.
Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley forced overtime with a three at the end of regulation. Unheralded rookie Grevais Vazquez forced a second overtime with an off-balance three. And Marc Gasol scored a tip-in to send it to a third extra frame.
But in the end the Grizzlies faded while the Thunder maintained their up-tempo style. They were able to finally pull away in the third OT, with Kevin Durant burying a jumper over Shane Battier with 35 seconds left to put an exclamation point on the best game of 2011, so far.
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