All-Time Favorite Play In NBA Playoffs History?



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This season’s playoffs may be low on drama so far, but this time of the year usually produces some of the best drama the NBA has to offer.

With that in mind, we asked The Crossover’s writers to take a stroll down memory lane and name their favorite play in postseason history.

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This is easy, because it’s the best play I’ve ever covered, but as Gregg Popovich told me months later, it wasn’t really one play as much as it was 29 seconds. So that’s how I remember it. There was the timeout with 28 seconds left, and the Heat trailing by five points, when Chris Bosh saw his wife clapping in the stands and thought: “How sweet. She doesn’t know we’re going to lose.” There was the LeBron brick, off the bottom right corner of the backboard, that took such a wild ricochet Dwyane Wade was able to tip it even though three Spurs had superior position. There was LeBron’s second-chance three, Kawhi’s missed free throw and all the fans who’d left the arena pounding on the doors trying to get back in. Then there was the actual play, unfolding between the yellow ropes that ringed the court: Bosh screening Tony Parker and Parker leaving Bosh to join Boris Diaw on LeBron; the miss by LeBron off the left side of the rim, the rebound by Bosh, the backpedal by Ray Allen; the way Manu Ginobili fell down, the way Ray shouted “CB! CB!” and the way he wedged his size-15s between the perimeter and the sideline without looking. Mike Breen yelling “Bang!” and Shane Battier yelling “We’re here!” and Allen yelling “Get those mother—— ropes out of here!” There was still an overtime to go, and a Game 7, but all anybody remembers is “Get those mother——- ropes out of here.” I do hope they fit that line on his Hall of Fame plaque.

It’s impossible to choose just one favorite play—does the whole Sleepy Floyd game count?—but this one is certainly up there. No human watching that game, live or on TV, thought Tayshaun Prince was going to get to that ball. I’m not even sure Tayshaun did. In a game that set a playoff record for blocks, the whole sequence is glorious: Jermaine O’Neal snuffing Rasheed, then Reggie pitter-pattering to get his steps just right for what really should have been a dunk, then Tayshaun hurtling out of the ether at the last second. Unlike a LeBron chasedown block, predicated on elite athleticism, this had to be absolutely perfect for Prince to have a chance: the run-up, the lift-off, the left-hand swipe. That he manages to not only cleanly block the ball, but both avoid the goaltend and keep it in bounds, is amazing. The postscript—Prince crashing into the stands, Reggie incredulous, Prince rising like a prizefighter, Doc Rivers getting hoarser by the second—only makes it better.
Rob Mahoney: Dirk’s and-one lay-in over Manu (2006)

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Even some of the great, seven-game series in NBA history have ended in a trickle. Not so for the Mavs’ classic second-rounder against the Spurs in 2006, when the two best teams in the conference traded haymakers and adjustments to the very last horn. What first had the appearance of a Game 7 anticlimax was punched up with a 20-point San Antonio comeback. Tim Duncan powered through defender after defender for 41 points. Jason Terry and Manu Ginobili traded high-leverage plays. The Spurs climbed their way back into a game that should have been lost, and with 32 seconds remaining in a tie game, set up a simple play made heavy by its context. The ball entered to Duncan on the right block on a night when he couldn’t be stopped. Terry sank down to crowd him. Duncan pitched the ball out to Ginobili at the three-point line for a confident make—and for what should have been the rapturous end to an amazing revival. San Antonio had come back from the death knell of trailing a series 3-1 and back from a 20-point deficit in Game 7. 

Then Dallas got the ball back. There was no question where the ball would go, only how. Dallas chose to set up Dirk Nowitzki on the right wing for a clear-out against Bruce Bowen. When he started to back Bowen down, all involved must have expected the fadeaway. Nowitzki turned the corner instead, surprising Bowen and enticing Ginobili. The young Argentine was at the height of his powers, then, and still bouncy enough to cheap jerseys meet a seven-footer at the rim. He got there just as Nowitzki did, but Ginobili’s reach stopped at Dirk’s wrist. The ball sat on the rim. As the whistle blew, it rolled down, deflating the Spurs where they stood. 

nike basketball gear cheap This play has everything: basketball artistry, narrative weight, high stakes, genuine surprise, and a fatal misstep. “This is the best series I’ve ever played,” Duncan said after losing Game 7. And it was Dirk who sealed it.

