NBA Finals: Top 7 most magical performances, in images
The NBA playoffs have produced some of the most memorable performances in sports history, and since the inception of the shot clock in 1954, games have literally gone down to the wire.
Perfect example: Derek Fischer’s three pointer with 0.4 seconds left in regulation to beat the San Antonio Spurs for Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2004. To this day, it’s one of the most scrutinized shots in history — and one of the most viewed in game moments on YouTube.
But nothing compares to the pressure of the NBA Finals. If you are extremely lucky, your team has only played a dozen games leading up to the title series, and that’s if you swept all three conference series. Only the 1999 San Antonio Spurs and 2001 Los Angeles Lakers have swept the first three series, and the Lakers only lost one game that entire playoff.
Performances are magical for so many different reasons during the NBA Finals — from players stepping up for injured teammates (or playing while injured themselves) to hitting the game-winning shot. These seven magical performances are arguably some of the greatest, but most definitely memorable for those that watched them live.
Top 7 most magical performances in the NBA Finals
7. Bill Walton – Portland Trailblazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 1977: Dr. J and the 76ers took the early commanding series lead by taking the first two games. That only ignited Bill Walton to go on a tear and have the Blazers run off four straight games to win a very hotly contested Game 6. That game saw Walton produce an insane 20 points, 23 rebounds, eight blocks and seven assists. When all was said and done, Walton blocked 22 shots and shot 62 percent from the field during the series.
6. Shaquille O’Neal – Los Angeles Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers 2000: This series sparked the engine of the first dynasty of the 21st Century, with the Lakers beginning their run of a three-peat. Indiana put up a good fight in pushing the series to six games, but Shaq would utterly dominate this series, averaging 38 points and 16.7 rebounds. He became only the third player in history to be named All-Star Game MVP, regular-season MVP and Finals MVP in the same season. (Willis Reed and Michael Jordan are the other two, who happen to be at No. 4 and No. 1 on this list).
5. Larry Bird – Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 1984: This was the series that renewed a longstanding rivalry between east vs. west: i.e. grit and grime vs. glitz and glam. No matter how you cut it, two of the greatest teams in sports were matched up again, and Bird was dead set on making up for the 1979 NCAA Finals loss to Magic. Over the course of the series, which went the distance of seven games, Larry Bird would average 27 points and 14 rebounds not only to take the crown, but also NBA Finals MVP to go along with his regular-season MVP.
4. Willis Reed – New York Knicks vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 1970: Voted the greatest moment in the history of Madison Square Garden, Willis Reed — after having perhaps the greatest regular season and playoff season in NBA history – played the start of Game 7 with a severely torn thigh muscle. The result was an applause unlike any before or after it at MSG, which ignited his teammates, specifically Walt “Clyde” Frazier to lite up the Lakers and take the first of two NBA titles for the city of New York. Willis would be the first in history to win the All-Star Game MVP, regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP, Sporting News NBA MVP and ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year, as well as being named onto the All-NBA first team and NBA All-Defensive first team.
3. Elgin Baylor – Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics, 1962: Perhaps one of the most under-rated players in the NBA, Baylor would have one of the most overlooked performances in NBA Finals history against the hated Boston Celtics. An absolute scoring machine, Elgin scored a total of 284 points during the series that went the distance of seven games, a record that still stands today. Game 5 would be his masterpiece as he scored 61 points and set an NBA Finals record for most points in a single game – which has yet to be eclipsed as well. Baylor and the Lakers would fall in OT of Game 7 by the slimmest of margins, but no one could blame Elgin as he poured in 41 of the team’s 107 points.
2. Magic Johnson – Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 1980: Just a rookie and starting at center for Game 6, Ervin “Magic” Johnson would begin his legendary NBA career in unprecedented form. With the Lakers star player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out for the series with an injury after dominating the first five games by averaging 33.4 points per game, Magic would fill in for Kareem to clinch the title from Dr. J and the 76ers by starting at center and leading the team with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. Johnson played all five positions on the floor over the course of Game 6, while scoring nine points in the final minutes to put the series away for LA. Magic would become the first rookie in league history to earn the NBA Finals MVP award, and would later state, “That’s still today probably my greatest game in the NBA.”
1. Michael Jordan – Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz, 1998: Almost all of us have a favorite Michael Jordan moment or play, mine personally had to be in 1989 when he took the shot on poor Craig Ehlo. But it was 1998 that would mark the end of one of the greatest runs in sports as the Chicago Bulls would pull off their second three-peat of NBA Championships. And just like Craig Ehlo before him, Bryon Russell of Utah Jazz would get burned by MJ for the game-winning shot. To Russell’s credit, he had guarded Jordan well all game and all series, but when it came down to it, MJ put it best, “The moment started to come. And once you get the moment, you see the court and you see what the defense wants to do. I saw that moment.” What is interesting to note is with 40 seconds left, the Bulls were down by three and Jordan would make a lay-up, then strip the ball from Karl Malone, race the length of the floor to leave Bryon Russell skidding on his shoes and looking for his socks while MJ bared another game-winning jump shot. Not only did Jordan win six NBA titles, but also took home all six NBA MVPs.