The Top 10 Games of 2008 (Pt. 1)

Notice anything different about the end-of-year sports coverage this past December? No? Well, I did. ESPN has discontinued their annual Top 10 Games series for 2008. Many fans will attest that ESPN does many things wrong in their coverage of sports. But this was a show that year after year got it right. Maybe not all their picks and rankings for the top 10 games each year were right, of course, but the premise was a beautiful one: one spine-tingling hour of games that did the most to twist fans hearts like a pretzel.

So as a major fan of this series, I have taken it upon myself to provide you with the top 10 games of 2008, a year ESPN calls the greatest year in sports, as well as some YouTube clips in case text alone isn't enough to make the hair on your neck stand on end. I will also mention the games that just missed the cut since this year runs so deep with great games. I don't kid. Some truly epic games this year did not make this list.

10) NBA West. Conf. 1st Round, Game 1, Suns @ Spurs, April 19

It's quite possible that the best game of the NBA playoffs happened on its very first day.

Very rarely in sports does Game 1 decide a best-of-seven playoff series. I believe this to be one of them. While the Spurs were clearly the better team, the rivalry was red-hot after the bitter '07 encounter that ended with Robert Horry hip-checking Steve Nash into the scorers table and out of the second round.

The Suns took control early on with a 16-point second-quarter lead, but to no one's surprise, San Anton would come roaring back behind 40 big points from Tim Duncan. Phoenix remained in the lead, 93-90, as the Spurs inbounded with 20 seconds remaining. This was where the real fun started. Manu Ginobili found a cutting Michael Finley coming off a screen for an open three, which he promptly drained to tie the game. One Leandro Barbosa miss later and there was overtime.

Phoenix looked comfy-cozy in the overtime with a 104-99 lead with just over a minute to go, but a Duncan layup and an offensive foul on Amare Stoudemire, his sixth, led to the Spurs having a chance to tie, down by three with 12.6 seconds to go.

As Ginobili dribbled around a double team and looked to kick out for the tying three, the open man beyond the arc was none other than Duncan, who had attempted, and missed, a total of four threes for the entire 2007-08 season. This made for one of the most surreal moments in sports when he drained it with three seconds to go.

Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after the game, "Whenever Timmy shoots a three, I have doubt. He's been on me lately for taking his game away and keeping him close to the rim. He thinks he's got a lot more to show and I won't allow it, so I think he's trying to send me a message." So as Duncan uncharacteristically pumped his fist to celebrate the tie (and it was certainly a top-10 fist pump in a top-10 game I might add), he may have also been celebrating vindication over his own coach, as well.

Playing without Stoudemire in the second overtime, the Suns looked down and out when they were forced to foul marksman Brent Barry to get the ball back under 20 seconds to go and trailing by two. Barry missed the first one despite shooting 95% from the line in the regular season. This kept the door open for Steve Nash to drain a fadeaway three from the sideline to tie the game at 115 all while falling into the crowd.

Just 15.7 seconds remained. Instead of calling timeout, the Spurs took it up court and went to Ginobili, who took it right to the rim on Raja Bell. Manu's running two-foot bank shot went down with 1.8 seconds left, and Nash's 3/4-court heave fell just short.

Final score: Spurs 117, Suns 115 2OT

Spurs lead 1-0 in series. They would go on to win the next two games to go up 3-0 before taking the series 4-1. They eventually lose to the Lakers in the Western Finals in five games.

Other NBA Honorable Mentions

Eastern semis Game 7 Cavaliers 92 @ Celtics 97, the great LeBron James (45 points) vs. Paul Pierce (41 points) duel

9) MLB ALCS, Game 5, Rays @ Red Sox, October 16

By 2008, we all knew that the Red Sox liked to fall way behind in their playoff series before coming alive and prevailing in dramatic fashion. No one relished the opportunity to come from behind more than manager Terry Francona's feisty bunch. But this was ridiculous. Enough was enough!

After earning a tough split in Tampa Bay, the Sox were in for a rude awakening coming back home to Fenway. Inexplicably, the Tampa Bay bats came alive and they absolutely threw a party behind the green outfield walls of the old ballpark. They hit 7 homers over the next two games and pinned lopsided losses on ace Jon Lester and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, winning 9-1 and 13-4, respectively, to go up three games to one. The Boston crowd was never able to get into either game and now the Rays looked to finish the job in Game 5 in Boston.

