Welcome back for part two of our 100 Best Moments of the Last Twenty Years Draft (you can find part 1 of our write-up here ). A quick reminder of the criteria the owners made their selections on:
Things Worth Considering:
- Future Ramifications
- Legacy Ramifications
All of these criteria were to be weighted equally. Whether or not something was the “greatest” or the “best” was subjectively up to the drafter and in turn the future reader. We also did not want to penalize for having the same player multiple times; rather, we wanted to single out the moments as standing on their own, regardless of whether or not the players were the same. Additionally, this list was meant to be about the good of the NBA. Thus, we did our best to avoid negative moments such as the Malice or the refereeing scandal. None of those moments really encapsulate what anyone “loves” about the NBA.
We once again hope you send all of the love and hate for the selections our way. Without further ado, round 4-6!
Yao vs Shaq Volume 1 (Round 4 #31 Overall)
-Sam Johnson (@SamJ015)
This game was as hyped as they come. Primetime ESPN on a Saturday night in Houston would feature two behemoths down low fighting for reign over the paint. The dominant, overpowering Shaq Diesel in his prime pitted against the new Chinese rookie sensation Yao Ming. This was one of those epic circles it on the calendar days that SportsCenter was talking about months in advance. “Yao was far too skinny to handle Shaq down low.” they said. “But Shaq hasn’t seen the skill level in a 7 foot 5 inch player before!” They countered. There was much fuss made about the two giant centers having to defend one another. Who would truly get the upper hand? We would not have to wait long to find out. To the game we go.
Shaq wins the opening tip and immediately calls for the post up on Yao. He catches a little further out than he would have liked and has to face up and drive. He actually pulls out a pretty nice crossover (known penetrator Shaq!) and goes baseline for a shot attempt. After an up fake, he goes up with the shot attempt and Yao gets a piece of it as Shaq sprawls to the floor. The crowd is howling with excitement and approval. Shaq is now scrambling to retreat back on defense from behind the play and allows Yao to get deep position in the post. Yao catches and hits a hook over Shaq and the crowd’s fever pitch increases even higher. A few possessions later, Shaq attempts to drop step on Yao and go up with his right hand on the left side – big mistake. Yao sends this one packing again and sprints up the court to go play offense. Again, Shaq is caught trailing and Yao gets hit in stride down low and finishes another bucket. The next time down the court, Yao calls for the ball and hits a turnaround 16 footer with Shaq contesting him. Yao would block Shaq’s next shot attempt as well, making O’Neal’s first three shot attempts all being denied at the rim by Yao. Shaq would later get his revenge – particularly in overtime – as he had two monstrous dunks right in Yao’s grill. He also had the superior box score when it was all said and done but Yao’s Rockets were able to come away with the victory. This may have been just one regular season game if you zoom out, but the intensity and exhilaration of that first meeting, especially the first quarter between these titans provided on this Saturday evening, sure was one to remember.
Iverson Practice Rant (Round 4 #32 Overall)
-Stevie Cozens (@StevieCozens)
Prior to the social media age, there was no Woj or Shams to alert you to the latest trade or injury. There was also no World Wide Wob where memes or videos went viral in an instant. Allen Iverson’s rant about practice would have gone super viral in the social media age. One of the most famous moments in NBA culture, the scene for this famous rant was an end of season press conference in 2002.
Pissed off because of his coaches’ comments on his work ethic, he launched into what became a half hour tirade. Most people will only see the two or three minute dialogue where the word practice was used 22 times.
But the reality was Iverson talked for half an hour about issues ranging from the trade rumours that had impacted him and his family to the pressures of being a franchise player. Visibly hurt and emotional he cussed repeatedly as he described his frustrations. Iverson cared little about practicing at this point in time, and as an MVP who had carried this team, he couldn’t get his point across to media that the practices didn’t matter after everything he had done for the team and city.
Though ‘ practice ‘ may be famous now, the bigger context of Iverson’s point may be forever lost in the annals of NBA culture.
Jeremy Lin’s Game Winner vs. Toronto (Round 4 #33 Overall)
-Rob Antle (@RobertAntle)
“Linsanity” was one of the most peculiar happenings in all of sports. Almost all of NBA fandom was united for a few short months rooting for an underdog player on one of the most popular, yet most dislikeable, NBA franchises. This kind of thing happens occasionally, when an undrafted player gets hot for a few games and creates some buzz. But what makes what Jeremy Lin did in 2012 different is that he wasn’t just having a random hot streak; he was just good at basketball and made the rest of the league recognize it. His career would be plagued by injuries in future years, but in the beginning of 2012, he proved he belonged in the NBA.
To get to his game winner, we have to backtrack a bit. Lin was picked up off waivers in December of 2011. However, he didn’t get serious playing time until a game on February 4th, 2012, versus the Nets, where he seemingly out-of-nowhere led the team with 25 points and had a team-high +13 in 35 minutes. This was the game where it all started. Proving it wasn’t just a flash in the pan, Lin would lead his team to 4 more straight wins, averaging 27 points per game. Then on February 14th in Toronto, he gave “Linsanity” its signature moment. With 21 seconds left, Tyson Chandler grabbed an offensive rebound with the score tied. He dished out to Jeremy Lin for an end of game iso. He calmly dribbled forward and pulled up from the top of the arc, and drained the three to win it, putting the ultimate exclamation point on one of the greatest runs in NBA regular season history.
