NBA: Ranking the 10 Best Moments of the 2012 Conference Finals
With Tuesday night set to kick off the NBA Finals matchup we've all been clamoring for between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, let's take this time to reflect back on two amazing Conference Finals series.
These are the 10 best moments and performances that those 13 action-packed games produced.
10. Tony Parker's Game-Sealing Jumper, Game 2
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It didn't have the drama of a buzzer-beater and it didn't cap off a performance for the ages like you'll see with other moments on this list.
Truth be told, this is the only time you'll see the San Antonio Spurs represented on the positive end in this slideshow. That's mainly due to the fact that the Spurs only won two games in the Western Conference Finals before getting throttled for four-straight losses by the Thunder.
So, what makes Parker's off-balance, fourth-quarter jumper special, you ask? There are a couple of reasons.
First, Parker's two sealed the Game 2 win for San Antonio, which not only put the Spurs up 2-0 for the series, it also set an NBA record for the most consecutive victories bridging the regular season and playoffs with 20.
The Game 2 victory was also the moment when some started to prematurely bury the Thunder and started wondering about the historical greatness of this 2012 Spurs team. After all, the Spurs were considered by many in the preseason to be far too old to make it this far into the playoffs.
The bucket capped off an excellent performance by Parker as well. The France native scored 34 points and dished out eight assists in one of the most well-rounded playoff performances of his career. It also helped Parker get into the discussion along with Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose for the title of the NBA's best point guard.
Parker's bucket put the Spurs up 107-96 with a little under four minutes to play. Sure, it may not have been a last-second dagger, but it sealed a victory of significance for both the Spurs and NBA record books.
9. Dwyane Wade's Missed Buzzer-Beater in Overtime, Game 4
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Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals had quite a few great moments.
There was Rajon Rondo taking jabs at the Heat during a halftime interview for their constant complaining to the referees.
There was LeBron James bringing Miami back from down 18 points to having a chance to win it at the end of regulation.
There was the much-criticized final play of regulation by the Heat, with James passing out of the final shot to Udonis Haslem, who was way off on the mid-range jumper.
The moment that resonates with me, however, is Dwyane Wade's miss on a potential game-winning three that could have put Miami up 3-1 in the series.
Much like the last Heat possession in regulation, the play drawn up in the closing seconds of overtime was a bit of a head-scratcher. For one, Dwyane Wade's game has always been attacking the basket. He's never been much of a shooter, which is why his career percentage from behind the arc is a little over 29 percent.
Second, there was clear miscommunication and some lazy passing between Wade and Mario Chalmers on the last play. There was also some stellar defense by Boston's Marquis Daniels on Wade.
With that said, Wade could have played the final possession better. Once he got Daniels in the air on the pump fake, he could have tried to draw the foul and gone to the line shooting three free throws instead of trying to beat the odds with a three. He could have also moved in a little once Daniels left his feet for an easier two-pointer that could have tied the game.
Wade chose to be the hero and, with a decent look at the basket, launched a three that just barely missed its mark.
We'll remember Game 4 for Rondo's brazen pot shots at the half. We'll remember Paul Pierce and LeBron James on the sidelines thanks to some questionable foul calls that both had plagued the game and have marred this postseason. We'll remember the final 20 seconds of regulation and the weird way it played out for the Heat.
To me, the signature moment of Game 4 is Dwyane Wade gritting his teeth in disappointment after watching his chance to put the Heat up 3-1 went astray. That miss was more significant than Parker's Game 2 make out West and that is why it's just a little bit higher on the list.
8. Paul Pierce's 4th-Quarter Three over LeBron, Game 5
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After a Game 4 that could have gone either way, the thought process entering Game 5 was that the return of Chris Bosh would shift things back into Miami's favor.
That thought process was wrong.
With the series tied 2-2 going back to Miami, Game 5 was a back-and-forth affair between the two teams. The lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter and Dwyane Wade had tied the game up yet again after making a layup with 1:39 left in the game.
Just under a minute later, Paul Pierce put the nail in Game 5's coffin. After being fouled by Pierce on the previous possession, Udonis Haslem split the two free throws to bring the Heat within 1 with a 1:12 to play. On the next possession, Pierce squared up for three with a clearly-fatigued LeBron James guarding him and swished the triple right in James' face.
The three-pointer put the Celtics up by four, but most importantly, it sent a message.
Boston showed Miami they weren't afraid of their younger, more publicized rivals and Pierce's reaction after the big shot was a grand display of confidence and swagger.
