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Sports Then and Now

Top 25 Moments in NBA Finals History

Posted on June 02, 2010 by A.J. Foss

Michael Jordan's last shot as a Chicago Bull nailed down their sixth NBA title.

The NBA Finals begin this week and provides a perfect opportunity to take a look back at the history of the NBA Finals with the 50 greatest moments in NBA Finals history.

In a previous column we looked at numbers 50-26.

Here are the top 25 NBA Finals moments of all-time:

25. Game 5 2005 Spurs-Pistons
Robert Horry, aka “Big Shot Rob”, came up with another clutch shot as he drills the game-winning three pointer with 5.8 seconds left in overtime as the Spurs defeat the Pistons 96-95 and take a 3-2 series lead.

Horry scores all 21 of his points in the 4th quarter and overtime (with the exception of his basket on the last shot of the third quarter) as the Spurs would defeat the Pistons in seven games for their third championship in seven years and Horry’s sixth NBA title as a player.

24. Game 4 1975 Warriors-Bullets
The Golden State Warriors, a team that finished with a 48-34 record during the regular season, pull over a shocking four-game sweep of the Washington Bullets, 60-22 in the regular season, in what is regarded as the greatest upset in NBA finals history.

23. Game 6 1997 Bulls-Jazz
With time winding down and the game tied 86-86, the Jazz double-team Michael Jordan in hopes of forcing a bad shot.

Instead, Jordan passes it to Steve Kerr who drills a 17-foot jumper as the shot clock expires to give the Bulls a 88-86 lead with five seconds left.

The Bulls preserve the victory and their fifth NBA championship when Scottie Pippen steals the ensuing inbounds pass, and then passes it off to Toni Kukoc who slams it home for a 90-86 win and a six-game series win.

22. Game 6 1993 Bulls-Suns

John Paxson's three-pointer secured the third straight title for the Bulls.

Trailing 98-96, Bulls guard John Paxson drills a wide-open three-pointer to give Chicago a 99-98 lead with 3.9 seconds left.

The Suns get last chance to win the game but Horace Grant blocks Kevin Johnson’s last shot to preserve the victory and clinch the Bulls’ three straight NBA title.

21. Game 4 2008 Lakers-Celtics
The Celtics, who trailed by as many as 24 points at one point in the second quarter, complete the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to win Game 4 and take a 3-1 series lead against the Lakers.

The Celtics trailed by 20 points midway through the third quarter when then went on a 21-3 run to trim the deficit to 73-71 at the end of the quarter.

Then with 4:07 left in the fourth quarter, Eddie House drilled an 18-footer to give Boston their first lead of the game at 84-83 and then sealed the game when Ray Allen made a driving lay-up with sixteen seconds left to give the Celtics a 97-91 win.

The Celtics would win the series in six games for their 17th NBA championship and first in 22 years.

20. Game 6 1977 Blazers-76ers

Bill Walton lifted the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title.

“Blazermaina” reaches a fever pitch as the Portland Trail Blazers complete their comeback from a 0-2 series deficit as they win Game 6 by the score of 109-107, over the favored Philadelphia 76ers.

19. Game 6 1974 Bucks-Celtics
Following Celtics guard John Havilicek’s go-ahead basket with seven seconds left, Bucks center Kareem Abdul-Jabaar hits his famous “Skyhook” shot from 17 feet out with two seconds left for a 102-101 double overtime victory and force a Game 7 back in Milwaukee.

However, the Celtics would win that game 98-83 for the franchise’s twelfth NBA championship.

18. Game 1 1981 Celtics-Rockets
In what former Celtics coach Red Auerbach calls, “the greatest play I’ve ever seen”, Larry Bird runs to the basket, to rebound his own missed shot, grabs the ball with his right hand, then switches the ball to his left hand to make a basket, all in mid-air, to lead Boston to an opening game 98-95 victory over the Houston Rockets.

The Celtics would defeat the Rockets in six games for the first of three NBA titles in the Larry Bird era.

17. Game 5 1962 Lakers-Celtics

Lakers forward Elgin Baylor sets the NBA Finals record for most points scored in one game, as he pours in 61 points and grabs 22 rebounds to give L.A. a 126-121 win and a 3-2 series lead over the Celtics.

16. Game 2 1984 Lakers-Celtics

The Lakers are poised for a 2-0 series lead as they have the ball with 18 seconds left and leading the Celtics 113-111.