LeBron GW vs. Magic (Round 4 #34 Overall)
-Matt Cooper (@macoop2)
This is just a classic LeBron moment that sticks out in NBA lore. Back in his first stint with Cleveland, LeBron was on his way to leading another sub-par Cavs team deep into the playoffs. Down 2 with 1 second left, this game winner in game 2 gave the Cavs some life in the series against the Magic, although they would ultimately fall in 6. This series ended up being LeBron’s last with the Cavs for the time being.
Tracy McGrady’s 13 Points in 35 Seconds vs. San Antonio (Round 4 #35 Overall)
-Brett Kornfeld (@KornHoops)
If you want to talk “Uniqueness” of a moment, look no further than the iconic moment of Tracy McGrady’s Hall of Fame career. Against the best basketball franchise in the world at the time, McGrady willed his team back from 8 down with 35 seconds to play with a flurry of quick offensive scoring unrivaled in NBA history. Most iconic in the burst was two sequences, the first of which was McGrady’s ridiculous 4-point play in which he sheds elite defender Bruce Bowen before getting the greatest power forward of all time in Tim Duncan off his feet, hitting the absolute bomb and taking the bump from the 3-point range. Second was an elite trap from the Rockets that leads to a McGrady steal in the backcourt. He then sprints at full speed with the ball down the court in transition, navigates his way to the left wing three and rises up for an improbable game-winner that only could have been better if it came with 0.0 on the clock.
In lining myself up with the criteria, it felt necessary to grab a scoring surge that in today’s era might be completely and utterly unreplicable. Maybe more importantly, McGrady’s gifts hold a special place in today’s generation of basketball fans. The ability to grab the very first thing that comes to mind in his career was the type of fourth round value that was impossible to pass on. To this day, it remains one of the most remarkable sequences in the history of basketball and was an easy to grab sleeper moment at this stage of the draft.
Dame Thunder Game Winner (Round 4 #36 Overall)
-Reed Wallach (@ReedWallach)
My draft theory, as some may have picked up on by now is all about the moment, but also what happened after the moment and the ripple effect of what the selected moment meant to the NBA. Well, how about a recent one.
Damian Lillard’s “bad shot” over Paul George from nearly half court not only was an absolutely insane shot (that Dame made look easy), it broke the most recent iteration of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Within a few months of Lillard’s three going through the net, Thunder GM Sam Presti moved George to the Clippers for an all-you-can-eat buffet number of draft picks, and the leader of the team Russell Westbrook to Houston to team up with former Thunder teammate James Harden.
Lillard’s shot was something out of a little kid fantasy that has the mental clock ticking down and then hitting that type of shot before going in for dinner, yet Lillard has shown that range throughout his career, as well as that type of cold-blooded ability. I rank this one higher than the Houston game winner a few years prior due to the range and the trickle-down effect that I mentioned from this shot going down.
The Blazers were underdogs in this series despite having home court, and they took care of business in 5 and led to the teardown of the Thunder. Lillard remains one of the best late-game shot makers in the NBA right now, and this is his crowning moment.
Paul Pierce Wheelchair (Round 4 #37 Overall)
-Mike Bossetti (@Mikebosports)
The play which transformed Paul Pierce from an NBA Hall-of-Famer to a meme. In game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Paul Pierce suffered what appeared to be a knee injury. The NBA-world stood still as he was carted off in a wheelchair.
Just kidding. Pierce would return to the game minutes later, looking as if he was never hurt. What happened, and why did Pierce leave the game? Was he really injured? Did he play it up for drama? Most importantly, did he poop his pants?
For a brief moment in time earlier this year, we thought we finally had the answer to poop-gate. Pierce admitted on NBA Countdown, “I just had to go to the bathroom”, only to rip that clarity away the next day by claiming it was “just a joke.” Did Pierce poop his pants? We may never know.
Round 4 (38th): Blake Griffin vs. Knicks, 2010 (Round 4 #38 Overall)
-Lance Smith (@LanceSmithTPC)
The coming out party for the most iconic dunker of his generation. One November night in 2010, the New York Knicks got terrorized by rookie sensation Blake Griffin, and “Mozgov” became a legitimate verb for a number of years.
It started with two putback jams over Mozgov early in the third quarter. Not posters per se, but terrifying, emphatic slams with unnecessarily awe-inspiring elevation. And next came one of, before factoring in that it was in a meaningless regular season game, the most iconic poster dunks in NBA history. You know how it goes. Coming off of a left-wing pick-and-roll, Randy Foye dishes off to Blake Griffin, who you know, dismantled 7’1” Timofey Mozgov’s entire existence. While there was no abrasive celebration, the hand on Mozgov’s face immediately made it one of the most disrespectful facials ever, and left the poor Russian skyscraper wondering how in hell he possibly committed a foul when he was indeed the victim of a heinous atrocity.
