I have decided to bring you my “Top ten NBA play-off moments ever” just to celebrate one of the most memorable Post-Seasons in my young lifetime (I am 31 years old).
I have been watching the NBA now since midway through the 1992-93 season, so basically it has been 20 years now.
It seems only right that I do this recant of the Scriptures According to Mr. David Stern. The “Yellow Brick Road” runs through South Beach, Miami and the Grand Vizier is LeBron James.
The “Wicked Witch of the West” could be anyone from the Oklahoma City Thunder and the flying monkeys would be the Memphis Grizzlies’ Big Three – Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Also, “There’s no place like home” for the Golden State Warriors, who have proven that with or without home-court advantage, they can still trouble former champion teams like the San Antonio Spurs.
Can they reach the “Promised Land” for the first time in 38 years – since the days of Hall-of-Famer Rick Barry and Super-coach Al Attles.
We shall see what the machinations will be at the end of what could be the fascinating Play-offs ever.
To compare this edition to other editions may be tough due to the differences in the standards of the players and the coaching nowadays, but one thing that doesn’t change is the tension created by a big shot at a crucial moment, by the underdog coming through and knocking off the clear favourite and when “The Greatest” proves that he still has it after a deluded attempt at a different venture.
It could even be a ‘Shoot-out At High Noon’ between two all-time greats or playing through humiliating injury to help your team-mates win it all.
Or, through sickness and in health, you can still play to your truly high standards.
Finally, when you announce yourself on the world stage by scoring 12 points in 20 seconds and standing up to a universally respected film director.
It’s all this that combine to form a tapestry of Post-Season Greatness that can never be beaten. And that, in my mind, is what truly makes a championship run truly exhilarating.
So, based on these conditions, I will be bringing to you my “Top Ten NBA Play-Off Moments Ever”, in two parts.
This is not definite, and is meant to be debated and chewed over, but how can you go wrong with these moments of pure hilarity and adrenalin.
So, here is 10 through 6 of my “Top Ten”.
10) Larry Bird versus Dominique Wilkins (Boston Celtics versus Atlanta Hawks – Game 3, Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, 1987)
At this stage, the “Bird-Man” was just starting to cement his greatness and “The Human Highlight Film” was just starting to establish himself as a prime-time force in the league.
The previous year would see the Celts make their final NBA Finals appearance in the Bird, McHale and Parish era, but they were still firing strong, but the Hawks were making rapid inroads in their Eastern dominance.
Wilkins was the figurehead of this journey.
With the series tied at two games apiece, and the Game III a very closely fought affair, the atmosphere called for two men to bring their A-Games to the court.
Thus, Bird and Wilkins would duel it out in a one-on-one to end all basketball court duels.
Shot after shot, basket after basket, both men went blow for blow until one man ( and his team) was left standing.
The fans on their feet at the old, venerable Boston Garden, in a battle reminiscent of Russell versus Chamberlain, ultimately it was Bird and his Celtics who stood tall at the end of the game and the series, but this game would help to define Wilkins’ Hall-of-Fame career.
9) John Stockton’s three-pointer over Charles Barkley (Utah Jazz versus Houston Rockets – Game 7, Western Conference Finals, 1997)
This was was more than just a simple outside shot going in, it was a shot fired for a team that had never seen over the high mountain in the history of the franchise, though they had climbed halfway on many an occasion.
Going into the post-season, many basketball insiders had questioned whether the Big Two – “The Mailman” Karl Malone and Stockton – were getting too old and had seen their championship opportunities pass them by.
The three was a salvo proving that this was certainly not the case.
It also meant that “Sir Charles” was destined to never reach the summit of that mountain in his career.
A tight series between two teams desperate to prove that age had nothing to do with success, the Jazz probably thought that their last opportunity came in the loss to the Seattle Supersonics in the previous year’s Western Conference Finals.
But, the determination of Malone and Stockton, and the ingenuity of ever-present sideline general Jerry Sloan, proved too much for the Rockets in the end – as the Big Shot proved.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they came up against Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls in the Finals.
They couldn’t get by the Bulls in the 1998 Finals, either. That was the Jazz’s final Finals appearance to date.
Malone would get another shot at a championship ring as a member of the L.A. Lakers 2004 Finals team, but they got unceremoniously swept by the Detroit Pistons (see Moment 4).
8) The first eighth-seeded team ever to knock off the top-seeded team after the First Round (Denver Nuggets versus Seattle Supersonics, Western Conference Play-offs, 1994)
It couldn’t happen, could it? Surely not. The Sonics had just made it into the Play-offs with all the momentum in the world after winning a franchise-high 60 wins in the regular season.
Shawn Kemp had started his first All-Star Game, coach George Karl was finally being respected and Gary Payton was emerging from the shadows as a prime-time performer.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, had limped into the post-season with a losing record and no proven scorers, no-one for the Sonics to fear offensively.
By the end of Game 5, though, all that history was thrown out the proverbial window.
The Nuggets’ coach, Dan Issel, had turned his unproven and very young personnel into giant-killers that created history in the process of upsetting the “Best in the West”.
The sight of Dikembe Mutombo holding the ball aloft his head after the final block of the series will be remembered by Nuggets fans for generations to come.
They would also cause a giant headache for the Utah Jazz in the conference semis as well before going down in six games.
7) Nick Anderson misses four, crucial, free throws in final twenty seconds (Orlando Magic versus Houston Rockets, Game 1, 1995 NBA Finals)
It wouldn’t sound like much if you don’t consider the circumstances that took place afterwards.
In any normal game, he probably would have been giving himself a ‘triple uppercut’ until he set foot on the team’s plane for the next game.
But, considering the Magic had an eight point edge and their opponents had decided to start intentionally fouling whomever got the ball, it was truly devastating – for him, personally, and the team.
They went on to lose the game by two. They never recovered and were unceremoniously swept by the Rockets.
The most embarrassing part of that was that the Rockets clinched the championship on the Magic’s own home court.
Being swept out of a play-off series became an annual tradition during the time they were coached by Brian Hill (1993-1998).
Anderson also never recovered, for while his yearly free-throw percentages hovered around the semi-respectable 68% mark going into the 1995 Play-offs, he finished his career (1989-2002) hitting about 48% of his foul shots.
6) Reggie Miller goes absolutely berzerk in the final twenty seconds (Indiana Pacers versus New York Knicks, Game 3, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals)
Spike Lee will never forget it! The Knicks had an almost unassailable thirteen point advantage in the closing twenty seconds of the fourth quarter. Not only that, but they were inside the hallowed halls of the Madison Square Garden – the world’s most famous arena.
All the A-List stars were out, including the Spike-ster. Nobody told “Killer” Miller that, though.
This was his coming-out party. The notice of his arrival as a prime-time play-off performer. He pulled off something that even the “Greatest of All Time” would have had a hard time doing. Firstly, he hit a three-pointer with hands in his face.
Then he got fouled making another three-pointer on the very next possession.
He then stole the Knicks’ inbound pass and made (yet another!) three-pointer.
He then got fouled after getting a steal as the Knicks tried to get out of their back-court and made both foul shots.
He then made a lay-up to complete the greatest one-man comeback in NBA Play-offs history. 14 points in twenty seconds.
He even amazed himself, and afterwards he turned towards where Spike Lee was sitting and gave him the choke sign.
Unfortunately for him and his Pacers, Spike and the Knicks had the last laugh as they went on to win the series anyway to advance to the NBA Finals, but only after lasting on to a decisive Game 7.