What's the Best NBA Playoff Game You've Ever Seen Live?

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What's the Best NBA Playoff Game You've Ever Seen Live?
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

With the NBA playoffs fast approaching, Bleacher Report asked its NBA experts to remember the best playoff game they ever experienced live—and then posed the same question to the Twittersphere. Here are the responses we got:

 

Howard Beck, NBA National Columnist

Everyone remembers the shot. The one launched with four-tenths of a second left. The one that sent a euphoric Derek Fisher sprinting off the court. The one that propelled the Los Angeles Lakers past the San Antonio Spurs and, eventually, back to the NBA Finals.

Everyone remembers "0.4."

Few recall what happened right before that.

Well, aside from Spurs fans, who would surely prefer to forget.

There was a reason the clock was stopped at 0.4 that night in May 2004, at San Antonio's SBC (now AT&T) Center. There was a reason the Lakers needed Fisher's breathtaking shot to win Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Before Fisher's awkward, leftward-leaning, buzzer-beating 16-footer, came another impossible shot—this one from the hands of Tim Duncan.

The Lakers had taken a 72-71 lead on a Kobe Bryant jumper with 11.9 seconds left. It was up to Duncan to save his team. With time running down, Duncan dribbled to his left near the top of the key and—with Shaquille O'Neal closing in—launched an awkward, leftward-leaning, 18-footer that swished with 0.4 left.

How tough was the shot? Duncan was so off balance that he fell to the court, on his side, as the ball found its target.

I was covering the Lakers for the L.A. Daily News at the time, and sitting at a courtside press table, not far from where Duncan hit the deck. The building erupted. The Spurs danced and pumped their fists. Every face on the Lakers' bench—from Shaq to Kobe to Fisher to Karl Malone—went blank.

At that moment, Duncan's shot was destined for immortality, to be immediately enshrined in NBA lore and replayed on Spurs highlight reels for decades to come.

For the Lakers, this was a potentially fatal blow, not just to their season, but to an era. Bryant was heading for free agency, and quietly threatening to leave. O'Neal had not yet made the trade demand that ended his Lakers tenure, but he knew a breakup was coming. Everyone knew it.

Before the season, the Lakers had signed Malone and Gary Payton—two aging stars in search of a ring—forming a superteam for the ages, albeit one with a short shelf life. Malone battled a serious knee injury. The strong-willed Payton battled with coach Phil Jackson. Shaq and Kobe battled with each other, as ever.

When Tony Parker scorched the Lakers in Games 1 and 2, staking the Spurs to a 2-0 lead, it appeared the superteam would be a super flop. But Payton throttled Parker the next two games, Bryant exploded for 42 points in Game 4 and the Lakers tied the series.

History dictates that in a 2-2 series, the Game 5 winner generally moves on. Given the Lakers' fragile chemistry, this Game 5 was absolutely pivotal.

The Lakers had a 62-53 lead after three quarters, but the game never seemed secure. Parker and Duncan sparked a huge Spurs rally to open the fourth, staking the Spurs to a 69-68 lead with 2:44 left. They kept that lead until Bryant's 20-footer.

What followed was the most thrilling half-second of basketball I have ever witnessed, in 17 years of covering the NBA. Duncan, falling to his left, delivering a certain victory with 0.4 seconds left. Fisher, pivoting and flinging with no time to spare, stealing the game as time expired.

"It's unfortunate, incredible," Duncan would say afterward.

Or, as O'Neal aptly put it: "One lucky shot deserves another."

 

Ric Bucher, NBA National Columnist

I was there when Michael Jordan hung his goosenecked wrist one last time in the face of Utah Jazz fans, and when Baron Davis jammed on Andrei Kirilenko and Sean Elliott buried a three with his heels over the out-of-bounds line to bury the Trail Blazers; all of them were memorable playoff moments, but when it comes to best game ever, the most indelible remains Game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals.

As they say, you always remember your first, and the '93 Finals were mine. A book about Jordan losing more than $1 million in golf bets left him angry and refusing to talk while Charles Barkley happily entertained the media throng, even flying in noted heckler Robin Ficker to harass Jordan about his gambling issues. That didn't prevent the Bulls from quickly swiping the Suns' homecourt advantage by winning Games 1 and 2 in Phoenix, thereby threatening to turn the royal battle between His Airness and Sir Charles into a rout. Before Game 3, NBC sideline reporter Hannah Storm click-clacked down the stairs to the visitor's locker room in old Chicago Stadium and said, "Look, Charles!" as she flashed her engagement ring in Barkley's face. Without missing a beat, Barkley drawled, "Damn, that's the biggest piece of zirconium I've ever seen!" Hannah turned on her heel and, um, Stormed out.

The histrionics hardly ended there. Barkley would wave his arms and shake his head and glare anytime he was open and didn't get the ball. A struggling Kevin Johnson would pick Jordan, then call timeout before seeing and feeding Tom Chambers streaking down the floor all alone for a disallowed breakaway dunk and two-point lead with 12 seconds left.

Jordan would go for 44 points. Scottie Pippen would post a near triple-double (26 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists). The Bulls led in all three overtimes. None of it fazed Chuck, who had 24 points and 19 rebounds to guide Phoenix through three heart-pounding overtimes to a 129-121 win.