Miami never got within more than two for the final minute of the game and the Boston victory had the Heat spiraling into desperation mode to keep its championship hopes alive. The Celtics had just came into AmericanAirlines Arena and stolen a win that experts were handing to Miami following Bosh's comeback.
Now, the Heat would have to go into Boston and do the same thing for the chance to come back home and take the Eastern Conference in a pivotal Game 7.
7. Chris Bosh's Rally-Starting Three, Game 7
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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade carried the Heat as much as they could throughout the previous series against Indiana and through the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston.
However, it became quite evident after Game 4 that the Heat's only chance of surviving the Celtics' Big Four is if they could counter them with their Big Three.
Chris Bosh had been coming along slowly following his return in Game 5, after missing the past nine games due to an abdominal injury, but finally showed everyone what the Heat had been missing in Game 7.
Bosh finished the series-clincher with 19 points and eight rebounds, but the most significant of those 19 points came with just over seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter. It was then that Bosh hit the third of his career-best three three-pointers and sparked a Miami run that helped put away the Celtics for good.
The game was tied at 73 entering the final quarter and both teams exchanged possession of the lead going into the last eight minutes of the quarter. James unleashed one of his patented one-handed tomahawk jams to put the Heat up 83-82. On the following possession, Wade stripped Paul Pierce for the steal and Miami called a timeout.
When play resumed, James found Bosh in the corner and the All-Star forward nailed the three to put the Heat up by four. The Celtics would never get that close the rest of the game.
In Bosh's absence, Kevin Garnett was able to find the fountain of youth and eat up the Heat on both ends of the court. The Heat also didn't have an interior presence that could consistently provide offense down low. With Bosh finally healthy, the big man took the Celtics apart on the inside and out and did his part on the boards. Garnett, meanwhile, had his worst game of the series.
It took seven games but the Heat finally had their Big Three intact. Bosh, James and Wade scored all 28 fourth-quarter points for Miami and were responsible for the team's final 31 points.
That's a large part to why they are in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
6. LeBron James' 30-Footer, Game 7
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Chris Bosh's three-pointer was the catalyst to a Miami Heat run that finished off the Boston Celtics in Game 7.
LeBron James' 30-footer with the shot clock running down was the shot that took the wind out of Boston's sails for good.
After Shane Battier blocked Paul Pierce's layup, James followed up Bosh's trifecta with a layup of his own. Celtics forward Brandon Bass, playing one of the best games of his career, answered back with a 20-foot jumper to cut the Heat lead back down to four.
On the next possession, Bass played tough defense on the three-time MVP, swarming James at the perimeter as James was trying to find a lane to drive to the hoop. With less than five seconds left on the shot clock, a Chris Bosh pick freed up James for the best shot he was going to get.
That shot just so happened to be near the "Eastern Conference Finals" logo which was nearly 31 feet from the basket. James leaped for the shot and, with Bass and Kevin Garnett charging towards him, drained the long three to put the Heat up seven with just under six minutes left in the game.
James was so confident the shot was going in that he left his hand up in the air both while the shot was up and long after it cascaded through the net. It was that moment that everyone in the stands and watching at home knew the game was over.
Most importantly, the Celtics knew it was over.
Boston made a few futile attempts to shoot their way back into the game, but its cold streak continued. Not too long after James' big shot, Doc Rivers put in the reserves and sent his future Hall of Fame Big Three to the bench.
The impressive shot was significant for multiple reasons. First, two of the biggest knocks on James throughout his career has been the lack of range on his shot and his inability to close the door in big games.
By nailing this three from nearly half-court, James put both of those criticisms to rest. He not only showed impressive range by hitting a 30-foot jumper, but he put away a Celtics team that spent the entire series hanging around.
Second, he killed any chance of Boston gaining momentum and he put an exclamation point on a game-changing run that lead to the third Finals appearance of his career.
5. Kevin Durant's 4th Quarter Takeover, Game 4
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Kevin Durant didn't score his first points of the fourth quarter of Game 4 until midway into the game's final stanza.
After hitting a 17-footer with just under seven minutes to go in the game, Durant went on a rampage and dominated the rest of the quarter.
Eighteen of Durant's 36 points came in the fourth quarter, with the aforementioned jumper kicking things off at the 6:33 mark. Durant went 7-for-9 in the fourth quarter and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line to help put the Spurs away. The Thunder opened the quarter with a four-point lead and never looked back, ultimately winning the game by six.
It was the kind of game Oklahoma City needed from its franchise player to even the series. After being left for dead after losing Game 2, the Thunder came back to blow out the Spurs in Game 3 and then took over down the stretch to win Game 4.