But that wasn’t all. In the fourth quarter, Blake Griffin found himself charging downhill with the ball following a turnover, and only Danillo Gallinari in his way to the basket. Gallinari did not suffice, resulting in a spinning jam more or less over Danillo leading to Ralph Lawler’s legendary call, “Oh me oh my! He’s topped himself again somehow!”
It wasn’t better than the dunk over Mozgov, but the audacity one needs to pull that off all in one half? Disgusting. Blake Griffin became an immortal that night.
2012 NBA Finals Game 5 – Lebron’s First Title (Round 4 #39 Overall)
Game 5 of the 2012 Finals is not a particularly exciting game and the 2012 Finals was not a particularly memorable series. Following a lockout-shortened ’11-’12 season, Miami entered the playoffs second in the East at 46-20 (57-win pace) but quickly became the favorites to make the finals following a devastating injury to #1 seeded Chicago’s former MVP Derrick Rose. After falling 3-2 to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James combined for 76 points in games 6 and 7 to bring Miami back to the finals for the second straight season. In the finals against an OKC team led by two 23-year-olds and two 22-year olds, Miami came in as heavy favorites, and after falling to OKC in game 1, the Heat went on to win 3 straight leading up to the close-out game 5. The Heat entered the second half up ten, then outscored the Thunder 36-22 in the third quarter to cement the championship. With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, James and Wade were subbed out and the celebration began with James jumping up and down pumping both fists with his teammates on the bench. James finished the game with 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds.
The significance in this game comes in the giant boulder lifted off the shoulders of LeBron James. After becoming the NBA’s Public Enemy #1 following The Decision and frankly falling apart in the 2011 finals, James had as much pressure heading into the ’11-’12 season as any player this century. James responded with yet another MVP season and his first NBA championship. Following 2012, the narratives of James not being clutch and not being a winner were finally dead, and no one could deny that he was the greatest player in the world.
DeAndre Jordan dunks on Brandon Knight (Round 4 #40 Overall)
-Cooper Hird (@JoinTheHird)
Do you remember the last video clip you saw that was so incredible you had to pause and contemplate what you just witnessed before rewatching it? The play that was so mind blowing, your brain simply couldn’t trust what your eyes were seeing? An event so cold, so brutal, so powerful and yet so effortless, a play that seemed to shut the door on one player’s career and to mark the peak of another’s?
Well if you can’t think of a clip, go watch the DeAndre Jordan dunk over Brandon Knight again. Then you’ll understand.
It’s everything I love about sports. Don’t take this as another slam on Brandon Knight and his attempt on defense – he did what he was supposed to. This is simply an appreciation of the unique type of athlete that the NBA has. There is something different about a guy seven feet tall jumping, grabbing the ball out of the air, and slamming it down with the power and dexterity Jordan showed. It’s like watching a great tall receiver like Calvin Johnson in his prime, going up for a jump ball against a big safety and snagging the ball at the peak of his jump. Except in basketball, we get the forceful dominating dunk from DeAndre Jordan. In football, the most electric plays are generally breakaway runs or physical hits between players. Basketball gives the option of a physical hit without the collision of bodies football requires. That, coupled with the fact that the players are on average a good half-a-foot taller, makes NBA athletes just that much more physically imposing. DeAndre Jordan’s dunk represents to me the modern NBA athlete, and how incredibly high level every NBA player is, from LeBron to Brandon Knight.
And again, I’m serious, just watch this play again.
Luka Doncic traded for Trae Young + Cam Reddish (Round 5 #41 Overall)
There’s something storylike about an event where two players are tied together in perpetuity, not because of what they’ve done, but because of the actions of a couple GMs. In the particular case of Luka Doncic and Trae Young, the story is early in its inception. The duo is preparing for their sophomore season in the league, neither with substantial playoff stakes, but both with ample room to improve and to continue cementing their place in the league. While Luka was the hands over ROY, there are certainly some who would argue Trae’s play post All-Star break was even better than Doncic’s play.
As a Dallas fan, I would be stoked about the future of my team. After two decades of Dirk Nowitzki, the team is headed by the two-headed team born and bred in Europe. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis took a huge investment to acquire, but are absolutely the level of talent that could bring a team a title.
As an Atlanta fan, I am thrilled at all the youth on this team. Even the season we were the #1 seed, with the Player of the Month starting lineup, we were never taken seriously as title contenders. For years, we watched Steph Curry revolutionize the league. Dolla Dame just won a playoff series on a 40 foot shot – on purpose. And now we have the next in the line of gamebreaking shooters? Paired with a phenomenal developmental staff headed by head coach Lloyd Pierce, and an impressive collection of young talent, Trae has a chance to become the type of player that can play you right into the NBA Finals.
