10 Greatest Moments in NBA Playoff History
The 2018 NBA Playoffs are moving right along – way too quickly if you ask me – and there have been some great moments already. But we’re not here to talk about the present. We’re here to dwell on the past. Specifically, let’s talk about some of the greatest moments in NBA playoff history.
10. Bill Russell: 30 Points, 40 Rebounds
First on the list is a moment I mentioned in our “Best Individual NBA Playoff Peformances” piece from a few weeks ago. In game seven of the 1962 NBA Finals, Bill Russell and the Celtics Lakers faced the Los Angeles Lakers in a game for the ages. Russell finished with 30 points and 40 rebounds as Boston won 110-107 in overtime and hoisted the championship trophy.
9. LeBron vs. Celtics: Game 6, 2012 ECF
In 2012, King James was already known as the best player in the league and the Michael Jordan comparisons were all over the place. However, he had yet to accomplish his biggest goal, winning a championship. To do so, he had to lift his Miami Heat over Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics. In a pivotal game six, down 3-2 in the series, LeBron went for 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting, 15 rebounds, and five assists. And he did so on the road, at TD Garden.
The Heat went back to Miami and took the series. The Heat went on to win LeBron’s first NBA championship against the OKC Thunder.
8. Magic Johnson’s “Junior, Junior Sky Hook”
After fighting back from a 16-point deficit in game four against the Celtics, Magic and the Lakers found themselves down by one, inbounding the ball with mere seconds left. Getting the ball to Magic, he looked for a jumper by found Kevin McHale in his way. He dribbed toward the foul line and launched up his own version of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook, which ended up being the game-winner for the Lakers, who took a commanding 3-1 series lead. After the game, Magic dubbed the shot “the junior, junior sky hook.”
7. There’s A Steal by Bird!
I don’t know about you, but I can’t see or hear Larry Bird’s name without immediately thinking about announcer Johnny Most’s famous call during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. Down by one against Detroit, an ill-advised inbounds pass was stolen by Bird, who flipped a pass to Dennis Johnson for the layup with just a second remaining. The Celtics won the game and, eventually, the series.
6. Mr. Clutch’s 60-Footer
You might know him better as Jerry West but in the 1970s, the Lakers guard was simply known as Mr. Clutch. No playoff moment better supports that nickname than in game three of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Knicks. Down by two with three seconds to play, West took an inbounds pass from Wilt Chamberlain and heaved a shot from half court, sinking it and sending the game to overtime (NOTE: NBA in 1970 had no three-point shot. If it had, the Lakers would have won the game in regulation instead of losing 111-108 in overtime)
5. Greatest Game Ever Played
Boston vs Phoenix doesn’t sound like a duo that would be involved in what many consider the greatest NBA game ever played. However, it was indeed the case. In game five of the 1976 NBA Finals, the series was tied 2-2. This game had everything and then some. The game went to three overtimes, included an unacknowledged timeout by Paul Silas that, if had been granted by the refs, would have been a technical foul on Boston and given Phoenix a chance to win the game at the free throw line.
In the second OT period, Phoenix’s Paul Westphal actually used this rule to his team’s advantage, putting Boston on the free throw line to save time, giving the Suns the chance to inbound from midcourt after the free throw. Gar Heard sent the game to its third overtime with a buzzer-beating jumper off the ensuing inbound pass.
In the third OT, Boston reserve Glenn McDonald rose to the occasion with many of his teammates fouled out, scoring six points and helping the Celtics FINALLY win the game 128-126.
4. Willis Reed Takes the Knicks to First Title
From a purely statistical standpoint, game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals between the Knicks and the Lakers was unimpressive for Willis Reed. However, considering he tore a muscle in his thigh during game five and didn’t even play during game six, it was a miracle that he was on the court at all. Limping out on the court, he took the opening tip against Wilt Chamberlain and scored the first two baskets of the game. His grit, determination, and heart helped swing the moment in the Knicks favor and propel the team to its first-ever NBA championship.
3. Havlicek Stole the Ball!
Yet another amazing call by Johnny Most for the Celtics. In the last seconds of game seven of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals against the Sixers, the Celtics were up by one and guarding Philly’s out-of-bounds set. Hal Greer readied to inbound the ball, but his main target – Wilt Chamberlain – was fronted by Bill Russell. Instead, Greer tried to send it deep to Chet Walker, but Havlicek baited him and tipped the pass, sending it to Boston’s Sam Jones. Jones dribbed out the clock and won the series.
But forget about my words. Take a listen to Most’s. They give me chills every time.
2. Magic Plays Center
Game six of the 1980 NBA Finals will always be held as one of the greatest individual performances of all time. It’s also one of the greatest playoff moments of all time. With a sidelined (back in Los Angeles) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers made the amazingly risky move of starting a rookie Magic Johnson at center. That’s right, CENTER.
Magic was brilliant, scoring 45 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, and dishing out seven assists. He did it all, leading Los Angeles to a game six win and an NBA title.
1. Jordan’s Final Shot in a Bulls Uniform
Nothing I could write would do this moment justice. Take it away, Bob Costas.