Saturday, January 2, 2016

The 10 Best Games of 2015

Malcom Butler's interception sealed one of the most memorable Super Bowls in history for the Patriots, but would that be our game of the year?.... Probably.
By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

Ed. Note- We at SuiteSports would like to wish everyone a happy 2016, and we can't think of a better way to prepare for another awesome year than to look back at the best games of a thrilling 2015. Luckily, correspondent Andy Dougherty was willing to put together this list, complete with highlights and whatnot. As you'll see below, it was a heck of a year for fantastic football finishes.

Happy new year!

10. College Hockey: NCAA Championship – Providence defeats Boston University 4-3

Providence entered the tournament unseeded as a huge underdog, but managed to advance to the national championship game to face powerhouse Boston University. BU was led by Jack Eichel, who would go on to be the No. 2 overall draft pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

Providence held Eichel to one assist in the game and hung with the Terriers into the third period. Then an innocent play turned into a nightmare for BU.

Providence flipped the puck on net from center ice before making a line change, and BU goalie Matt O’Connor caught the puck with ease. But then as he looked around, he inexplicably dropped the puck, which dribbled behind him and into the net to tie the game at three. Providence took advantage of the stunned Terriers and tacked on another goal minutes later.

BU couldn’t recover.

Providence pulled off the massive upset, and with it, the first national championship in team history.

9. Tennis: French Open Final – Stan Wawrinka defeats Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4

Novak Djokovic had possibly the greatest year in tennis history in 2015. He set all-time records with 16,585 ranking points, six masters titles, and 31 wins against Top-10 players.

He reached the finals of all four Grand Slams, winning three. This match was the only blemish on his impeccable résumé, and it took an absolutely incredible performance from Stan Wawrinka to keep him from winning the first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1969.

Djokovic had just become the first player to ever defeat nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets on the clay courts of Paris, so he entered the final with plenty of confidence. Djokovic is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the sport, but his defense was not enough to deal with Wawrinka’s relentless offensive firepower.

The highlight of the match came in the third set, when Wawrinka crushed a backhand around the net for a winner. After possibly the greatest offensive performance in tennis history, Wawrinka captured his second career major title and denied Djokovic from winning his elusive first French Open title.

Highlights here; around-the-net backhand at 2:33

8. NBA: Western Conference Quarterfinals – Game 3: Warriors defeat Pelicans 123-119 in OT

The Warriors trailed by 20 points entering the fouth quarter, with superstar Stephen Curry sitting on the bench. The game appeared to be over, but after a modest run, Curry re-entered the game and Golden State continued to claw its way back.

Curry hit a 3 with 11.8 seconds left to bring the Warriors within two. Then, with 2.8 seconds remaining, Curry nailed a desperation 3-pointer from the corner to send the game to overtime. Curry started off the scoring in overtime with another 3, and he finished with 40 points to lead the Warriors to a dramatic come-from-behind win on the road, stretching their series lead to 3-0.

7. College Football: No. 9 Stanford defeats No. 6 Notre Dame 38-36

The Fighting Irish traveled to Stanford with the hopes that a win would earn them a spot in the College Football Playoff. Stanford got its senior day off to a fast start with an opening-drive touchdown, and Notre Dame returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to tie it.

The game continued to go back and forth, with neither team holding more than a seven-point lead.

DeShone Kizer ran the ball in from 2 yards out to give Notre Dame a one-point lead with 30 seconds remaining. But, after a facemask penalty and a 27-yard completion, the Cardinal were in field goal range with six seconds left. Conrad Ukropina drilled a 45-yarder to stun the Irish and end their playoff hopes. Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan called it the best win of his career.

Highlights here.

6. NBA: Western Conference Semifinals – Game 7: Clippers defeat Spurs 111-109

A back-and-forth series came down to Game 7 between the Clippers and the defending champion Spurs. Chris Paul, the Clippers’ star point guard, had been known for putting up big numbers, but failing to come through in big games.

That reputation could be put to rest after this one. Paul injured his hamstring early, and though he was clearly hobbled, he battled through the injury to score 27 points, including an acrobatic one-handed shot over Tim Duncan with a second remaining to knock out the defending champs. It took a fantastic shooting performance, as the Clippers shot over 50% from the field and from 3-point range, to eek out the victory against the Spurs’ imposing defense.

5. NFL: AFC Divisional Round – Patriots defeat Ravens 35-31

The Patriots got off to a slow start in their first playoff game of the season and trailed 14-0 in the first quarter. After tying the game, they fell behind by 14 once again, 28-14. In desperation, they pulled out every trick in the book to mount another comeback. They used unorthodox formations that baffled and infuriated Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who thought they were illegal. 

Sure enough, the NFL updated the rule in the offseason to make them illegal.

Late in the third quarter, they pulled out their biggest trick with a lateral screen pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman. Edelman caught the ball and then threw it downfield, hitting Danny Amendola in stride on the first pass attempt of his career for a 51-yard score to tie the game.