Ben Golliver: Michael Jordan’s “Spectacular Move” (1991)

cheap jerseys nba authentication database When Michael Jordan received the pass from Cliff Levingston, just behind the free-throw line, he was still the guy who hadn’t won a title, still the guy who had dropped Game 1 to the Lakers after spending years fighting through the Celtics and Pistons for the right to make his first Finals. Over the next three seconds, Jordan announced that the long-sought championship would indeed be his in 1991, taking one dribble with his tongue out before rising for a right-handed dunk, only to shift the ball to his left hand and complete the sequence by hanging for an extra beat and kissing in a beautiful lay-up on his descent. The move’s flair and originality prompted questions—Why didn’t he just dunk? How did he hang for so long? Who else in the world could do that move, much less improvise it?—and sent basketball players to the playgrounds to work on their imitations.

The “Spectacular Move”—coined by legendary broadcaster Marv Albert on a pitch-perfect call and captured in a beautiful slow-motion shot that will be replayed for as long as there is basketball—marked the official beginning of Jordan’s aura of invincibility. Chicago went on to win Game 2 and take the Finals in 5 games, as L.A. had no response to this audacious levitation, and Jordan spent the rest of the decade adding to his ring count. After flying high to split Sam Perkins and A.C. Green, Jordan hadn’t just landed. He had arrived. 

Andrew Sharp: Gilbert Arenas sinks the Bulls (2005)

Is it sad that this is my favorite playoff moment of all time? Of course it’s sad. It’s borderline heartbreaking. Beating Andres Nocioni, Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon shouldn’t feel like winning a title. But it did, and Gilbert Arenas felt like a revolution for about 24 months of my formative years. I’ll always remember this shot and that Bulls series as one of the high points.

(For my least favorite play in playoff history, and truly my least favorite thing ever on YouTube, see here.)

Matt Dollinger: Reggie’s eight points in nine seconds (1995)

Not only is this my favorite play, it might be my favorite movie. Having seen it regularly for the past 22 years (oh my god), I’ve pretty much got it memorized. The lines, the choreography, the chaos, the confusion. It’s what I think about when I think of “playoff basketball.” Thanks to the supernatural forces known as LeBron and the Warriors, this postseason hasn’t come close to matching this level of drama. The Pacers are down six with 18.7 seconds left—in other words, “Grab your coat, we’re leaving” time. But then Reggie drains a quick catch-and-shoot three to cut the lead in half. It’s suddenly a one-possession game and you can hear Madison Square Garden beginning to tense up.

And then, utter chaos: Charles Oakley can’t find anyone to inbound the ball to. Byron Scott is literally hugging Greg Anthony as he tries to get free, and Reggie comes over for the double-team. Anthony falls over (OK, Reggie pushed him), but Oakley inexplicably passes him the ball anyway, only for it to be intercepted by the guy who just hit a three (Oakley could have thrown the ball at Dolan and it would have been a better play). Reggie catches the ball in disbelief, instinctively scampers behind the three-point line, and hits another three-pointer from the exact same spot. Tie game. Spike Lee staredown. All the feels.

There was so much confusion over what had just transpired that the Pacers fouled John Starks even though it was a tie game. Starks, bless his heart, choked at the free-throw line and missed both free throws. Twisting the knife even further, Patrick Ewing corralled an offensive rebound and missed a put-back he makes 80% of the time. The ball careened off several players’ fingertips before landing in the hands of, of course, Reggie Miller. Whistle blown, foul.

Reggie sank two free throws on the other end to cap his eight points in nine seconds. With apologies to Billy Joel, it was the best show the Garden has ever seen. 

Michael Jordan was superhuman. He had an ideal build, a perfect midrange jumper and a ferocious will to win that remains unmatched. If there was anything he lacked, it was a three-point shot. That’s why I loved his performance against the Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals. It was peak Jordan. When given the opportunity to prove others wrong, he just can’t help himself. And Jordan, a 27% three-point shooter in ’91-92, found that moment when Cliff Robinson chose to deny him the lane and give him the long-range shot. “They dared me early,” Jordan later said. He obliged, knocking down six three-pointers, scoring 35 first-half points (39 in the game) and introducing ‘The Shrug” when he spotted Magic Johnson, an NBA commentator at the time, on the sidelines.

I know there were other moments that maybe defined Jordan’s career better. This wasn’t his first or last title, and it wasn’t the Flu Game or the Bryon Russell crossover. But this one sticks out to me because it was so unexpected. You never doubted that Jordan could win a series, and you knew he would pull off insane heroics along the way. Yet this game fits Jordan’s personality more than any other in my eyes. This was the guy who golfs all morning, plays cards all night and sleeps with one eye open.  

In his second year in the league, Jordan scored a playoff-record 63 points, including two foul shots that tied the game with no time left in the first overtime. Despite Chicago’s loss in the second game of a first-round series that the Bulls would lose, Jordan’s masterpiece in Boston Garden proved to be a coming-out party for His Airness.