Normally, it was the Red Sox with these clutch surges of power at Fenway. This was hard to comprehend. And the Rays batters continued the trend in Game 5 with a two-run homer by B.J. Upton before Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka could record an out. Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria piled on with home runs in the third to make it 5-0 Rays as the game was playing out exactly like the last two had. Meanwhile, Rays starter Scott Kazmir strung zero after zero up on the scoreboard. Inevitable was not a strong enough word.

Boston got so desperate that they brought out star closer Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the seventh to try to shut down a Rays threat. It didn't work. Upton blasted a two-run double off him to make it 7-0 Rays with only 9 outs between them and an unthinkable AL pennant.

With Grant Balfour taking over the pitching duties for the Rays in the bottom half of the seventh, Jed Lowry led off with a blast off the right field wall for a double. He seemed stranded there until Coco Crisp singled to left with two outs, but even that only took Lowry to third base. Dustin Pedroia followed with a single to right and the Red Sox were finally on the board, and yet all that work plated them only one run.

David Ortiz had been going through possibly the worst slump of his career in Boston until he came up following Pedroia. Ortiz blasted the second pitch he saw around the pesky pole for a 3-run homer and suddenly Fenway was rocking in a 7-4 game.

Still, the Rays led by 3 runs with 6 outs to go as the game reached the eighth. Still a fairly commanding lead. Dan Wheeler would walk Boston's Jason Bay to start the inning though and at this point you could see the Rays losing their poise. Sure enough, J.D. Drew followed with a homer to right make it 7-6. Boston's offense had exploded like a tidal wave. Wheeler settled down and retired the next two batters. Four outs away.

Mark Kotsay then blasted a Wheeler offering towards the gap in left center where the speedy and sure-handed Upton chased it down only for it to tick off his glove for a two-out double. This brought up Coco Crisp and an epic confrontation.

Ball outside. Strike outside corner looking. Ball low. Foul. Ball high as the count went full. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. On the 10th pitch, Crisp ripped a line shot into right for a single. Gross could not make a decent throw home to get Kotsay and the Red Sox had tied it. Crisp would be out at second trying to turn his RBI into a double, but the game was now 7-7 going into the ninth.

The Rays threatened in their half against Justin Masterson with a single and a walk and 1 out. Masterson got Pena to ground into a nifty 4-6-3 double-play to end the inning.

J.P. Howell pitched the bottom of the ninth and retired the first two batters including Ortiz on a strikeout. Kevin Youkilis hit a harmless grounder to Longoria at third who bounced the throw to first. Carlos Pena reached up for the third-out throw but could only deflect the ball into the seats, putting Youk at second as the winning run. Howell then intentionally walked Jason Bay to get a lefty-lefty matchup with J.D. Drew, who had hit the home run just an inning earlier. Drew took an off-speed pitch and hit another screaming liner to right, just over the reach of right fielder Gabe Gross to plate Youkilis and ensure bedlam in Fenway once more.

It was yet another vintage Red Sox comeback win in postseason, and with this being the greatest postseason comeback in 78 years and second greatest all-time, perhaps this one was the most unlikely of them all.

Final score: Red Sox 8, Rays 7

Red Sox trail 3-2 in the series. Boston would win Game 6 in Tampa before finally succumbing in a tough Game 7 by a 3-1 score.

Unfortunately, MLB is not a fan of seeing their games on YouTube and won't allow any of their own video to show up there, so this was the best I could do.

Other MLB Honorable Mentions

ALCS Game 2, Rays 9, Red Sox 8, 11 innings, seesaw home run battle decided on a B.J. Upton sacrifice fly in the 11th

ALCS Game 7, Rays 3, Red Sox 1, Rays hang on to fragile lead, despite several late-inning jams, emergence of reliever David Price, who got the game's last four outs as Rays win improbable pennant

World Series Game, 5 Phillies 4, Rays 3, this game had two ties, two lead changes and a tying run thrown out at home in the last four innings, aside from the famous two-day rain delay and Phillies clinching the World Series

All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, AL 4, NL 3, 15 innings, countless extra inning threats escaped and the game won on a very close play at the plate to send off Yankee Stadium

Coming soon: Games No. 8 and No. 7

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