But after an inbounds pass to James Worthy, Celtic guard Gerald Henderson steals’ Worthy’s cross-court pass and puts in the hoop for a game-tying basket, which forces overtime after the Lakers get no shot off on their last possession.

Scott Wedman drains the go-ahead basket with 18 seconds to go in the extra session as Boston comes away with a 124-121 win to even the series at 1-1.

15. Game 1 1992 Bulls-Blazers
Michael Jordan scores 35 points in the first half, the most points in one half in a NBA
Finals game, 18 of them coming on six three-pointers.

After he drained his sixth three-pointer, Jordan turned to the broadcast table and shrugged his shoulders in his own disbelief.

Jordan would only score four points in the second half but the Bulls destroyed the Blazers 122-89 in the first game of a six-game series win as Chicago would win the NBA title for the second year in a row.

14. Game 7 1962 Lakers-Celtics
With the game tied 100-100, the Lakers have a chance to win the championship in the final seconds of regulation as they have the last shot.

But guard Frank Selvy misses an open 12-footer as time expires and the game goes into overtime where the Celtics would prevail 110-107 to win their fourth straight NBA championship.

Bill Russell lead the Celtics as he scores 30 points and grabs 40 rebounds.

Rookie Bill Russell led the Boston Celtics to a double overtime win over the St. Louis Hawks to win game seven of the 1957 NBA Finals.

13. Game 7 1957 Celtics-Hawks
The Boston Celtics begin their dynasty as rookie center Bill Russell grabs 32 rebounds and fellow rookie Tom Heinsohn pours in 37 points as the Celtics pull out a 125-123 double overtime victory over the St. Louis Hawks to win their first NBA championship.

12. Game 2 1991 Bulls-Lakers
During the fourth quarter of a 107-86 rout of the Lakers, Michael Jordan provides an highlight that has been replayed for years when he takes a pass from Cliff Levingston and drives down the lane where he switches the ball from his right hand to his left hand and flips the ball off the backboard.

The Bulls would win the next three games all in Los Angeles for the first of six NBA championships in the 1990s.

11. Game 4 1980 Lakers-76ers

This is the game of Julius Erving’s famous “Baseline Move” as he drives past Lakers big men Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Mark Landsberger, behind the backboard, and release a reverse lay-up that bounces off the backboard and into the hoop for an unbelievable two points as the 76ers win Game 4 by the score of 105-102 to even the series at 2-2.

Magic Johnson stills calls it “the greatest move I’ve ever seen in a basketball game”.

10. Game 7 1969 Lakers-Celtics
Even though it was a Game 7, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was so confident that his team would defeat the Celtics in Los Angeles to win the team’s first NBA championship since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, that he ordered thousands of balloons to be suspended from the rafters for “when, not if, when the Lakers win the title”.

However, the Celtics do not get the memo as they knock off the Lakers 109-107 with Don Nelson making the critical shot, a 17-footer that bounced high off the back rim and back into the basket.

The Game 7 upset clinched the Celtics’ 11th championship in 13 years, the last title for Bill Russell who retired in the off-season.

9. Game 6 1958 Hawks-Celtics

Hawks star Bob Pettit scores 50 points including 19 of his team’s last 21 points in the fourth quarter, for a 109-107 victory to secure the NBA championship and avenge the Hawks’ loss to the Celtics in the Finals the year before.

8. Game 6 1988 Lakers-Pistons
With four minutes left in the third quarter and after scoring 16 points in the quarter, Pistons guard Isiah Thomas rolls over the leg of Michael Cooper and severely sprains his ankle.

Thomas re-enters the game 35 seconds later to continue his scoring rampage which concludes with him scoring 25 points in the third quarter, the most points in a single quarter by one player in the NBA Finals, to give the Pistons a 81-79 lead after the third quarter.

But the Lakers would overcome Thomas’ heroics and come away with a 103-102 win to force a Game 7, which the Lakers would also win.

7. Game 3 1970 Knicks-Lakers
It appeared that the Knicks had the game won, when forward Dave DeBusschere made a jumper with three seconds left to give New York a 102-100 lead.

The Lakers inbound the ball to Jerry West, who heaves it from 60 feet out, and goes in the basket at the buzzer that ties the game at 102-102 (There was no 3-point line in 1970) to send the L.A. Forum crowd into a frenzy

However, the Lakers could not carry the momentum from West’ miraculous shot as the Knicks outscore the Lakers 9-6 in overtime and come away with a 111-108 win.