In Game 1 of the Finals, Jordan torched the Blazers for a playoff-record 35 first-half points, including six three-pointers (he made only 27 the entire regular season), as the Bulls rolled 122-89. After one hoop, he looked toward the sideline, turned his palms upward and shrugged, as if to say, What can I tell you? He finished with 39 points on 16-of-27 shooting. “The best game I’ve seen Michael play,” teammate Horace Grant told reporters afterward.

With the Bulls trailing by a point with three seconds left in the final game of a hard-fought first-round series, Jordan took an inbounds pass from Brad Sellers, spun to the top of the key and hit a hanging, double-clutch, 18-foot jumper over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer, stunning the 20,273 in attendance at Richfield Coliseum. “The Shot” capped his 44-point, nine-rebound, six-assist performance as Chicago upset the second-seeded Cavaliers.

At the time, it seemed like the perfect coda to his career: In Game 6 of the Finals against Utah, Jordan shook off Bryon Russell and nailed an 18-foot jumper with 5.2 seconds left to give the Bulls an 87-86 victory and their sixth championship in eight years. The shot came after Jordan had stolen the ball from Karl Malone on the previous possession with Utah leading by one point. Jordan, of course, announced his (second) retirement months later, only to return in 2001.

Jordan punctuated a 15-for-18, 33-point, 13-assist performance in Game 2 of the Finals with an acrobatic masterpiece. Driving the lane, he brandished the ball with his right hand as if preparing to dunk. However, while in midair, he suddenly switched hands and scooped a shot in from the left side. The Bulls romped 107-86, the first of four consecutive victories in a run to the franchise’s first title.

Jordan pumped in 55 points (on 21-of-37 shooting from the field) as the Bulls won Game 4 of the Finals. The crusher for Phoenix came when, with 13 seconds remaining and Chicago leading 106-104, Jordan scored on a drive through the lane, drew a foul and hit the free throw. Jordan joined Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Jerry West and Bob Pettit as the only 50-point scorers in a Finals game. The Bulls went on to win the series 4-2 for their third consecutive NBA title.

A virus-ravaged Jordan, who could barely stand by game’s end, scored 15 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter, including a crucial three-pointer with 25 seconds left, as the Bulls prevailed 90-88 in Game 5 of the Finals. The Bulls rallied from a 16-point deficit, snapped Utah’s 22-game home winning streak and took a 3-2 lead in the series, which they closed out in Game 6. Chicago was in position to win in six games in part because of Jordan’s game-winner in Game 1.

The year before Jordan devastated Cleveland with The Shot, he delivered back-to-back games of 50 and 55 points to lead the Bulls to a 2-0 series lead against the Cavaliers. Jordan became the first player to score 50 or more points in consecutive postgame games. “Michael Jordan,” Scottie Pippen said after Game 2, “is God’s gift to the world.” Chicago won the series in five games, with Jordan advancing to the second round for the first time in his four-year career.

Amid scrutiny of a gambling trip to Atlanta City earlier in the series, and coming off a 3-of-18 performance in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Jordan rebounded to blitz the Knicks for 54 points as Chicago evened things at 2-2. Then, in Game 5, Jordan produced his second career triple-double, with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, to lift the Bulls to a 97-94 victory. Chicago closed out the series two nights later, completing its comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

Jordan scored 18 first-quarter points, had 29 by halftime and finished with 42 to lead the defending champion Bulls past New York 110-81 in Game 7 of a second-round series. This marked the only time Jordan and Co. were pushed to a Game 7 during their first three-peat.

Larry Bird remains the most popular Celtics player of all time and this play will go down as his most memorable. But for me, it marked the first time I heard an s-bomb. And an f-bomb. And every other bomb in the English language. These came courtesy of my dad, a lifelong Celtics fan, who was just really excited about Bird’s steal. He just started yelling. Cursing. But in a good way. It wasn’t anger but rather pure joy. He came up with the most expressive words he could find at that moment. So while some see cursing as a bad thing, I always associate it with good memories. Great f***ing memories, actually.

This is the moment I will hang onto for the rest of my life as a distraught, decreasingly involved “fan” of the Chicago Bulls Jerseys Jerseys. I was actually at this game, and there was no cheering in the press box, but there were a billion emotions that were hard to untangle at the time that are probably better left unsaid. Regardless, this was the last sliver of hope for the Thibs-Rose-Noah Bulls, and though it’s ultimately meaningless over the course of history (because I also had to watch LeBron James hit this shot one game later), it’s cosmically weighty and both starkly depressing and somehow symbolic at the same time. It’s not a coincidence that all three of those descriptors apply nicely to the overall arc of Derrick Rose’s basketball career. After a billion playoff downers at the hands of LeBron, Chicago deserved this one shot. And it’s all been downhill