Durant's 36 points was the highlight of an impressive stat line. He added six rebounds, eight assists and a block to round out the night. Even with the series tied, the momentum was now in Oklahoma City's favor. The Spurs, famous for their stout defense under coach Gregg Popovich, were now losing confidence in their ability to stop the three-time scoring champion.
"When a player that talented gets hot, it's really hard to contain. We tried different things and they didn't work," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (via the Associated Press).
Durant picked up the slack for fellow All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook, who scored just seven points. The Thunder would also get a big performance out of Serge Ibaka, who dropped 26 points and blocked three shots. The man of the night, however, was Durant, who put up his best showing of the series at the time and was the total embodiment of the team's offense for a majority of the last half of the fourth quarter.
Durant putting his team on his back to even the series would only be a sign of what was to come.
4. James Harden's Three-Point Dagger, Game 5
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After being slighted by Bryant and jokingly told he "can't sit at my lunch table," Harden has emerged as a legit threat teams have to worry about to go along with an already tough combination in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Throughout these playoffs, the defending Sixth Man of the Year has come up big in big spots.
This was evident in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
With the Thunder up two in the final minute of a hotly-contested game against San Antonio, Harden nailed a three from the top of the key with just under 30 seconds left to break the game open and seal the win for the Thunder. The win gave Oklahoma City a 3-2 lead and put them on the brink of their first Finals appearance since the franchise moved from Seattle.
The Spurs, seemingly unbeatable after winning 20 straight including the first two games of this series, now felt the Thunder's foot looming over their neck. Harden's big shot threw the Spurs out of whack and Manu Ginobili, who had a big game in his first start of the series with 34 points, took an uncharacteristic bad shot in an attempt to get the Spurs back in the game.
With 4.9 seconds left, Ginobili took an off-balance three for the win that clanged off the back of the rim. Ginobili also had six rebounds, seven assists and two steals to go along with his 34 points. In the end, he couldn't be as clutch as Harden.
With rookie Kawhi Leonard playing him close defensively, Harden was forced to put up the three with the shot clock winding down. The shot was huge for the Thunder but also huge for the confidence of Harden.
There aren't many young guards who would be comfortable with being the third option coming off a breakout season and accepting roles was a huge part of what crippled the Thunder last season. Harden has not only accepted being the third wheel behind Westbrook and Durant, but he's shown a comfort in coming off the bench.
Harden's clutch three also makes the team more dangerous late in close games. The team already has aging veteran Derek Fisher, a man who has made many clutch shots throughout his career, to go along with the game's premier scorer in Durant and one of the best young guard in Westbrook. With Harden's emergence, teams will have to pick their poison when it comes to defending the final shot.
That's a huge contrast to their Finals opponent, the Miami Heat, who don't have many big shot takers beyond LeBron James.
3. Rajon Rondo's 53-Minute Masterpiece, Game 2
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The only thing that kept Rajon Rondo's epic performance in Game 2 from topping this list is the fact that Boston ending up losing the game.
Rondo played every second of Game 2's 53-minute thriller. He finished with 44 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. He almost single-handedly took down the Heat on the road.
Inevitably, it wasn't enough. LeBron James scored 34 points. Dwyane Wade dropped 23, eight of which coming in overtime, and the team got 22 points out of Mario Chalmers. The Heat proved to be more than a one-man show, unlike the Boston Celtics.
Still, Rondo was a great one-man show. History will remember this performance as one of the greatest performances in NBA playoff history and among the best in the rich, long history of the Boston Celtics. Rondo responded to every big Miami shot and put the entire team on the back of his 195-pound body.
With the Heat up six after two LeBron James free throws, Rondo fired back with a three-pointer to cut the Miami lead in half. After Dwyane Wade split his free throws on the next possession, the Celtics made another valiant effort but Ray Allen's three-pointer was off the mark.
The Game 2 win gave the experts reason to cast doubt on the Celtics' chances of beating the Heat. After all, if the Celtics can't win when Rondo puts on a game for the ages, what will they do when he has an off night? It's unfortunate that the Celtics couldn't take Game 2 and validate Rondo's performance but, fortunately, the seven-game series was exhilarating enough to be remembered for years to come.
Rondo was 16-of-24 from the field, hitting both of the shots from behind the arc he took and going 10-of-12 from the line. His eight rebounds matched the efforts of Kevin Garnett and was only second to Brandon Bass for the team lead. His 10 assists were more than triple the next closest assist man on the team, which was Paul Pierce with three.