The Suns would win Game 5 as well, forcing the series back to the desert and prompting Barkley to suggest that God wanted the Suns to win the series ("I talked to him last night"), but Jordan prevailed once again. Nevertheless, my lasting memory will be watching from the baseline as a skinny Barkley, the only bulky part of him being the white pad over his sore shooting elbow, rising and firing over Horace Grant with smoky old Chicago Stadium as the backdrop.

 

Kevin Ding, NBA National Columnist

First off, don't even come at me with any game before the conference finals. So much of playoff intensity is rooted in how much is at risk to be won or lost: an NBA championship.

The do-or-die element is the magic of any playoff game, and there is literally nothing possible beyond Game 7 of the NBA Finals—which is huge part of why Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers was the best playoff game I've ever seen.

Both sides wanted it so much that they couldn't possibly be at their very best, but amid the pressure and suspense, it felt right that way. It helps that the game wasn't that long ago, but I'm not convinced the images from that night will ever fade for me:

• The rich green of the Celtics' classic uniforms contrasting the bright gold of the Lakers'...

Pau Gasol's shaggy hair flying around as he strained for those 18 valuable rebounds, proving something about his toughness in a matchup with Kevin Garnett's ferocity...

• Ron Artest inciting Paul Pierce into a face-to-face altercation, discreetly raising an arm close enough to Pierce's head to knock his green headband askew...

• Kobe Bryant's mom, Pam, sitting courtside near me, gasping wide-eyed at one point with her hands over her mouth because she simply couldn't believe Kobe was missing so many shots with a ring so near his grasp...

• Then Bryant chasing down the ball to retrieve the memento at the buzzer, leaping on the Staples Center scorer's table with ball still in hand to revel in the confetti with his fans...

 

Ethan Skolnick, Miami Heat Lead Writer

Sometimes, a game isn't about just a game. It's about an era. It's about knowing that something brutally beautiful is ending, and how much you'll miss it.

The Miami Heat and New York Knicks weren't the two best teams of the final four years of the 20th century. They were merely the most evenly matched, and the least even-tempered—everyone, it seemed, had history with everyone else. "Pat the Rat" leaving New York. Jeff Van Gundy hugging Alonzo Mourning's leg. P.J. Brown tossing Charlie Ward. Mourning and Larry Johnson, and Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell, respectively, bringing all the bad blood from their turbulent time as teammates.

By the time the clashing cousins tipped for Game 7 of the East semifinals on May 21, 2000, enough blood and sweat had spilled to make all of American Airlines Arena slippery. They had played three "Snowbird" series the previous three postseasons, and played the maximum 17 games, draining the life out of each one, and each other. Now, in the 24th, they had played three quarters, and were square at 65. So it seemed was the basket, since both teams were again struggling to get the round ball through.

It could only end this way, back and forth and back again, Miami up six with four minutes left before Ewing led New York's late push. It could only end with controversy: Jamal Mashburn passing on an open jumper down 83-82, teammate Clarence Weatherspoon missing from 14 feet, official Dick Bavetta awarding Sprewell a timeout the latter admitted he never called before falling out of bounds, Mashburn chasing after the officials, Hardaway reading from a prepared statement in which he renamed Bavetta "Knick," Brown patting his eyes and burying his head.

Nothing left.

 

Jared Zwerling, NBA analyst

Everyone talks about "The Shot." But for me, it's still all about "The Wink."

It was May 24, 1997, Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. My high school friend, Patrice Altine, and I had arrived at the old Miami Arena an hour before tip-off.

Two words: Michael Jordan.

It was the first time we had seen Jordan live in a playoff setting, and we were already prepped down by the scorer's table before the Bulls took the court. Then—and I had never done this before to any player—I shouted, along with Patrice, "MJ" and "Mike" repetitively so we could get his attention.

All of a sudden, Jordan turned back and winked at us. It was a quick second, but it's one that will forever be embedded in my memory.

I also think with "The Wink," he was confidently foreshadowing he would revenge his 4-of-15 shooting night in Game 2—the Bulls still won—after which he said, "I played like dodo."

Patrice and I both knew Jordan was due for a big game—and that's just what the game's best-ever assassin had. With five different Heat players taking their turn guarding Jordan, he went off for 34 points.

There was one move I'll always remember: Jordan drove left on Voshon Lenard, did a half spin back and then reversed pivoted and beat him off the dribble, finishing with a short jumper. It was like his classic dribbling maneuver against the New York Knicks in the 1991 playoffs, when he posterized Patrick Ewing.

In Miami, Jordan and Pippen (21 points) never gave the Heat a chance, demoralizing them 98-74. I also still hear the crowd noise that night, thanks to the arena's smaller capacity. It got even louder when Dennis Rodman got tangled up with Alonzo Mourning, and when the wild Bull flagrant-fouled John Crotty who threw the ball at him afterwards.

While most fans might remember Game 3 for being a blowout and getting testy, Patrice and I left the arena that night with a lifelong memory. The greatest connected with us—a connection that started before we saw him, and one that continued after that moment, fueling our interest in the NBA and a big reason why I'm covering it today.

 

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