I think a similar story would be that of Jayson Tatum and Markelle Fultz. When the 76ers traded the #3 pick and what became the #14 pick for the Celtics’ #1 pick, they eternally tied the fate of the two players selected with those picks. I talked to a 76ers fan who repeatedly told me he hated Markelle Fultz because of his time in Philadelphia. It’s sad how the situation ended in Philly, and we can only hope to see him recover in Orlando, but I think it’s worth looking at how the narrative was sculpted that rookie year. The disappointing absence of Fultz was highlighted so much more by the success of Tatum – the player the Celtics took with the #3 pick acquired from the 76ers. The two were linked from the moment the picks were traded, and so too were Doncic and Young.
Clippers Protest Sterling (Round 5 #41 Overall)
In April of 2014, taped conversations between LA Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend were made public, sending ripples through the NBA and the pro-sports landscape. The league moved quickly, with commissioner Adam Silver forcing Sterling to sell the Clippers, issuing a $2.5 million dollar fine (all of which went to social-justice related charities), and banning him from NBA games, activities, and facilities for life.
The Clippers players responded with an on-court protest during warm-ups in Oakland of Game 5 of their first-round series against Golden State. The Clippers players gathered at half court and simultaneously removed their warm-up shirts, revealing red shirts turned inside out. They played the game wearing black socks and black wristbands.
Sterling’s ban and the Clippers’ subsequent protest were a turning point in the NBA towards becoming the first major American sports league to hold social justice as a priority and a business standard. In the coming years we would see the league’s best players speak up on social issues and see the NBA take initiatives to benefit minorities and the LGBT community. The Sterling saga also allowed Adam Silver his first meaningful opportunity to assert his authority as commissioner, and his press conference announcing Sterling’s ban became an iconic moment for the young commissioner. On top of that, Silver’s edict to Sterling to sell the team led to Steve Balmer’s two billion dollar purchase, which made the entire business world reevaluate NBA team valuations. The image of the Clippers shedding their warmups at center court is the summation of these massive events and their ramifications.
LeBron free-jumps John Lucas (Round 5 #43 Overall)
Ok, I choked. Going into this pick, I knew damn well what I was going with. Kevin Garnett’s “Anything is possible!” was still on the board, and frankly, I should’ve probably snatched it up before I even got to my fifth round pick.
But it was late. I was tired. And guys, the pressure got to me. I drew a big blank at a critical juncture. As soon as I realized I had forgotten what I was going to go with, my mind went dark and I went into panic mode. So, by way of error, I had to settle for LeBron James, a 6’8”, 265 lbs. human being, free-jumping another fully-grown human being en route to an alley-oop jam.
That dunk was one of the absolute best of the 2011-2012 NBA season, and typified the unthinkable athletic feats prime LeBron James pulled off so effortlessly almost every single game. For almost everyone else in NBA history, that dunk would be the highlight and signature moment of their career. But for LeBron, it eventually became just another unbelievable piece in his collection.
Kobe Achilles FTs (Round 5 #44 Overall)
There’s playing hurt, there’s playing injured, and then there’s playing with a torn Achilles. Yes, it was just shooting a pair of free throws, but having the guts to hit two shots after rupturing your Achilles is what makes fans deify the “Mamba Mentality.”
You can try to describe Kobe’s will to win in a lot of ways, but none do him justice quite like this. The no flinch ball-fake is cool, dropping 60 inefficient points in his final game is fitting, but making two free-throws in a situation where almost anyone else would be carried off the court is the true sign of someone who wants to win-at-all-costs.
G1 of the 2018 Finals: LeBron’s 50 (Round 5 #45 Overall)
The King at the peak of his powers. The 2018 Cleveland Cavaliers’ postseason campaign was an up-and-down ride. The team was without Kyrie Irving and was as shallow on the bench as ever before. LeBron had entered a zone where he was doing anything to win, including multiple game winners against Indiana and Toronto, and heroic performances in a tough seven-game series against the Celtics, who were without his former teammate Irving.
All of that incredible play, one of the best stretches of his career from a usage, team in need of him to be a superhero role, led him back to the Golden State Warriors. The fourth year in a row these two had met, and with the Cavs coming apart at the seams, the Warriors were at their best. LeBron was able to take a wild 2016 Finals off the Warriors, but they reloaded with Kevin Durant while the Cavs seemed to reach their peak right then and there.
With rumors already swirling around LeBron’s future in Cleveland, this had the feeling of the last time these two teams would meet in this setting. And LeBron didn’t disappoint. He was everywhere doing everything. LeBron finished with 51-8-8. In a Finals Game.
It felt like this was the series in Game 1, where the Cavs had to set the tone for the series by winning in Oakland to give them a cushion while they continue to try and get enough separation to win the Finals. The Cavs were considerable underdogs and needed more dominance from James if they wanted to win, and in Game 1, he was living up to the billing and had the Cavs in position to steal Game 1. After a James and-one, it felt that the Cavs were right there from making this a series, up 2 with under a minute to go. Then, it got crazy.