6. Game 5 1997 Bulls-Jazz
Despite being weakened by a stomach flu, Michael Jordan scores 38 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, as the Bulls defeat the Jazz 90-88 to take a 3-2 series lead back to Chicago where the Bulls would clinch their fifth NBA title in seven years.

5. Game 6 1980 Lakers-76ers

Starting at center in place of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar who sprained his ankle in Game 5, Lakers rookie guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson pours in 42 points, grabs 15 rebounds, dishes out seven assists, makes three steals, and blocks one shot as the Lakers defeat the 76ers in Game 6 in Philadelphia by the score of 123-107 to clinch the first of five NBA championships in the 1980s, all with Johnson at the point guard position.

Gar Heard's improbable shot sent game five of the 1976 NBA Finals to a third overtime.

4. Game 5 1976 Celtics-Suns
Considered by many as the greatest game in NBA history, the Celtics outlast the Phoenix Suns 128-126 after three overtimes.

The Suns, who trailed by as many as 20 points midway through the second quarter,
overcome a 61-45 halftime deficit as they hold the Celtics to just 34 points in the second half and tie the game at 95 at the end of regulation.

The game was tied at 101-101 at the end of the first overtime when Celtics forward Paul Silas signaled for a timeout, even though the Celtics did not have one, which could have resulted in a technical foul, but the signal was missed by the referees and the game went into a second overtime.

Boston appeared to be in good shape as they held a109-106 lead with 20 seconds left in overtime when following a 18-footer from Dick Van Arsdale, which made it 109-108, Suns guard Paul Westphal stole the inbounds pass, leading to the go-ahead basket by Curtis Perry with five seconds left.

The Celtics got the ball with a chance to win the game where John Havilicek drained a 15-foot bank shot that appeared to win the game as the clock ran out and the Boston Garden crowd rushed the floor.

But Havilicek’s basket came with one second to go, giving the Suns the ball and one last chance.

That is when Westphal signaled for a timeout, despite the fact the Suns had no timeouts, resulting in a technical foul and one free throw for the Celtics, which was made by Jo Jo White.

But the Suns would get the ball at half court, giving a better chance at a miracle.

Then the unthinkable happened as Gar Heard who turned around at the top of the key and drained a jumper that went through the hoop as time expires and tying the game at 112-112, sending the game into a third overtime.

The Suns run out of miracles as Boston outscored Phoenix 16-14 in the third overtime to come away with a 128-126 win and a 3-2 series lead.

The Celtics would win Game 6 by the score of 87-80 to secure the 13th championship in team history.

Willis Reed scored only four points in game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals, but his presence was inspiration enough to lead the Knicks to victory.

3. Game 7 1970 Knicks-Lakers
In the lead-up to Game 7, it appeared that Knicks center Willis Reed would not play as he suffered a muscle tear in his right thigh in the first quarter of Game 5 and missed Game 6.

Reed was not amongst the players in pre-game warm-ups, suggesting he was not going to play.

Suddenly out of the locker room came Reed to a thunderous ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd.

Reed started the game and scored the first four points to give the Knicks an emotional lift, as they would rout the Lakers 113-99 to clinch the first NBA championship for New York.

2. Game 4 1987 Lakers-Celtics

Magic Johnson hits a hook shot or his “junior, junior Sky-hook” from the top of the key over the outstretched hands of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish with two seconds left to give the Lakers a 107-106 win and a 3-1 series lead.

The Lakers would win the series in six games in the third and final meeting in the NBA Finals between Johnson and his rival Larry Bird.

1. Game 6 1998 Bulls-Jazz
In his final game as a Chicago Bull, Michael Jordan hits the game-winning basket with 5.2 seconds left to give the Bulls a 87-86 win and clinches their sixth NBA championship in eight years.

After John Stockton drills a three-pointer to give the Jazz a 86-83 lead with 41.9 seconds to go, Jordan drives for a lay-up that cuts the lead to one, then steals the ball from Karl Malone, and then crosses over (or pushes off if you are a Jazz fan) Byron Russell, to make a 20-foot jump shot.

Jordan, who finished the game with 45 points, would retire for the second time before the 1999 season only to come back with the Washington Wizards f or two seasons from 2001-2003.

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