Three consecutive championships. That’s what’s on the line. Only two franchises have accomplished it since the merger. Stakes like that are bound to make for great moments.
On that note, here’s a list of the NBA’s 12 most memorable playoff moments. It’s what this year’s championship-hopefuls will have to top to elevate into NBA greatness.
12. Magic’s junior, junior skyhook
Magic had learned from Abdul-Jabbar his whole career. It was only a matter of time before he stole Abdul-Jabbar’s favorite move, but no one expected Magic to win the game with a Sky Hook. It was reminiscent of Abdul-Jabbars in double overtime in the 1974 Finals. The Lakers won the game 107-106 and finished the Celtics off in six games. It was the final of three Lakers vs. Celtics NBA Finals in the 1980s, and it seemed to be the end of an era-defining rivalry.
11. “The Shot”
After this shot, everyone knew MJ was for real; it was his coronation. He seemed triple-teamed at one point, but elevated and made the shot that will forever play in NBA Playoff promo commercials. If you’ve watched any of the NBA Playoffs over the last ten years, you’ve seen this play. It was only the first round of the 1989 Playoffs. Sometimes players need a moment that galvanizes them, and while MJ may not be one of those players, this shot was the origin of what would be an illustrious career filled with high-pressure game-winners.
10. Isiah Thomas tallies 43 points, 8 assists on bad ankle
Of all the games where players performed despite injuries, Thomas’ ranks highest in both pain endured and on-court dominance. Thomas could barely run when he did not have the ball and yet he shred the defense with a high-effort 25 point third quarter. Despite his efforts, the Pistons lost Game 6 and eventually the series in one of the most heartbreaking moments in NBA history. Something that I’m sure will be hit on in tonight’s Bad Boys documentary.
9. Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 8.9 seconds beats Knicks
The performance was so awesome that ESPN 30-for-30 has already made a documentary about it. Miller had always backed up his bad boy attitude, but in this game he gave himself trash-talking amnesty for life. What he did in those finals seconds – which includes somehow getting away with a foul – was nothing short of amazing. The second three-point shot was something not even Paul George should bother attempting.
8. Ray Allen’s 3-point winner over Spurs in Game 6
Heat fans had left the arena. So naturally the basketball gods spited them with a spectacular Ray Allen game-winner. The shot led to a Game 7 blowout and second consecutive championship for the Heat in the 2013 Finals. Gregg Popovich threw a fit, arguing that it was a two-point shot, but reviewing the footage showed it was a true three and reinforced its greatness, over and over again.
7. MJ’s “Flu Game”
Was it his most dominant performance? No. Was there a bigger moment in this series? Yes (Hint: It’s coming up). Is it indelible in every NBA fan’s memory? Absolutely. Despite exhaustion so severe he needed help from his teammates getting out to the floor, MJ recorded 38 points in the Bulls 100-98 win over the Utah Jazz. The Bulls took a 3-2 lead in the series and won the Finals in the following game. Even Jalen Rose’s statement that the Flu Game was really the “Hangover Game” didn’t ruin the moment. In some ways, it makes it even more impressive.
6. Bill Russell’s racks up 30 points and 40 rebounds in Game 7
In the 110-107 Game 7 win, Bill Russell had an all-around outstanding performance. Russell, one of basketball’s greats, played on a Celtics team that was one of the most dominant teams not just in NBA history, but in all of American sports. It is fitting too that Russell’s leading stat was rebounds, which is a testament to his strength and effort.
The game ended on the most memorable moment of the game, a missed shot by Frank Selvy followed by Bob Cousy dribbling with such care that it resembled dizzy bat.
5. Willis Reed Limps in Madison Square Garden
This is probably the only time a team’s first four points determined the outcome of an NBA Finals game, or any NBA game, but Reed’s four points seemed to spark an offensive effort by the Knicks that Lakers could not match. With a little help from cortisone, Reed toughed out a torn muscle in his thigh to appear in the 1970s Finals. Considered by some a top 3 moment, the sight of him limping down the tunnel had a greater effect on the game than a 30-point performance will ever have.
4. Havlicek’s Steal
Made famous by smoky-voiced Johnny Most, Havlicek’s steal resulted in a soundbite that will live into basketball infinity. The video of the steal itself almost doesn’t live up to the audio, but don’t let the old tape fool you. It capped an 1965 Eastern Division finals game seven for the Celtics, who went on to win their seventh of eight straight Championships. The series featured Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, a pair that provided one of the NBA’s classic player rivalries. It was something that today’s television networks would slobber over.3. Larry Bird’s steal
3. Larry Bird’s Steal
This is why we watch basketball. Larry Bird’s steal in the final seconds in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals is the kind of moment fans will pay thousands of dollars to see in this year’s NBA Finals. While the Celtics took this series, they eventually lost to the Lakers in the finals. However, his court-awareness to bait the pass; his athleticism to keep the ball in bounds; his pure passing ability to get the ball Dennis Johnson for the score; it all combined to produce one of the most well-known plays in NBA history.
2. Magic peaks in NBA Finals
It’s one thing to play big in big games. It’s another thing entirely to play at your best in the biggest moment in your career. Magic Johnson’s game verses the Lakers in replacement of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, arguably his best performance in his career, coincided with his winning the 1980 Finals. While playing all five positions, Johnson accounted for 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. Oh yeah, and he was a 20-year-old rookie.
1. Michael Jordan hits final shot vs. Utah Jazz in 1998 Finals
MJ’s final shot as a Bull won him his sixth Championship – it also left Bryon Russell on the floor and came after a steal off Karl Malone. MJ recorded 45 points that night to defeat the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. Even his four years with the Wizards and eventual return to the league couldn’t tarnish the basketball perfection that occurred on that shot. These were the kind of shots that made Michael more than just an athletic marvel. He is damn good at winning.