After surrendering the lead once more, the Patriots answered with a perfect pass from Brady to Brandon LaFell to go up 35-31 with 5:13 left. After intercepting Joe Flacco in the end zone with 1:39 to go, and batting down a Hail Mary attempt as time expired, the Patriots could finally breathe a sigh of relief, as they had advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

4. NHL: Western Conference Final – Game 4: Chicago Blackhawks defeat Anaheim Ducks 5-4 in 2OT

The Blackhawks entered the game trailing the series 2-1, but they got off to a good start with a shorthanded breakaway goal by Brandon Saad late in the 1st period. They took a 3-1 lead with a goal by Brent Seabrook midway through the third period, but Anaheim came roaring back with three goals in a span of 37 seconds, the second-shortest span for a team to score three goals in playoff history (1979 Maple Leafs – 23 seconds).

Less than 2 minutes after Seabrook gave Chicago a nice cushion, the Blackhawks found themselves trailing. But Patrick Kane answered with a power-play goal to send the game to overtime. After Chicago was denied on a breakaway attempt and a shot off the crossbar, the game headed to a second overtime.

Antoine Vermette, who had been a healthy scratch in the prior game, came through for the Blackhawks with the winning goal to tie the series. Amazingly, after three goals in 37 seconds, the Ducks were held scoreless for the final 36:18. The Blackhawks would go on to win the series in seven games and win the Stanley Cup.

3. Tennis: US Open 3rd Round – No. 32 Fabio Fognini defeats No. 8 Rafael Nadal 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4

Two-time US Open champion Rafael Nadal entered as a heavy favorite against 32nd-seeded Fabio Fognini, who had never beaten a Top-10 player on a hard court in 17 previous attempts. Nadal won the first two sets comfortably, 6-3, 6-4. Fognini is not known as the toughest competitor, and Nadal entered the match 151-0 in his career with a two-set lead at a major, so the match appeared to be over.

But Fognini loosened up and started to play like he had nothing to lose. He played fearless tennis, unleashing winner after winner, storming back from a break down in the third and fourth to force a decisive fifth set.

Nadal struggled for much of 2015, but he played possibly his best tennis of the year in that fifth set.

Still, his best tennis was only good enough for him to hold serve once in the set. Momentum swung back and forth as the players traded five breaks of serve. Fognini took a 4-3, 40-0 lead, but Nadal fought back to tie the match. Then a seventh consecutive break gave Fognini a 5-4 lead, and he finally held serve to close out the match after 3 hours and 46 minutes, securing the biggest win of his career.

I have never seen someone play so far above his typical level, and I have never seen a better match at the US Open.

"That was one of greatest, most spectacular comebacks you're ever going to see on a tennis court," said John McEnroe, who commentated the match. "The level that he played to mount that miraculous comeback will be remembered for a long time."

Highlights here.

2. NFL: NFC Championship Game – Seahawks defeat Packers 28-22 in OT

The Packers started the game conservatively, failing to convert any of Seattle’s five turnovers into touchdowns, settling for field goals to build a modest 16-0 lead. But the Seahawks finally got on the board in the third quarter with an unlikely completion from punter Jon Ryan to lineman Garry Gilliam on a fake field goal for a touchdown. What started as a snooze-fest began to morph into an all-time classic.

The real mayhem began with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, with Seattle trailing 19-7. A long pass to Marshawn Lynch set up a short Russell Wilson touchdown run, cutting the Packers’ lead to five. The ensuing onside kick hung up in the air, and Brandon Bostick abandoned his blocking duties to jump for the ball rather than letting it fall to the sure-handed Jordy Nelson. The ball bounced off of Bostick’s helmet and was recovered by the Seahawks, setting up a go-ahead touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch with 1:25 to go. Seattle went for two, and Wilson scrambled backwards 15 yards before turning and heaving a prayer across the field to Luke Willson, who somehow came down with the ball to give the Seahawks a three-point lead.

That bizarre play proved crucial, as Aaron Rodgers marched the Packers down the field to kick a field goal and send the game to overtime. And then in a fitting ending, Russell Wilson threw a deep pass to Jermaine Kearse to win the game. Wilson had been intercepted on his first four pass attempts to Kearse, but when they finally connected, they completed the comeback and brought their team to the Super Bowl for the second straight year.

Highlights here.

1. NFL: Super Bowl XLIX – Patriots defeat Seahawks 28-24

The Patriots and Seahawks had both pulled off miraculous escapes just to get to this point, and each team saved one last miracle for the end of the Super Bowl. Tom Brady led the greatest fourth quarter comeback in Super Bowl history to erase a 10-point deficit and give New England a 28-24 lead with just over 2 minutes to play. Then, Jermaine Kearse made one of the most extraordinary catches in Super Bowl history, reminiscent of David Tyree’s helmet catch that cost the Patriots a perfect 19-0 season in Super Bowl XLII.

Kearse’s catch brought Seattle to the 5-yard line, and Dont’a Hightower made an outstanding tackle on the next play to stop running back Marshawn Lynch just short of the goal line. With a timeout, a minute left to play, and a superstar running back, everyone (except the Patriots, apparently) expected Seattle to hand the ball to Lynch one more time and punch the ball in from the 1-yard line.

But Russell Wilson dropped back to pass, setting the stage for undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler to emerge as a Super Bowl hero. Butler became the first player all season to intercept a pass from the 1-yard line, and he secured New England’s first championship since winning three of four Super Bowls from 2001-2004.

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