There was the controversial charge call on Durant driving in on James, that was reviewed and then overturned to a blocking foul. James tough finish, Steph and-one. The game was incredible. The Cavs were able to hold for one and LeBron, the consummate teammate, found a wide-open George Hill cutting through the Warriors defense that was focused only on #23 (for good reason). Hill was hooked by Klay Thompson and had two free throws to ice it. He made the first to tie it but missed the second, that was rebounded by Cleveland, who could have called timeout with about four seconds left and draw up one last play to win the game. J.R. Smith had other plans.
Smith dribbled it out thinking the Cavs had the game won, and the Cavs didn’t get a clean look off. The game went to overtime and the Warriors took control of the game, and in turn waltzed to a 4-0 series victory. It was LeBron’s last season with the Cavs, and we will always remember LeBron’s heroics, but unfortunately, we may remember Smith’s error late in the game more.
“Anything is Possible” – Kevin Garnett (Round 5 #46 Overall)
The winning moment for the NBA’s consummate winner. At the time, he still wore the “yeah, but no rings” label like a scarlet letter. Kevin Garnett’s postgame euphoria of an interview remains an iconic look into the split second emotions that elite professional athletes go through when they finally reach the summit of a decades long climb.
More than that, Garnett’s “anything is possible” was the culmination of a year in which Garnett (in addition to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) sacrificed individual statistics they had comfortably put up their entire careers in order to chase the ever-elusive ring. The Celtics 2008 playoff run was grueling to say the least, requiring them to go seven games with both the frisky Atlanta Hawks and LeBron James-led Cavaliers, before toppling the East staple Pistons. Only then, did Garnett and the C’s ultimately complete the final task and overcome Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. Garnett’s postgame speech remains on the very, very short list of interview moments in NBA history and arguably concludes the Hall of Fame reel for one of the most lovable players of the last 20 years.
More than that, for the purposes of my team in this draft, I wanted basketball moments that still to this day evoke something similar emotionally to when I watched them for the very first time. Every time I rewatch Garnett break down in tears after his yell to the heavens, before composing himself to yell, “TOP OF THE WORLD,” I think about how you would be hard-pressed to find many better ones than this.
Shaq and Andrew Bynum Dunk on Each other (Round 5 #47 Overall)
I stumbled upon this relic a few weeks ago just messing around on YouTube. A young Bynum takes a pounding from Shaq, but bounces back to give the big man some of his own medicine. If Bynum had never been injured, the sky was the limit for someone with his size and talent. Unfortunately, we’ll never know Bynum’s true ceiling, and we’ll only have this video as a taste.
Rockets Miss 27 Straight Threes (Round 5 #48 Overall)
It was no secret that the Rockets had built their entire roster around trying to beat the Kevin-Durant-era Warriors. Daryl Morey famously said that they were “obsessed” with the question of how to beat the Warriors. And to their credit, the Rockets seemed to be one of the few teams approaching that question with anything close to enthusiasm. After all, Morey had made a name for himself by viewing the game of basketball as a problem (in the “math problem” sense of the word) to be solved. The team philosophy had been completely changed over the course of a few years, and the Rockets now resembled the cutting edge of the NBA analytics movement. They routinely set three-point records, and their biggest improvement in the 2017-18 season was becoming an elite defense as well. They were the modern ideal on both ends of the court with a shot-chart covered in threes and layups and defensive personnel that could switch everything.
But when you look at so much data, and even when you have the optimal solution for thousands of iterations, you are going to have outliers. In Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, the Rockets had possibly the most ill-timed and ill-fated statistical outlier of all time. With 6:42 left in the 2nd quarter, Eric Gordon hit a three to put the Rockets up 14. For the next almost 24 minutes of game time, the Rockets would go on to miss 27 consecutive threes, and the Warriors would turn a 14-point deficit into a 13-point lead. It was such a cruel exit for that team, which truly accelerated the evolution of the modern NBA game. But as they say, it’s a “make-or-miss league,” and the Rockets missed…27 straight times.
Lillard Series Winner vs. Rockets (Round 5 #49 Overall)
There’s no denying that Damian Lillard has two of the biggest shots in NBA playoff history, that this one was a walk off to win the series shows just how clutch this man is. It didn’t matter that this was Lillard’s first ever playoff series, or that he was only 23. In this moment he put his name up in lights and announced himself to the NBA world. The Rockets had been down two zip in the series, then clawed their way back to three games to two.
The must win game for the Rockets seesawed back and forth with the guard-big combos on both teams (LaMarcus Aldridge and Lillard for Portland, Dwight Howard and James Harden for Houston) trading buckets .
In what was a sign of things to come, James Harden, with 12 seconds on the clock and the score tied, shot a tough deep jumper while being expertly defended by Westley Matthews that bounced twice on the rim.
Bigs from both teams clamber for the ball and somehow they fall out of bounds and leave Chandler Parsons unmarked who lays the ball up, leaving 0.9 seconds on the clock.
