Don’t you love it when the game lives up to the hype? The year 2016 produced plenty of games like that – contests in which the action was the best when everything was on the line. The Cubs and Indians, the Warriors and Cavs, the Tar Heels and Wildcats all saved their best for when it was win or go home.
A look at some of the best games of 2016:
END OF THE CURSE: You wanted drama? Well, leave it to the Cubs to give you drama . After trailing 3 games to 1 to Cleveland in the World Series, the Cubs drew even, and then it came down to a single game to see if the championship drought that dated to 1908 would come to an end. In Game 7, the Cubs led 5-1 in the fifth inning and 6-3 in the eighth. But the Indians were also trying to break a drought; they hadn’t won a title since 1948, and they weren’t about to quit. Rajai Davis hit a game-tying home run in the eighth. With the game tied after nine innings, a rain shower came and halted the action – prolonging the drama for an extra 17 minutes. When they resumed, the Cubs scored twice in the top of the 10th. Cleveland got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, but Chicago held on. First baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs recorded the final out at 12:47 a.m., stuck that history-making ball in his back pocket, then ran to the mound to celebrate.
THE BLOCK, THE GAME: Through six games of the NBA finals, the Warriors and Cavaliers were dead even. Not just at three games apiece, but they had scored the exact same number of points: 610. A good series? Hardly. None of the first six games was decided by single digits. The average margin of victory: 19.6 points. All was forgiven after Game 7. The highlight of the NBA season came with 1:50 left, with the score tied at 89, when LeBron James ran the length of the court to block Andre Igoudala’s attempt at a go-ahead layup. The Cavaliers went on to win 93-89 . James brought the title back to his hometown and his block now has its own T-shirt(s) and Wikipedia page . Said James: “I was just like, ‘Do not give up on the play. If you got an opportunity, just try to make this play.”’
ONE GOOD SHOT DESERVES ANOTHER: Had the game gone into overtime, and had North Carolina pulled out the win, then Marcus Paige’s game-tying, double-clutch 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left in regulation would have gone down as one of the greatest in NCAA history. Instead, Villanova called timeout, coach Jay Wright called the play – “Wildcat” – Kris Jenkins took an underhanded flip from Ryan Arcidiacono and calmly spotted up and swished the game-winning 3 at the buzzer. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 . That the tight game ended with the underdog beating the blue blood only added to the magic and the tradition of March Madness. Smiling in the stands as he watched the shot go: Michael Jordan. The Tar Heel great smiled, looked to his buddy, Ahmad Rashad, and simply said: “Good shot, good shot.”
DUEL II: In the final round of the British Open, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson put on a show reminiscent of the “Duel in the Sun” that Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson waged a generation earlier . Mickelson shot a bogey-free round of 65 and it wasn’t enough. Stenson shot 8-under 63 to beat Mickelson by three and win his first major. No other player was within 10 shots. Afterward, the two put their arms around each other’s shoulders much the same as Nicklaus and Watson did in 1977, when they finished their two-man show at Turnberry. Watson won that one by a shot, and nobody else was within 10. “Our final round was really good,” Nicklaus said, “but theirs was even better.”
DEL POTRO: Nobody made Olympic tennis more worth watching than Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro. The 2009 U.S. Open champion, mostly injured and sunk deep in the rankings for years, opened his Olympic quest with a thrilling 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2) victory over top-ranked Novak Djokovic that left the Serb in tears. Later that week, an equally thrilling match for del Potro: a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. “I didn’t expect to reach the final, beating Djokovic and Rafa,” Del Potro said, “but I did, and I get a medal, and it’s amazing for me.” Del Potro lost a three-setter to Andy Murray in the final, but hard to argue who the star of the Rio Games really was.
BEST OF THE REST: Iceland’s 2-1 victory over England in the round of 16 of the European Championships was not only thrilling theater, it may have been the biggest single upset of the sports year. … Ohio State beat Michigan 30-27 in double overtime to add another thrilling chapter to one of college football’s best rivalries. The win propelled the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff even though they didn’t play in the Big Ten title game. … The 2-pointer was big in football. A pair of NFL games came down to rare, 2-point defensive conversions. After giving up the game-tying touchdown, the Broncos blocked the extra point and returned it for two for a 25-23 win over the Saints. A few weeks later, Eric Berry returned a Matt Ryan interception on a 2-point try the length of the field for a deuce of his own to lift the Chiefs to a 29-28 win over the Falcons.