Professional basketball teams play 82 games in the regular season for a chance at the postseason. Sure, those 82 games can have some thrilling moments, but something about the post-season amplifies the excitement just a bit higher. The stakes are higher, and the payoff is earning that NBA championship title. Use this guide to relive some of the most unforgettable moments NBA players have to offer.
Michael Jordan Scores 63 Against the Boston Celtics
You can’t have an NBA best moments list without including at least one that featured Michael Jordan. This one occurred in the 1986 playoffs when the Chicago Bulls faced off against the Boston Celtics. Keep in mind that Jordan hadn’t made his mark on the league yet since he was only in his second year of playing. Plus, he only played in 18 regular-season games that year due to breaking a bone in his foot during the third game of the season. However, he came out firing on all cylinders on April 20 during this first-round matchup.
It was Game 2 during the series, with the game taking place at Boston Garden. Although the Celtics went on to win the game 135-131 in double overtime, sweeping the Bulls and eventually winning the NBA championship, Jordan’s playoff performance was one for the books. He set a playoff record of 63 points in the game. John Paxon, one of Jordan’s teammates, said that Jordan was playing so well that he wanted to stop and watch him instead of playing the game.
Magic Johnson Plays Center
Magic Johnson, a rookie during the 1980 playoffs, hadn’t made his presence known in the league yet, despite the lofty expectations placed upon him. He was the top draft pick for a marquee franchise, but he seemed unfazed by the attention. He also wasn’t bothered by having to step into some rather large shoes when he played center in place of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers led the Philadelphia 76ers three games to two in the best-of-seven series. Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers’ center, stayed at home in Los Angeles, resting a sprained ankle he suffered during the previous game. Upon entering the plane for the trip to Philadelphia, Johnson took Abdul-Jabbar’s usual seat, winked at the coach, and announced that there was no need to fear since he was there. Johnson played all positions on the court and piled up 42 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists as the Lakers won 123-107 and clinched the championship.
Reggie Miller’s Eight Points in Nine Seconds
Reggie Miller had a reputation for getting under opponents’ skin, especially during the playoffs. In Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, he made a memorable playoff performance when his Indiana Pacers took on the New York Knicks. The Knicks were leading the game 105-99 with 18.7 seconds remaining, and Miller scored eight points in nine seconds thanks to impeccable shooting and several critical Knicks mishaps.
Miller tied the game in just 5.5 seconds after a steal and hitting two 3-point shots. After the Knicks missed a pair of free throws, Miller grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. To complete his eight-point performance, he hit his two free throws. The Pacers went on to win the game 107-105 and ended up winning the series.
LeBron James’ Chase Down Block
Going into the 2016 NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were the underdog having the third-best record during the regular season. It was difficult to compete against the Golden State Warriors since they were the top seed in the Western Conference and broke the record for most victories in a regular season with a 73-9 record. After being up in the series 3-1, the Warriors thought they had the series locked up, but the Cavaliers dug deep and took it to the decisive Game 7 in California.
With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Warriors’ forward Andre Iguodala rebounded a missing floater by Kyrie Irving. Iguodala began the fast break and took a bounce pass from Steph Curry to go in for the layup. LeBron James had other ideas as he chased him down and blocked his layup attempt to ensure the game remained tied. This play was considered one of the most clutch defensive plays in NBA history, especially since the Warriors didn’t score another basket for the rest of the game. The Cavaliers ended up winning their first NBA championship behind James’ performance.
Kobe and Shaq Alley-Oop Dunk
It isn’t easy to find a more iconic duo than the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Entering the playoffs as the top seed, the Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns before facing the Portland Trail Blazers during the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the series but dropped the next two games to the Trail Blazers to tie up the series. This tie set up a winner-take-all Game 7 that would set the tone for both franchises over the next decade.
Portland was up 75-60 with just a little over 10 minutes left in the game, and it looked as though the Lakers would lose the series and blow the 3-1 series lead. Instead of giving up, the Lakers produced one of the most memorable Game 7 comebacks in NBA history. O’Neal had struggled most of the game but came through in the fourth quarter. The alley-oop dunk took place with about 40 seconds to play and gave the Lakers an 85-79 lead. This play sealed the deal for the game and sent the Lakers to the Finals for the first time since 1991.
Jordan’s “The Shot”
The Cleveland Cavaliers were an excellent team in 1989, despite being the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Reporters picked the Cavaliers to win the series against the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls, which rubbed Michael Jordan the wrong way. Throughout the series, Jordan averaged 40 points, six rebounds, and eight assists per game. But it was specifically his performance in Game 5 that people still talk about– when Jordan hit “The Shot.”
The Cavs and Bulls were tied at two games apiece, with Game 5 set to be the deciding game as to who would move on to the next round. Cleveland was winning the game by one point with three seconds remaining, and the Bulls took a timeout. Jordan, who was double-teamed by Craig Ehlo and Larry Nance, received the inbound pass from Brad Sellers. Jordan drifted to his left and made the foul-line shot over Ehlo as time expired, giving the Bulls a 101-100 victory.
Larry Bird Steals the Game
As one of the most successful basketball teams in the NBA, the Boston Celtics have had numerous playoff appearances. One noteworthy one occurred in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals when the Celtics played the Detroit Pistons. The defending champion Celtics were down in the series, and losing Game 5 would’ve given the Pistons a chance to clinch the series at home in Game 6.
The Pistons were leading by one point and opted to throw in the ball quickly instead of taking a timeout. Isaiah Thomas looked to throw the ball back into play and pass it to Bill Laimbeer. Larry Bird noticed this move and cut into the passing lane, stealing the inbound pass before Laimbeer could get his hands on it. Bird sent the ball over to Dennis Johnson for the game-winning shot with just one second left on the clock. The Celtics went on to win the series in seven games and advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.
Ray Allen’s Baseline 3-Point Shot
Never had an NBA championship turned so quickly in such a short amount of time. The San Antonio Spurs led Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals with not much time left on the clock. They even set up the yellow rope around the court for the trophy presentation, but the Miami Heat had other plans. The Spurs were up three games to two over the Heat, but Miami was down three points with less than 24 seconds to go.
LeBron James of the Heat misses a 3-point shot from the corner to tie the game. Chris Bosh grabbed the offensive rebound against two Spurs and dished the ball to Ray Allen, who was set up in the corner. Allen didn’t hesitate and hit the game-tying shot with 5.2 seconds left on the clock. Miami went on to win the game in overtime and Game 7 to earn its second straight title.
For over 70 years, numerous unforgettable playoff NBA moments have taken place. No matter what best plays from the NBA playoffs are your favorite, you can show your support by wearing officially licensed sports apparel. Fanatics has a wide range of sports apparel, sports collectibles, and other memorabilia, so make sure you check out items from your favorite team across all leagues.