After being up three games to one, looking like a lock to win their first playoff series in 14 years, Portland was now 0.9 seconds away from having to travel to Houston for a game seven. Damian Lillard had other ideas though, as the ball was inbounded from the left side of the court, he got a step on the slower Parsons defending him and sprinted to the edge of the arc. Catching the inbounds, Lillard rose up and knocked down the biggest shot of his young life. Knocking out the Rockets in shocking fashion at the buzzer.
The legend of Damian Lillard was born.
2014 Western Conference Semifinal – OKC vs. LAC Game 5 (Round 5 #50 overall)
This game was awesome start to finish but ultimately makes the list due to the massive series ramifications and the epic meltdown seen in the final minute. To set the scene, after an offensive rebound off a free throw, Chris Paul snakes a pick and roll back into a patented pull up elbow jumper and buries it to extend the Clippers lead to 104-97 with just 47 seconds remaining. Chris is seen beating his chest going into the commercial break – something that is rather cringe-worthy in hindsight. After the timeout, Durant buries a three off of some nice action as Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis (Why is he in the game at this point?) is a hair too late to contest the long ball. The Clippers proceed to have Jamal Crawford’s runner rim out on the ensuing possession (after Jamal waves off Paul’s request for the ball). LAC inexplicably has four guys packed in the paint, and off of the miss KD is able to leak out for a fast-break bucket. Even still, LAC still maintained control of the game as they had the ball and a two point lead with only 17 seconds left…until they didn’t. The final sequence remains befuddling to this day.
Chris Paul, with the shot clock off, starts to dribble up court as Westbrook comes up to press him. Anticipating being fouled, Paul decides to try and use this moment to secure three free throws rather than just accept the foul. As Westbrook approaches, he jumps into the air and begins to load up a 76 foot shot attempt. Yes. Seventy-Six Feet. To make matters worse, he is stripped on the way up and loses the ball. Oklahoma City frantically scoops up the loose ball and gets stripped (well actually fouled if you are re-watching) on a drive by Reggie Jackson. After a review, which clearly showed the ball going off of OKC, the Thunder retain possession. Next, Westbrook gets fouled on a three point attempt on an elbow tap by Chris Paul. Russ sinks all three free throws and the lead has officially vanished. The Clippers have one more chance and CP3 loses the ball as he is making his final move and Ibaka picks it up and holds until the final horn. A disastrous finish as the Clippers lead by 13 with 3:19 to go as well as the aforementioned seven point lead under 50 seconds. The Thunder would go on to close out the Clips in game six, unfortunately sparking the beginning of the trend of playoff exits for Lob City.
Trevor Booker No Look Shot (Round 6 #51 Overall)
With 0.2 seconds left on the shot clock it is illegal to catch and shoot an NBA basketball. In this scenario, you are looking for a tip-in and a tip-in only. Well, that is unless your name is Trevor Booker and you have concocted a tip-up shot attempt that had never been used before and frankly, I don’t believe since. Flashing to the ball as Gordon Hayward was looking for an open teammate, Booker got in position just outside the low post and walked into a perfect bounce pass by Hayward. The pass actually was an overlooked essential component of this bucket, as the ball bounces up right into Trevor Booker’s “shooting pocket” or volleyball bump pocket, more accurately. Booker open handedly makes an ever so slight pop that redirects the ball perfectly off the glass and in for two points. It was the basketball version of the hockey “one-timer” shot.
Booker’s shot was just a masterful piece of ingenuity and creativity to put the ball in the hole to salvage a seemingly dead possession. Nearly every time a team is stuck with the ball in situations with under 0.4 seconds, they throw a lob where multiple defenders are waiting to bat it away or they even ignore the fact that you can’t catch and shoot and try anyway. More teams need to try this other version of a Hail Mary, as the lob is being defended to such an extreme already. Maybe you get lucky like Booker did, but really the goal would be just to draw iron and be able to fight for the offensive rebound. This early January 2nd-quarter field goal may have been inconsequential to the game and season but it sure was a wacky and amazing moment nonetheless.
Wade Over Varejao (Round 6 #52 Overall)
Dwyane Wade had some famous moments in his storied NBA career. In a career spanning 16 seasons, he was one of the most exciting players to grace the NBA court. His explosive game, combined with his skill to score from anywhere on the court, netted him 3 NBA championships. Early in his career he was one of the most explosive dunkers in the league. Wade had many poster dunks, but this was one of the best. Matched up against good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavalier in 2009, no one knew yet that they would be teaming up in only 18 months time.
Taking the ball coast to coast for the Heat after a missed LeBron dunk, Wade sized-up Cavs center Anderson Varejao, went right at him at the rim, and dunked on Varejao with such ferocity that Varejao flew back into the base of the hoop, his legs above him as he almost did a full somersault. To add insult to injury, Wade drew the and-one, then deliberately stepped over Varejao after the dunk. Reggie Miller on the call provided more spice, “Welcome to your Kodak moment, Anderson Varejao!” This was well before the twitter age, but it will still go down as one of the greatest poster dunks in NBA history.
