NBA Playoffs: Taj Gibson and the 10 Greatest Playoff Dunks
The Bulls didn't just beat the Heat in Game 1, they embarrassed them. No play summarized it more than Taj Gibson's dunk over Dwyane Wade, easily the best dunk of the postseason so far.
Gibson not only flushed with two hands, an added degree of difficulty, but he caught Wade in mid-air and hung on the rim for extra authority. Throw in the fact that Wade's a Chicago native who had family and friends in attendance and it adds even more to the dunk's greatness.
Is it one of the greatest dunks in NBA playoff history? Only time will tell, but here's 10 of the greatest in one man's opinion.
To be fair here’s how I judged it: It had to be a dunk that came at a pivotal moment. Preferential treatment went to how the dunk has been remembered over time. It had to be a clear dunk on somebody and the more nasty the dunk, the more likely it made the list. These dunks made statements that were much louder than the action itself.
There's no doubt that Gibson's dunk will be remembered for years to come and might even pass some of the dunks on this list. At least Dwyane Wade can take solace that some of the victims on this list weren't defined by being on a poster.
Honorable Mention: Julius Erving
Start at 1:22 and just watch Dr. J go to work on the Portland Trailblazers. First, Erving absolutely serves Bill Walton coming down on a fastbreak and then later on, he skies through the air and throws it down over some helpless Blazers defender. It’s almost more memorable than the Blazers overcoming a 2-0 series deficit to win the 1977 NBA title.
This video is also a reminder that it's a shame we don't have more video of Erving in his ABA days, where he no doubt made posters like these daily.
Honorable Mention: Robert Horry
(Start at :52 to see the dunk unless you want to relive the entire magic of what Robert Horry did that night)
To be fair, Rip Hamilton somehow moved out of the way so it wasn’t a clean posterizing. But this was Horry’s final clutch moment in a career full of them, and that dunk symbolized his tendency to come up big when his team needed it.
On the road, Horry scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 5 of the NBA Finals. This dunk came with the Spurs trailing by four, and despite a sore shoulder, Horry surprised nearly everyone by driving to the rack and throwing it down over Hamilton. You can even see him grimacing afterwards.
Big Shot Rob may be known for his clutch three-point shots (including the game-winner in this game) but that dunk is a big part of his legacy too. It's a statement of Horry's will and determination and just how much he ripped the heart out of Detroit that night.
10. Reggie Miller
First of all, I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen Reggie Miller dunk in a game. Second, how many times have you seen Reggie Miller dunk in a clutch situation instead of pull up for one of his long range bombs?
With Indiana down two to New Jersey in Game 5 of the first round of the 2002 playoffs, Miller took the ball and surprised everyone by not settling for a three, but driving to the lane and throwing it down on Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin and Todd MacCullouch.
Rarely does someone get posterized in a clutch situation, but Miller nearly destroys the entire Nets team in one full swoop.
For younger hoops fans, this was when the first round went five games. Miller had already sent the game in overtime with a 39-foot buzzer beater, but this dunk took his playoff legacy to another level. Plus,
Miller is one of the skinniest assassins in NBA history so for him to show some authority going to the hole reminds you why playoff time was Miller Time.
9. Tracy McGrady
Once upon a time, Tracy McGrady was a top five player in the NBA and one of the fiercest dunkers in the league. In case you forgot, check out what may be the most vicious dunk over Shawn Bradley (and that's saying a lot.)
Bradley may be the most posterized NBA center in history but McGrady takes it to another level by coming down baseline and catching Bradley off guard in the 2005 playoffs.
Check the reaction from the Houston bench and announcers Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins. You know a dunk becomes epic once you have Harlan reaching deep into his bag of metaphors and hyperbole.
In an ironic twist after the series, Bradley retired after a 12-year career, while McGrady was never the same player as injuries bothered him on and off for the next six seasons.
8. Michael Jordan
(Start at 1:14)
Game 2 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Dikembe Mutombo had made headlines saying that Michael Jordan had never dunked on him before and wouldn’t do it during the series.
Mutombo briefly forgot Rule No. 1 of the 1990’s. Never, ever aggravate Jordan without expecting some type of revenge. Mount Mutombo may have been one of the greatest shot blockers in NBA history, but he was no match for Jordan and a full head of steam.
The best part? MJ copying Mutombo’s famous finger wave and getting T’d up as a result. Even the normally reserved Phil Jackson had to smile at Jordan making another statement.
What's the lesson here, kids? Don't antagonize one of the best masters of revenge.
7. Kobe Bryant
Steve Nash won the second of his back-to-back MVP awards in 2006 when there was argument that Kobe Bryant should’ve won it in a year he led the league in scoring and had his 81 point game.
When the Suns and the Lakers met in the first round, there was plenty of tension and needless to say, Bryant wanted to make a statement.
