Greatest NBA Playoff Moments
10. Magic Johnson’s “Junior, Junior Sky Hook”
Picture this, it’s Game 4 of the 1987 NBA finals. The L.A. Lakers led by Magic Johnson and the Boston Celtics by Larry Bird have been battling it out all-game-long. The pressure cooker that was the Bird vs Johnson rivalry is at an all-time high. With seven seconds to go, the Celtics led 106 to 105—the Lakers needed a huge play from their star players to steal the win.
With a handful of seconds left on the clock, Michael Cooper passed it to Johnson deep in offensive territory. Magic then dribbled past Kevin McHale and into the inside lane. While a traditional lay-up would have been blocked by the nearby Robert Parish of the Celtics, Johnson floated his “junior, junior” sky hook to give them the final one-point lead. This sealed the fate of the long-standing Johnson vs Bird and the game for the Lakers.
9. Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game”
In a much-needed win for the Chicago Bulls against the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan was struct down with flu-like symptoms the night before. Dehydrated and physically exhausted, Jordan went on to spur the Bulls on to victory that night 90 to 88.
While on the court, Jordan was playing just as he normally did. However, when on the bench, that’s when he looked to be struggling. Ice packs, Gatorade, baskets of sweat towels—His Airness was determined to push on regardless of his physical condition, even to the point of passing out. It’s hard to ever forget the image of Scottie Pippen holding up Jordan at the end of the match. His determination and persistence in this game further his GOAT status.
8. LeBron James Dominates the Pistons
After struggling against the Detroit Pistons in Games 1 and 2 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers, needed to redeem himself. While LeBron and the Cavs turned things around in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series up 2 to 2, it was Game 5 of the series that turned James into an entirely different beast.
Of the last 30 points scored by the Cavaliers, 29 of those were LeBron’s, which included a run of 25 points scored by him in a row. The Pistons became a helpless mess in those final 16-minutes of the fourth quarter, which included two bouts of overtime. Dunks, lay-ups, three-pointers—he was everywhere. LeBron was crowned King James that night, with a then career-high of 48 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
7. Michael Jordan Punishing the Celtics
In the second year as a pro baller, Michael Jordan was sidelined for the majority of the regular season due to an ankle injury—playing a grand total of 18 games. However, that wouldn’t stop MJ from doing what he did best by giving his everything for the Chicago Bulls. What happened next gave the Boston Celtics nightmares for years to come, while cementing Jordan as a prolific player to watch.
In Game 2 of the 1986 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, His Airness, raked up 63 points, completely overpowering the C’s defensive line-up. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and the rest of the greatest NBA line-ups ever to happen couldn’t stop Jordan. Although the Bulls didn’t manage to scoop up the victory that game, this will forever be remembered as a defining moment in Jordan’s career, all at the age of 23.
6. Allen Iverson Against the Formidable Lakers
Before the 2001 NBA Finals, the Philadelphia 76ers hadn’t seen the finals since 1983. However, their luck changed after drafting Allen Iverson in 1996. As Iverson developed and grew, so did the Sixers. When it got to 2001, they were a force to be reckoned with. The only issue was that they were up against Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal of the Championship-winning L.A. Lakers.
In Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, Iverson commanded an exceptional comeback to stop the Laker’s dead in their tracks. In classic Iverson fashion, The Answer managed to sink 13 of the game-winning 15 points in overtime under immense pressure. Our favourite shot was his step-back jump shot against Tyronn Lue and the glare at him as Lue laid on the ground. Iverson finished the game with 48 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds, giving his team the 107 to 101 victory. While the Laker’s would ultimately defeat the Sixers, Allen Iverson made sure they didn’t go down without a fight.
5. Kobe’s Alley-Oop to Shaq to Stop the Feud
This was the play that kickstarted the L.A. Laker’s three-peat back in the year 2000 and ended the four-year-long feud between stars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Previous to this, Kobe and Shaq had butted heads on multiple occasions—the two biggest personalities in the Lakers were controversial teammates at the best of times. However, in the dying moments of Game 7 against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the pair decided to work together.
After getting the ball, Kobe was looking to sink his next three. However, with a few quick glances between the two legends, Bryant instead sent a lofty alley-oop towards Shaq who was waiting under the ring. O’Neal met the ball at the perfect moment, sending it crashing down to earth for a mesmerizing slam dunk. Not only did this assist the Laker’s to victory that night, but it also helped momentarily quell the feud between these greats. This one-two punch led to the Laker’s first-ever three-peat in 2000, 2001 and 2002, with Shaq and Kobe at the helm.
4. Mr. Clutch & the 60-Foot Shot
With the clock ticking in Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals, the L.A. Lakers were trailing the New York Knicks by two points. In a last-ditch attempt to tie the scores, Jerry West, aka Mr Clutch, wound up with cannons and launched a 60-foot shot from beyond the half-court line. Just as the buzzer went off, West’s shot found its way into the bucket to level the score.
While the Knicks ultimately emerged the victors after overtime, Mr Clutch’s shot was making headlines. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 10 years later that the three-pointer arc was painted onto the court. If that rule had been in place when West hit that half-court Hail Mary, the Lakers would have won there and then, which would have made for an even more spectacular story.
3. Rookie Magic Johns Plays Centre
After defeating the Seattle SuperSonics and Phoenix Suns to advance to the 1980 NBA Finals, the L.A. Lakers were up against their toughest opponents yet—the Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by none other than Julius “Dr J” Erving.
Driven by a dominant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the first five games, the Lakers were currently up 3 games to 2 in the Finals series. However, when Abdul-Jabbar twisted his ankle during Game 5, everyone thought it was over for the Laker’s championship run. Instead of giving up, Magic Johnson, point guard rookie for the Lakers, transitioned to Kareem’s centre position to lead the team to Finals victory. His powerful 42-point performance earned him his first Finals MVP trophy; an award he would go onto win another three times in his career.
2. Larry Bird’s Biggest Steal
It’s no secret that Larry Bird changed the game in more ways than one. Not only was he an exceptional player, but his ability to read the court and potential plays were unparalleled. Bird’s most famous steal happened in the final moments in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.
With five seconds left of play, the Detroit Pistons were leading the Boston Celtics 107 to 106. The ball had just gone out of bounds and was now in the hands of the Pistons. The Celtics were looking all but defeated—but not Larry Bird. From the sidelines, Isiah Thomas threw a lofty pass to Bill Laimbeer. Seizing the opportunity, Bird snatched the ball mid-flight and pushed it towards the Celtics offensive end. Bird then sent a precision pass to Dennis Johnson who sunk a lay-up with a mere one second on the clock. The Pistons learnt a valuable lesson that day to never ever underestimate Larry Bird and the Celtics, even when it looks like victory was almost guaranteed.
1. Jordan’s Last Shot
There is no better way to end the Chicago Bull’s unstoppable 90s dynasty than with Michael Jordan’s final, game-deciding shot over Bryon Russel of the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. While we all know the end of this story, Jordan’s last dance at Chicago saw him finish with 45 points, a spectacular number even to today’s standards.
While the shot itself wasn’t dramatic, the lead up to it was the complete embodiment of MJ. Jordan began his final play with a steal off Karl Malone, which in itself is a legendary feat. Jordan then pushed the ball downtown, easily crossing up youngster Bryon Russell to create his opening. Finally, Michael leapt forward for a seemingly effortless lay-up to seal the deal. This commanding style of play was everything we knew and loved about the GOAT. With that play, Jordan secured his 6th NBA Championship ring and second three-peat for the Chicago Bulls.
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