Emoji Gate (Round 6 #53 Overall)
The July Moratorium is a period designed to let teams and players negotiate while the league finalizes the financial figures for the next NBA season. Naturally, it has become the period in which most free agent decisions are announced as teams and players come to verbal agreements and just need to wait for the Moratorium to end before putting pen to paper. Generally once a contract is agreed to and reported, it’s treated as final. So, on July 8, 2015, after the Mavs and DeAndre Jordan had agreed to a deal days earlier, when the Clippers made a last-gasp effort to convince DeAndre to change his mind, it sent insert waves emoji through the rest of the league.
But it wasn’t just that DeAndre would ultimately change his mind; it was how it happened. It started innocently enough, with reports that DeAndre was reconsidering his deal. So Chandler Parsons decided to tweet a plane emoji, implying he was traveling to meet with DeAndre and talk with him. This was met with JJ Redick tweeting a car emoji and Blake Griffin tweeting a plane, helicopter, and car emoji. By this point, all of social media had started to get itself into a frenzy. Then Chris Paul weighed in with a banana and a boat, and the Internet lost its mind. By the end of the day, Paul Pierce would have tweeted a .jpeg of an emoji, there would be reports of DeAndre being held hostage by the Clippers (and an incredible Blake Griffin tweet in response), Broussard would have accused Mark Cuban of furiously driving around town calling DeAndre, and Cuban would have shot back at Broussard calling out his credibility as a reporter. It would ultimately go down as the most entertaining and wild single day of free agency the NBA had seen.
“Cleveland, This is For You” (Round 6 #54 Overall)
This one needs little explanation. After returning to Cleveland and coming back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors in the 2016 finals, Lebron cemented his legacy as one of the greatest to ever step on a court. Postgame, an emotional Lebron proclaimed that this was for Cleveland, fulfilling his promise of bringing a championship to the city.
Kobe Bryant Garden 61 (Round 6 #55 Overall)
On February 2, 2009 Kobe Bryant put on a performance that is quite possibly the greatest individual game ever played in Madison Square Garden. Kobe scored a ridiculous 61 points, including 34 in the first half, while shooting 19-31 from the field and 20-20 from the charity stripe. During the duration of the night, the Garden faithful peppered the road Bryant with chants of “MVP” and he continued to put on a show as the night wore on. Kobe hit shot after shot that seemed mystifying, often legitimately shooting while on the way down on some of his more difficult bank shots and fall-away jumpers. Most famously, Bryant’s ridiculous spin shot against Wilson Chandler for his 58thand 59thpoints had Knicks legend Spike Lee out of his chair quite literally laughing at the greatness happening in front of him. Bryant finished the night with two free throws to give him the Garden scoring record and a place in the annals of the World’s Most Famous Arena.
It feels as though virtually every iconic basketball player has had their Madison Square Garden game to be remembered. After all, it has been home to some of the greatest basketball performances in the storied history of Dr. James Naismith’s game. It felt only fitting to grab some serious later-round value on a moment from one of the greatest basketball players to ever lace-up, in a building with so much importance and history.
2019 NBA Finals Game 5 (Durant, comeback) (Round 6 #56 Overall)
Narrative-defining game? Check. With the Warriors playing Kevin Durant’s strained calf close to the chest as he rehabbed for over a month but was still deemed day-to-day, and the Warriors facing a 3-1 deficit, the pressure was on Durant to play or to be ruled out for the series. A lot of talk was coming out about Durant, who was a pending free agent and was concerned about his own health, and his commitment to the Warriors (which should have never been questioned, but I digress).
Well, with their backs against the wall in Toronto, Durant suited up and started for the Warriors and was seemingly shot out of a cannon. Durant was on fire from the tip and was moving pretty well, yet cautiously for someone who had not played high level basketball in a month. Steve Kerr played Durant 10 of the first 12 minutes which may have been too much because in the second quarter, Durant collapsed off a hard dribble forward on the right wing. Everyone thought and felt the worst about what the news outlets had been saying for days leading up to Game 5 and for Durant being out there. The worst was confirmed; Durant had ruptured his Achilles playing for his team and trying to help them erase a 3-1 hole.
With emotions everywhere, and the back-to-back champs on the ropes, the Warriors hung in tough on Toronto’s home floor. Yet, there was a clear talent gap in favor of Toronto, who seemed to have all things going in their favor. So much so, they took a six-point lead with 3 minutes remaining. A first title series for the Raptors was within reach. Then, Nick Nurse called timeout.
Say what you want about the timeout, there may have been reasons for Nurse doing that such as Kawhi Leonard being tired and so on, but I personally was shocked by the decision. It gave the Warriors a second wind, as they proceeded to go on a 9-0 run and steal Game 5 right from the Raptors. A title celebration prolonged, or maybe lost, in those final three minutes. In vintage Splash Bros style, down six the scoring went: Klay three, Steph three, Klay three. Warriors up 3. Just like that, the Warriors managed to fend off elimination in a true sign of the guts this Warriors team had. I gained a lot of respect that night for Golden State in how they responded to so much emotions and with such little room for error, answering the call. Championship team made championship plays that night and I almost believed they had a shot, even without Durant, of pulling the series out with that win.
