These big topics always turn out to be the big bears. Here we've already got too many MJ moments, and there could be even more. We've left off Larry and Kareem, Gerald Henderson, Kerr, Kareem again, a couple other Magic moments ... and we could go on and on ...
10. Jordan shrugs (Game 1, June 3, 1992)
In the first half of the Bulls-Blazers matchup, Air Jordan was on fire -- he couldn't be stopped going inside, so Clyde Drexler gave him the outside. From beyond the three-point arc, MJ buried six shots, scoring 35 points in the first half. After the last three-pointer went in, Jordan turned towards Magic Johnson, who was announcing on the sideline, and shrugged -- he couldn't believe it either.
9. Russell tears up the script (Game 7, May 5, 1969)
Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had already scripted the postgame championship celebration, which included 5,000 balloons ready to drop from the Forum ceiling, and the USC band ready to play "Happy Days Are Here Again." With about a minute to play and the score tied at 106, the Celtics' Don Nelson fired a 15-foot jumper that clanged the back of the rim, bounced high, then slipped right in for the winning bucket. Bill Russell, who had 21 rebounds in the game and held Wilt Chamberlain to just 18 points, contributed a critical rebound and blocked shot in the final minutes to ensure the win. The tattered old Celtics had won their 11th title in 13 seasons, and the victory was sweetest for Russell. It was his last game, and, he says, his most cherished title. No doubt popping some balloons played a role there.
|Check out NBA.com's All-Time Finals Challenge, in which the '86-'87 Lakers took the title over the '85-'86 Celtics. Also, NBA.com has its own list of twenty Finals moments to remember.|
We're talking about 41.9 seconds total, so let's set the scene first: The Bulls were up 3-2 in the series, playing in Utah. They trailed by three with 41.9 seconds remaining. Jordan Moment No. 1: He drives past Bryon Russell on the right side, and lays it up to narrow the Jazz lead to one. Jordan moment No. 2: Back on D, MJ strips the ball from Karl Malone inside. Jordan Moment No. 3: Jordan drives again against Russell, steps back, gets room, and knocks down a 17-footer with 5.2 seconds left for the win and the series victory. Jordan's last-minute heroics and 45 points sealed the Bulls' second three-peat. "He wouldn't let us lose," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "If this is to be his last game, he left us all with a performance to remember. He's the greatest player ever, and this proves it."
7. Isiah cooks with The Microwave (Game 5, June 14, 1990)
Vinnie Johnson's last-second 14-foot jumper off a pass from Isiah Thomas as time expired gave the Pistons the win and the 1990 title. This was Page 2's second-best Finals buzzer-beater.
6. Dr. J's greatest move (Game 4, May 11, 1980)
Sometimes it's hard to remember when Dr. J made which spectacular move, but this one's well-preserved in the "SportsCentury" vault. It wasn't a buzzer-beater, but his baseline-drive, behind-the backboard, underhand with arms and legs and ball-flying into the hoop swoop was probably the most spectacular shot in Finals history. it came in the fourth quarter of a 105-102 Sixers win at home. Ken Denlinger of the Washington Post managed to put the seemingly indescribable into words: "Sometimes, the Sixers would clear out all the way to Camden for Doc to operate. Still, he found a way to glide through the double-team and either over or around Jabbar. He seems human enough, but there must be a switch somewhere that controls a spring in his arm. How else can certain shots be explained? Twice Erving has attempted seemingly impossible shots, even for him. Saturday's was a drive on Abdul-Jabbar; today's was a reverse layup from the right baseline. Each time, that right arm has seemed to grow longer and longer, as if on command, some hidden force were moving it inch by inch from his body until it had just enough space to score."
5. West's heave-ho (Game 3, April 29, 1970)
Dave DeBusschere hit a jumper with three seconds left at the Forum to give the Knicks a 102-100 victory. Except it didn't. Jerry West took an inbounds pass from under the hoop, darted upcourt, and then, from just beyond the top of the key -- the other one -- heaved a 60-footer that went in and sent the game into OT. The Lakers would ultimately lose, but West's bomb remains the greatest Hail Mary in NBA Finals history.
4. Magic (Game 6, May 16, 1980)
Magic's magic 42-point, 15-rebound, 5-position I'll-take-care-of-it-all performance should be sealed in a time capsule with advanced encoding. Then a thousand years from now, whatever mutant species rules the Earth can dig it up and witness some sweet sweat and joy.
3. Jordan guts it out (Game 5, June 11, 1997)
MJ was sick as sick could be with a stomach virus, food poisoning, and a 103-degree temperature going into the game. He left his guts (almost literally) all over the place before Game 5. No sane soul would have faulted him for not playing in his condition, because he could hardly stand. But to say he was weak during the game would be both absolutely true and completely false. The way he willed himself during his 44 minutes on the court, the hangdog during timeouts, the game-winning three-pointer, but mostly the MJ on the transition, hesitating for that half-second, looking for all the world that he'd crumble like a house of cards, then taking the next steps upcourt and carrying on. For the record: 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and the game-winning trey to put the Bulls up 3-2 in the series.
2. Willis Reed's grand entrance (Game 7, May 8, 1970)
The seventh game of the 1970 Knicks-Lakers Finals was one of the greatest games ever -- not just in the NBA Finals, not just in hoops, but in sports history. And Willis Reed's dramatic entrance was a big reason why. Nobody expected the Knicks hobbled big man, the league MVP, to show up on the Garden floor in uniform. But then the soul of the Knicks emerged from the tunnel. Said Frazier, "'When he did that, we said, 'Yeah, the captain is ready.'" Reed scored the first two buckets. "At that point, the whole team had been lifted several levels," recalled Bradley. Willis wouldn't score again, but he hobbled up and down the court for 27 minutes and helped hold Wilt Chamberlain to only 21 points. Frazier did the rest, scoring 37 points in the Knicks rout and coming up with some decent hip-hop verbiage to sum it all up: "Willis provided the inspiration, I provided the devastation."
1. Gar Heard's "Shot Heard Round The World" (Game 5, June 4, 1976)
Some say this Celtics-Suns epic matchup at Boston Garden was the greatest NBA game ever, and we're not going to argue. Heard's last-second jumper to tie the game at the end of the second OT remains etched in our memory as not just Heard's mini-triumph, but also that of a balloon popping. Celtics fans, sure that their guys had won on Havlicek's bucket as time expired, had to live through the agony of ... another second, which the officials put on the clock. That was long enough for Heard to launch the game-tying shot as time (really) ran out. The moment was classic, even though the Celtics rallied from the disappointment and won, 128-126, in the third overtime.
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So many moments. We could write another top 10 list on great Finals moments without breaking a sweat. Which is why the NBA Finals are the greatest playoff show on Earth.