With Derrick Rose out and Chris Paul eliminated, Rondo's Game 2 opened up discussion as to whether he was actually the best point guard in the league. With a championship ring on his finger and one of the greatest postseason performances of all-time under his best, it's a claim that many can feel comfortable making.
2. Kevin Durant Goes the Distance to Clinch the Series, Game 6
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Last year was supposed to be the year the Oklahoma City Thunder came of age and used their youth and talent to wrestle away the Western Conference crown from the aging veteran elite.
Instead, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook struggled co-existing and the Thunder were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the more veteran-savvy Dallas Mavericks.
This year, the shortened season was supposed to benefit a team with great depth and youth like the Thunder and it seemed destined that the Thunder would roll into the playoffs. However, the Spurs took the first two games of this year's Western Conference Finals and some were already writing OKC off.
A funny thing happened on the way back to Oklahoma City for Game 3 though. The Oklahoma City Thunder finally came of age.
From the their Game 3 trouncing of a blazing hot Spurs team to finally eliminating San Antonio in Game 6, the Thunder didn't just establish themselves as the best in the West. They established themselves as the favorites to win it all.
That point was nailed down in Game 6 and the man holding the hammer was Kevin Durant. With the Finals in his sights, Durant played every second of the series-clinching Game 6 win over San Antonio. The Thunder trailed as much as 18 points at one point and were down 15 at the half, but Durant would not let the series go to a seventh game. Durant got some help from Russell Westbrook, who scored 25 points in the game, but it was Durant's night that closed the show for Tim Duncan and company.
Durant's final stat line was 34 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. It was the first time in Durant's career he would play an entire playoff game and his masterful performance helped set the stage for the showdown we've all been waiting for: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James.
The game capped off an impressive series for The Durantula, in which he averaged 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game. While only seven of Durant's 34 came in the 4th quarter and all of those came from the free-throw line, his presence on the court opened things up for others around him. James Harden and Derek Fisher hit big three-pointers late in the fourth and Oklahoma City went from down three at the start of the fourth to winning by eight.
The game ended with Durant pulling down the final rebound before embracing his family with a huge hug. His determination to play every minute of such an important game is why he is the team's alpha dog. The days of fighting with Westbrook for shots are over. Kevin Durant used this game to make his case as one of the two best basketball players on the planet.
With a showdown with LeBron coming up, Durant will be coming for No. 1 spot.
1. LeBron James' Brilliance Keeps Heat Alive, Game 6
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LeBron James takes a lot of criticism.
Critics knock him for not having a championship ring even though he's been in the league for nine seasons. They claim he isn't clutch. They say he shrivels up in big moments. They hold grudges for the way he left Cleveland.
Despite all that, LeBron James still finds ways to astound us when his back is against the wall.
Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals was the greatest postseason performance we've seen from King James since his 2007 "48 Special" that he delivered to Detroit in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals while he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In that game, James scored 29 of the Cavs' final 30 points, including the final 25 in the game's second overtime. He finished with 48 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and hit the game-winning layup with two seconds left.
In his latest edition of postseason brilliance, James carried a Heat team on the brink of elimination and refused to sit down until he knew the game was out of reach. With the Celtics having ended James' title hopes twice before in the playoffs during his Cleveland days, James would not let his championship aspirations die in Boston this time.
In one of the most important games of his career, James scored 45 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out five assists. It was a game the Heat and, most importantly, James couldn't afford to lose. With expectations so high since the assembling of the Big Three in Miami two years ago, any season that ends without a championship is considered a failure for LeBron by fans and the media. James has become the most scrutinized athlete in the world and his overwhelming popularity and expectations have backed him into a lose-lose situation.
If he wins, it was expected. If he loses, he's a choke artist.
With his Game 6 masterpiece, LeBron showed the world what he can do when he decides to take over. It was the kind of performance that amazes and frustrates even the most loyal of James' fans. We are amazed by performances like this because only athletes of LeBron's greatness are able to pull them off. We are frustrated because it makes us wonder why we don't see it more often from the self-appointed King.
It helps further along all the negative banter that has riddled James' career. If James can pull off games like this, why does he only do it when his back is against the wall?
Regardless, James' Game 6 performance staved off elimination, delayed a cacophony of media backlash and opened the door for a Game 7 that went down to the wire until James broke Boston's back with a 30-foot three pointer late in the fourth.
James showed us why he's the King when it mattered most. It makes you wish it happened more often.
Then again, if it did, it wouldn't be quite as special.