Manu Smacks Bat (Round 6 #57 Overall)
This certainly isn’t the most important moment in terms of NBA history or in terms of what it did for the league, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a moment more unique than Manu Ginobili smacking a bat out of mid-air.
Looking like Dwight Schrute in the breakroom, Manu ‘Dikembe Mutombos’ the bat right to the ground, picks up the unconscious bat is if this is an everyday occurance, and then calmly hands it to the security guard.
This play could only happen to Manu Ginobili. I can’t articulate why, but if you asked 100 people in the mid-2000s which player was most likely to smack a bat out of mid-air, 99 would have said Ginobili (with Scott Pollard receiving the other singular vote). There are very few “Once in a Lifetime” moments in the NBA. This was one of them.
2009 NBA Draft, 5-7 (Round 6 #58 Overall)
Oh boy. You really hate to see it. The Timberwolves didn’t just pass on Stephen Curry in the 2009 NBA Draft. In fact, they didn’t just pass on Steph and end up taking another point guard. They did it twice.
To be fair, everybody was sold on Ricky Rubio. While he’s been a great player for much of his career, most people thought heading into the 2009 Draft that he was going to be a perennial all-star. He was a “true point guard” near the end of an era that heavily valued every member of the ying breed. Rubio was a child prodigy like few others, a two-way contributor who had the size, agility, and feel for the game to play at a world-class level before he ever even touched a shaving razor.
And Jonny Flynn was really a player. People talk about him like he was a bust because he was out of the league after a couple seasons. But objectively speaking, he was off to a great start to his NBA career before hip injuries brought an abrupt end to it. It’s easy to forget that he was First Team All-Rookie, and he was one of the best guards in college in his own right before getting drafted sixth overall. If not for hip issues, he’d probably still be in the NBA right now.
But come on man, they could’ve had Steph! They really passed up the greatest shooter and combo guard of all time for two point guards who never would’ve even fit together on the court! Forget about what seemed like clear star potential at Davidson–if nothing else, Curry would’ve been a far better fit alongside either point guard they drafted over him. Even if Flynn had still been healthy when Rubio came over from Europe, who knows how things would’ve played out?
Anyway, for those in the back, the Timberwolves needed a point guard, twice, could’ve had Steph, twice, and ultimately passed him up.
Curry Wins Unanimous MVP (Round 6 #59 Overall)
Stephen Curry’s ’15-’16 season is one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. Curry became the first player since Michael Jordan to lead the league in both scoring and steals. He became the first player in league history to average 30 points per game in less than 35 minutes per game. Curry made 402 three-pointers, shattering his single-season NBA record of 286, which he had set just one year prior. He also became only the third player in league history to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3-point range, and 90 percent from the line in a season.
Stephen Curry is one of the most important players of this century. Sure he was part of one of the greatest teams of all time. Sure he was a back-to-back MVP. But Steph’s true impact shines when we take a step back and view his success as the quintessential representation of the shift in the way the game is played. Kids in gyms and playgrounds across the country no longer practice jab-steps and fade-aways in an effort to emulate Michael Jordan; they take deep threes off the dribble like Steph. The three-point revolution is in full swing, and Steph Curry is the face of a new era of NBA basketball.
IT puts up 53 against the Wizards in the Eastern Semis (Round 6 #60 Overall)
On April 15, 2017, Chyna Thomas was killed in a single car accident. Chyna would have been 23 years old on May 2, 2017. Rather than celebrating his sister’s birthday, Isaiah Thomas was playing in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals in memory of his late sister.
That in of itself should be worthy of a story. But the performance Isaiah Thomas put on that night was also an incredible on the court story; Thomas had 53 points against the Washington Wizards (led by John Wall’s 40 points). In a game the Celtics led for much of the game, but with no other scorers over 15, Boston was unable to push the lead out, and the Wizards were able to tie the game in regulation. Thomas came out and put up 9 points in the overtime period, pulling out a 10 point overtime victory and putting the Celtics up 2-0 in the series.
After the game, David Aldridge posed the question to Isaiah Thomas, “Where did this come from? Where did this come from?”
Thomas replied, “It’s my sister. It’s her birthday today. Happy birthday. She would’ve been 23 today. Everything I do is for her, and she’s watching over me, so that’s all her.”
This is a moment in NBA history that needs to be preserved. Isaiah Thomas’ legacy with Boston is checkered to say the least, but this moment absolutely ought to be in the pantheon of Celtics lore. Thomas had no business being a decent NBA player at his height, let alone a fringe MVP candidate in 2017. He had no reason to play after the passing of his sister, other than pride and a sense of loyalty to teammates and fans that had enabled his sensational season. Like Thomas said, his sister’s passing made him want “to give up and quit.” But he came back. And he made not just his sister proud, but every friend and family member that ever helped him get to that point in his life. Fans in Boston are forever loyal to IT3, and the season he had for the franchise at a time they were in a bit of a dip historically is one to cherish forever.