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30 Greatest NBA Finals Moments of All Time

Peter EmerickSenior Writer IIJanuary 9, 2017

30 Greatest NBA Finals Moments of All Time

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    The NBA Finals is a domain where we find out what players are truly made of. It is a place where legends are made and legacies are created.   

    In the 72-year history of the NBA Finals, there have been players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Larry Bird and Willis Reed who have risen to the occasion and embraced the pressure of the championship series. 

    Ahead are the 30 greatest NBA Finals moments of all time in no specific order.

    I compiled the greatest moments. Ranking them is up to you.  

Hakeem the Dream Blocks John Starks

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    When: Game 6 of 1994 NBA Finals

    With his team staring at elimination down three games to two against the New York Knicks, Hakeem Olajuwon made one of the best defensive plays in NBA Finals history.

    With the Rockets leading by two points with just a few seconds left in a must-win Game 6, Olajuwon hedged out on John Starks instead of trailing back to Patrick Ewing, and blocked a potential game-winning three. 

    The Rockets would go on to win Game 7 and their first of two straight NBA championships, thanks in part to Olajuwon's epic block. 

The Infamous Jordan Shrug

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    When: Game 1 of 1992 NBA Finals

    Michael Jordan put on one of the most memorable first-half performances in finals history when he nailed six three-pointers on his way to scoring 35 points before half against the Portland Trail Blazers.

    In a somewhat disappointing turn of events, Jordan ended the game with just 39 points on the night. Chicago would go on to blow out the Trail Blazers in Game 1, and finished the job in Game 6 for its second straight NBA title. 

Isiah Thomas Explodes After Injury

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    When: Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals

    Isiah Thomas showed his toughness in this Game 6 final when he bounced back from a sprained ankle to score 25 points in the third quarter against the Lakers. 

    While the Pistons would go on to lose Game 6 and eventually the series, Thomas proved that he is one of the toughest players to ever play the game of basketball. Thomas didn't know it at the time, but he would get revenge on the Lakers the next season—winning his first of two NBA titles. 

The Microwave Scores in the Clutch

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    When: Game 5 of 1990 NBA Finals

    Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson helped lead the Detroit Pistons to their second straight NBA title, and he sealed the deal in memorable fashion.

    With just a few seconds left on the clock, Johnson got the ball in the corner and hit a ridiculously off-balanced jumper that gave the Pistons the win and the 1990 NBA title.

    This is exactly the kind of clutch moment that NBA greats are made of. 

The Shot

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    When: Game 5 of 1976 NBA Finals

    With just one second left on the clock and the Phoenix Suns down by two in double-overtime versus Boston, Gar Heard hit what later became known as "The Shot."

    Heard caught the ball at the top of the key, turned around and sank a 17-foot fader that sent the game into a third overtime. The Suns would go on to lose Game 5 and the series, but Heard's clutch shot will live on forever. 

Dr. J's Epic Scoop

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    When: Game 4 of 1980 NBA Finals

    With a cut to the baseline and a scooping layup from behind the backboard, Julius Erving made one of the greatest plays of all time in the 1980 NBA Finals.

    Magic Johnson referred to the play as "the greatest move I've ever seen in a basketball game." 

    While that play helped the 76ers win Game 4, it did not propel them to a title, as the Lakers would take the series in six games. 

Elgin Baylor Sets Scoring Record

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    When: Game 5 of 1962 NBA Finals

    Fifty years ago, Elgin Baylor set an NBA Finals record with 61 points in a Game 5 win over the Boston Celtics in the Los Angeles Lakers' first NBA Finals appearance.

    While the Lakers would go on to lose Games 6 and 7, Baylor's record has yet to be broken. 

Bill Walton's Near Quadruple-Double

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    When: Game 6 of 1977 NBA Finals

    Bill Walton's career was not nearly as long as it should have been, but that does not mean it was devoid of memorable moments.

    In just their sixth season in the NBA, the Trail Blazers won their first NBA title led by Bill Walton and his near quadruple-double in Game 6. The bearded beast accounted for 20 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and eight blocks, helping him earn the '77 finals MVP trophy. 

Mr. Clutch with the Steal and Layup

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    When: Game 3 of 1962 NBA Finals

    In one of the most amazing sequences in NBA championship history, Jerry West managed to steal the ball on the inbound to rob the mighty Celtics of a Game 3 victory in the '62 finals. 

    In typical fashion, West stole the ball and hit a layup as time ran out to lead the Lakers to a crucial series win. Unfortunately, the Lakers would go on to lose the series in seven games. 

The Sky Hook Heard 'Round the World (at 6:35 of Video)

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    When: Game 6 of 1974 NBA Finals

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit a ton of sky hooks in his NBA career, but none were as clutch as the one that helped the Bucks beat the Celtics in double overtime. 

