8 Greatest Moments in the NBA Finals
May 31, 2017   •   Jon Carlos Rodriguez
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May 31, 2017   •   Jon Carlos Rodriguez
LeBron James has made it to seven straight NBA Finals. Let that sink in for a bit: LeBron’s been in the finals for consecutive years since the first Thor movie came out. When he took the Miami Heat to the 2011 Finals, Klay Thompson was still in college. Now, LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Klay’s (okay, Steph’s—or is it Durant’s?) Golden State Warriors are in the finals for the third straight year. What have you been doing with your life for the past three years? The Cavaliers and Warriors have been engaged in a tug-of-war for basketball supremacy, one-upping each other’s Finals performance since 2015. Let’s revisit one of those moments below, together with other greatest moments in the history of the NBA Finals.
Draymond Green’s flagrant “swipe” on LeBron’s groin in Game 4 was the series-shifting moment of the 2016 Finals, but what everyone remembers from that series is the chase-down block that took away Andre Iguodala’s soul and eventually crushed the Warriors’ chances for back-to-back titles. It was one of those plays that can only be narrated via hyperbole in Morgan Freeman’s voice: LeBron, son of Akron, charged towards the basket in a burst of energy that was both majestic and chilling, like an eagle swooping down to attack its prey.
Let’s pretend for a bit that Michael Jordan didn’t come out of retirement. Forget his stint on the Washington Wizards, and take Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals as his final game ever. That iconic pose that he let linger for half a second after hitting the title-clinching shot? Imagine that being the last image you ever saw of Jordan in a basketball jersey. He also had The Mid-Air Switch, The Shrug, The Flu Game, and about 12 more great moments in the NBA Finals, but The Shot to win Championship No. 6 is unquestionably his greatest; the perfect conclusion to a superb career. It wasn’t only a clutch shot, it was a sign from the basketball gods, telling us that—if you trust in the GOAT—everything is going to be okay.
The 1970 NBA Finals belonged to Willis Reed, the hobbling hero of the New York Knicks and patron saint of 2008 Paul Pierce, but in Game 3 of that series, Laker legend Jerry West stole a brief moment of greatness. Down 2 with only 3 seconds left, West launched a 60-foot heave that hit nothing but net. The miraculous shot would’ve won the game for the Lakers, but because this was 1970, it only counted for 2 points. In overtime, West’s luck wore off as LA lost to the Knicks.
Perfection on the basketball is a rare commodity; an apparition that manifests in every Steph Curry stepback 3-pointer or LeBron James bullet pass. In the 90s, the Chicago Bulls embodied that perfection by grabbing 6 of the 10 championships in the decade. The third title in ’93 was proof of the Bulls’ precision—specifically, in the final 14 seconds in Game 6 when they found themselves down 2 points. The ball moved fluidly through all five Bulls players in the title-clinching play, before ending up in the steady hands of John Paxson, who hit the game-winner. The moment was so perfect that the Bulls decided to release a sequel four years later, with Steve Kerr taking on Paxson’s role.
While Kerr’s NBA Finals moment as a player belong in a museum, Tyronn Lue’s moment was more of a meme. Lue, now the coach of the Cavs, was part of the dominating 2001 Lakers squad, a team that cruised through the first round, conference semifinals, and conference finals unscathed—and perhaps unprepared for any sort of resistance. The true test for the Lakers came in Game 1 of the finals against an unrelenting Allen Iverson. Too bad for Lue, who was assigned the unfortunate task of defending Iverson. Lue found himself on the floor after Iverson unleashed his own version of a finishing move, complete with a vicious, shudder-inducing step-over. Iverson got the moment, but at least Lue got the ring.
The moment happened in Game 4 of the 1980 NBA Finals between the Philadelphia 76ers and the LA Lakers, a time when Julius Erving’s leaping ability and above-the-rim athleticism were all the rage. If you were asked to name the most iconic shots in NBA history, the best bets would be The Shot ’89 and The Shot ’98; Magic’s Junior Sky-Hook in ’87; and this seemingly impossible reverse-scoop layup by Dr. J.
For Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, Ray Allen channeled his inner Jesus Shuttlesworth with a series-saving 3-pointer to send the must-win game into overtime. The Larry O’Brien trophy was inches away from the grasp of the San Antonio Spurs when Allen hit the baseline 3 to tie, tilting the momentum back in Miami’s favor. The shot was so devastating for the Spurs that the effects trickled into overtime, all the way to Game 7, where the Heat would claim its back-to-back title. On the flipside, the shot was so special for the Heat that one fan from Canada had the moment tattooed on her arm. True story.
The greatest moments in the career of Kobe Bryant, alpha male that he is, come when there is a Herculean task at hand. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the Kobe. Before the question swelled to “Can Kobe win a title without Shaq?”, the question was “Can Kobe take over a game without Shaq?” In Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals, when Shaquille O’Neal fouled out, Kobe answered with a definitive “yes” by scoring six of the Lakers’ final eight points, including a clutch putback to seal the game—giving the world a sneak peek into the beta stage of Black Mamba.
What were the most memorable Finals moment for you? Share it with us below!
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