In Game 2, Lamar Odom set Bryant up with the chance to make it. Nash tried to take the charge and the rest is…well, just watch the brutal finish that launched a million photoshops.
But this one had extra anger as if Kobe was saying "I got your MVP right here!"
6. John Starks
It’s a debate fans have had for years. Did Michael Jordan actually get posterized or not? Diehard MJ fans will never admit to it while Knicks fans will cling to it as one of the only times they got over on Jordan.
Either way, nobody would guess that John Starks would cross over BJ Armstrong, drive the lane and finish with his left hand over Grant and Jordan.
It was a dunk few saw coming and in the context of one of the greatest NBA rivalries, it’s been elevated to one of the greatest dunks of the last 20 years.
The dunk itself isn’t spectacular the more you see it, but because of Starks’ brief run as one of the NBA’s top shooting guards, the Bulls looking briefly vulnerable in the 1993 postseason, and the fact you don’t see enough moments of Jordan on the receiving end of somebody else’s greatness, it’s a classic moment of the 90’s that never gets old.
Of course, the Bulls got the last laugh coming back from a 0-2 deficit to win the next four. But for one moment, John Starks conquered the Bulls.
5. Baron Davis
The Warriors’ dream run as a No. 8 seed fell short against Utah in the 2007 Western Conference semifinals, but in their only win of the series, they made it memorable. And Baron Davis reminded folks why 10 years earlier, he was one of the best athletes in college basketball.
If noisy Oracle Arena couldn’t get any louder, they exploded when Davis drove to the lane, cocked it back and flushed Andrei Kirilenko through the rim.
The moment was perfect: ABC's Mike Tirico going Gus Johnson on the call, the sound decibel meter on the screen and Davis getting a technical foul for popping his jersey.
Davis' dunk reminded folks of another little man dunk that'll appear later on this list, but that dunk stands as maybe the Warriors' greatest playoff moment of the last 20 years.
4. Shawn Kemp
Can’t believe it’s been over a decade since Shawn Kemp was remembered for his other worldly athleticism. There’s a generation of NBA fans who think Kemp is a punchline instead of maybe the greatest in-game dunker of the 90’s. Here's a 2-for-1 reminder on that.
First up, the Lister Blister. A dunk so sick it has its own name. It’s a raw mix of power, athleticism and swagger. Kemp came like a runaway train, cradled the ball and sent Lister to the floor. To top it off, Kemp pointed at the fallen Lister to add the right amount of ownage.
Public Enemy once asked “Who Stole The Soul”. Alton Lister never has to ask that because he knows it’s still with Shawn Kemp nearly 20 years after getting embarrassed.
Flash forward to 1:39 of the video. Kemp gets his second poster of the game by pulling back and stuffing it on Chris Gatling. You know a dunk is good when the guy who gets dunked on daps up the guy who embarrassed him.
Even foes had to bow to the Reign Man after he brought the thunder.
3. Michael Jordan (Part 2)
Nobody tormented the Knicks worse than Michael Jordan, and this play that we've all seen sums it all up.
You still wonder how in the world Jordan was trapped in the corner with John Starks and Charles Oakley with nowhere to go. Somehow, Jordan manages to not only escape, but flushes it down on Patrick Ewing with authority and takes the heart out of Madison Square Garden.
It’s as if Jordan ran away from the defense, took Ewing on an elevator and left him on the third floor while he rose to the fifth. Jordan has a slew of memorable performances at MSG, but this might be the move that stands above them all.
2. Kevin Johnson
In case you don’t remember how good a player the current mayor of Sacramento was, watch this dunk and see how explosive a leaper Kevin Johnson was. Take Kobe’s dunk at No. 7 plus Baron Davis at No. 5 and you have this throwdown over Hakeem Olajuwon.
What else makes this dunk incredible? 1) Johnson was only 6'1", 2) look at the excitement as he runs toward half court, 3) the announcer says what everyone's thinking by saying "In your face!" 4) did I mention Olajuwon was the best player in the league as he won both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year? How many times do you see a smaller guy scale the mountain and plant the flag?
It’s arguably one of the greatest little guy dunks in NBA history and definitely the greatest of the postseason. The funny thing is that Olajuwon got his own measure of payback a couple of games later.
1. Scottie Pippen
The Bulls-Knicks rivalry was still at a feverish pitch and as Scottie Pippen emerged as the Bulls' leader, he one-upped Jordan’s dunk at No. 3 with an ever greater demolition on Ewing.
It’s not just the dunk where Pippen collided with Ewing in mid-air and threw him down. It’s him standing and walking over Ewing like a conquering gladiator. Plus he followed that up by telling Knicks superfan Spike Lee to sit down and shut up.
All of that together makes this not just the greatest dunk of the NBA playoffs, but one of the greatest dunks of the last 20 years.
Even though the series will also be remembered for Pippen refusing to accept Toni Kukoc taking a last-second shot, there's no denying how bad he destroyed one of the game's greatest centers.