    While the Bucks would go on to lose Game 7, Game 6 of this series remains one of the greatest games in NBA Finals history, and also provided an unforgettable clutch shot. 

Bill Russell Puts Up 30 Points, 40 Rebounds

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    When: Game 7 of 1962 NBA Finals

    Bill Russell had one of the best games of his career at just the right time. In the final game of the 1962 NBA Finals, Russell put together an absurd 30-point, 40-rebound performance.

    Either Russell is just that good, or the Lakers' big men weren't that big at all. Russell putting up those numbers led the Celtics to their fourth NBA title in as many years.

Jerry West's 60-Foot Prayer

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    When: Game 3 of 1970 NBA Finals

    Mr. Clutch earned his nickname in the 1970 NBA Finals when he launched a 60-foot prayer that was answered by the basketball gods.

    It's not often a player hits a meaningful shot past the half-court line, and it's only been done once in the NBA Finals with the game on the line. Unfortunately for West, his shot didn't will the Lakers to an NBA title. 

Gerald Henderson Game-Saving Steal

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    When: Game 2 of 1984 NBA Finals

    Down two points with under 17 seconds left in the game, the Boston Celtics needed someone to step up and make an absolutely clutch play. Gerald Henderson decided he was the man for that job.

    Henderson hopped into the passing lane, stole James Worthy's soft pass and finished it off with an easy lay-in. Henderson's play sent the game into overtime, where the Celtics won by three points.

    Boston would go on to win the 1984 NBA title, and they have Henderson to thank for that.  

Big Shot Bob Goes Berserk on Pistons

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    When: Game 5 of 2005 NBA Finals

    Here's what Horry did.

    First, he sank a three-ball to give the Spurs the lead at the end of the third quarter. Then he tied up the game with under four left with another three. Then he tied the game up once again with 1:45 left with a pivotal putback. Then, with the Spurs down four with 1:25 left, he drove the lane and slammed one down while drawing the foul. 

    Finally, Horry won the game for the Spurs on a three-ball with under six seconds left on the clock. Some players would love to have that many clutch moments over their entire career, let alone in one single game. I guess that's why they call him "Big Shot Bob."

Don Nelson Gets Bill Russell His 11th Ring

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    When: Game 7 of 1969 NBA Finals

    In the final game of Bill Russell's illustrious career, Don Nelson would end up being the hero for the Boston Celtics, even after they let a 17-point fourth-quarter lead slip away. 

    With Game 7 tied at 106, John Havlicek had the ball knocked out of his hands, but sixth-man Don Nelson grabbed it and hit a game-winner from the free-throw line to give Russell the 11th championship ring of his career.

    Considering the favorable bounce on Nelson's jumper, the basketball gods were clearly on Russell's side that day. 

Magic's Junior Sky Hook Sinks Celtics

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    When: Game 4 of 1987 NBA Finals

    Like he did throughout his entire career, Magic Johnson rose to the occasion against the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.

    What's most impressive about his mini sky hook is that he hit it over half the Celtics team. Magic drove into the paint and elevated over Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird to give the Lakers a three games to one lead over the Celtics.

    Magic's play would propel the Lakers to their fourth title in eight years.

The Flu Game

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    When: Game 5 of 1997 NBA Finals

    A lot of people call into work sick when they have the flu, but Michael Jordan wasn't having that when he came down with a bug back in 1997.

    Instead, Jordan put together one of the most epic performances in NBA Finals history. Jordan looked thoroughly exhausted, but he also looked incredibly focused, finishing with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a game-winner.

    While some will question how sick he actually was, there is no doubt that his performance is a truly special one.  

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Ends the Boston Curse

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    When: Game 6 of 1985 NBA Finals

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's impressive 29-point performance at the age of 38 gave the Los Angeles Lakers their first title win over the Boston Celtics in eight tries.

    Abdul-Jabbar was named the NBA Finals MVP, effectively putting an end to the Boston curse.

Steve Kerr Knocks Out the Jazz

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    When: Game 6 of 1997 NBA Finals

    For one shining moment, Steve Kerr, and not Michael Jordan, got to be the hero.

    With Jordan double-teamed and the clock winding down, Kerr found space at the top of the key and made himself available from 17 feet out. After receiving the pass from MJ, Kerr rose and hit the biggest shot of his career to put the Chicago Bulls ahead for good. 

John Paxson Torches the Suns

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    When: Game 6 of 1993 NBA Finals

    Michael Jordan dishes it to Scottie Pippen, who passes it to Horace Grant, who finds John Paxson for the game-winning, title-winning three. 

    Not many people would have scripted the conclusion of the 1993 NBA Finals this way, but that is how it went down. The trust that the Bulls had in Paxson is almost as impressive as Paxson's shot itself. 

Bob Pettit Drops 50

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    When: Game 6 of 1958 NBA Finals

    Bob Pettit did the impossible by scoring 50 points against the mighty Boston Celtics of the 1950s. Pettit scored 19 of the Hawks' final 21 points en route to a one-point win that gave the Hawks their first and only NBA title.

    What's more impressive about Pettit's performance and subsequent Hawks title is that it was the only title a team not named the Boston Celtics would win between 1957 and 1966. Pettit also redeemed himself in Game 6 after falling to the Celtics in the NBA Finals the year before.

    Redemption must have been sweet for Pettit. 

Magic Johnson Dominates at Center

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    When: Game 6 of 1980 NBA Finals

    It's impressive enough to just be starting a game in the NBA Finals as a rookie, let alone producing 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists out of position.

    That's exactly what Magic Johnson did in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, when he was forced to fill in for the injured six-time NBA MVP, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, at center.

    Magic's epic performance led the Lakers to their first of five NBA titles in the 1980s. Not too shabby for a rookie. 

Willis Reed Walks Out of the Tunnel

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    When: Game 7 of 1970 NBA Finals

    With a torn thigh muscle, Willis Reed willed his New York Knicks to a Game 7 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in one of the most inspiring moments of Big Apple lore.

    While the real hero in this game was Walt Frazier, who led New York in points and assists, there's no doubt that Reed gave the Knicks the emotional spark they needed. Reed managed to score the Knicks' first four points of the game, and that's all they needed him to do.

    Epic moment for Reed, and an even bigger moment for the Knicks franchise. 

Tim Duncan's Near Quadruple-Double

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    When: Game 6 of 2003 NBA Finals

    Let's get another near quadruple-double out of the way here. Just as Shaquille O'Neal had done a few year prior, Tim Duncan was only two blocks away from recording a quadruple-double in Game 6 of the '03 finals versus the New Jersey Nets.

    Duncan's stat line of 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks is more impressive than Shaq's, as it was in a close-out situation.

    The only way this performance could've been better is if Duncan had actually grabbed two more blocks and entered NBA history book with a quadruple-double.

    Nonetheless, Duncan had the grest game of his career at a most opportune time.

Larry Legend's Championship Triple-Double

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    When: Game 6 of 1986 NBA Finals

    With the Celtics' 50-1 home record during the 1985-86 season to defend, Larry Bird put together one of the best performances of his NBA playoff career.

    With 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, Bird added to his legend by leading the Celtics to their 16th NBA title. Bird's Game 6 performance helped him earn the 1986 NBA Finals MVP award, which capped off his magical 1985-86 season, which included winning his third NBA MVP award. 

Kobe Bryant's Game-Winning Putback

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    When: Game 4 of 2000 NBA Finals

    Kobe Bryant's game-winner against the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals truly solidified Kobe as one of the best in the game.

    WIth Shaquille O'Neal fouled out and the game on the line, Kobe took over, scoring six of the Lakers' final eight points, which included the putback off a Brian Shaw miss that would ultimately lead to a Lakers victory.

Sam Jones and the "Picket Fence"

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    When: Game 4 of 1969 NBA Finals

    Sam Jones and the infamous picket-fence play set up one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history, as the Celtics would go on to knock off the mighty Lakers.

    Designed off the infamous Hoosiers picket fence, the play was run beautifully, with Jones coming off the screen as close as he possible could. Among all the great moments in Celtics history, this game-winner certainly ranks near the top. 

Iverson Stops 19-0 Lakers Win Streak

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    When: Game 1 of 2001 NBA Finals

    Allen Iverson's 48-point performance against the Lakers to open up the 2001 NBA Finals was one of the all-time great performances in NBA championship history. Sadly, it was the only finals game that Iverson would ever win.

    The 76ers were the only team to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA playoffs, and that was in large part because of the epic effort put forth by Iverson. Fast forward to the 3:52 mark to see one of the all-time great shots in finals history—Iverson stepping over the goofy Tyronn Lue. 

Shaq's Near Quadruple-Double

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    When: Game 2 of 2001 NBA Finals

    After Allen Iverson shocked the world by leading the 76ers to a Game 1 win against the Lakers in Los Angeles, Shaquille O'Neal decided it was his time to shine, and he did so by almost grabbing a quadruple-double.

    Shaq's stat line of 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks is one of the most dominant stat lines you'll ever see, especially in a pivotal NBA Finals matchup. And that's why it's earned a spot on this list. 

Michael Jordan's Last Shot

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    When: Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals

    Not only was Michael Jordan's final shot as a member of the Chicago Bulls a controversial one, it was also one of the most clutch shots in NBA history. 

    Hitting a game-winner that led to Jordan's sixth NBA title was clutch in more ways than one, and, if he wasn't already, solidified him in the greatest-of-all-time conversations. The real question here, though, is whether Jordan pushed off of Bryon Russell.

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