Best Game 7 Moments in NBA Playoff History
There's nothing better than a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs.
During the course of an 82-game season, there are always lulls and lapses in effort. Teams and players know that there are ample opportunities to coast over a six-month season in which the weeks blur together.
A contest pitting a couple of lottery teams against one another in January, perhaps with one of them working on the second leg of a back-to-back set, hardly showcases the kind of passion and commitment fans crave.
But when the playoffs roll around, the action intensifies. Things reach a fever pitch whenever a do-or-die Game 7 is on the slate.
There have been 112 playoff series that have gone to a Game 7 in NBA playoff history. The Indiana Pacers will try to become just the 24th road team in history to win a Game 7 when they battle the Heat tonight in Miami.
Suddenly, the prospect of watching an entire season's work disappear becomes real. Fear creeps in, and doubt comes along too. The tension becomes palpable, and while some players shrink from the enormity of the moment, others welcome the pressure.
*Note: For the purposes of this list, note that "moments" is being used loosely. There'll be plenty of specific plays, but incredible quarters and even overall performances are fair game—so long as they occurred in a Game 7.
10. George King Gives Syracuse Its First NBA Title
If you're under the age of 60, there's a good chance that the only George you know from the 1950s in the NBA is "Mikan," famous for his eponymous layup drill. And if you don't know him for that reason, chances are your off hand is weak, and you have trouble finishing around the basket.
Seriously, read up on it.
Anyway, the NBA's other George—George King—checks in at No. 10 with a memorable two-way showing that helped clinch his Syracuse Nationals (yes, that was a real team) their first NBA title in 1955.
King put his team ahead in the waning seconds with a foul shot and then stole the ball from Fort Wayne's Andy Phillip on the ensuing possession to secure a 92-91 win.
9. Bird's Banker
The 1981 Eastern Conference Finals was one of the greatest series in NBA history.
Both the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers had won 62 games in the regular season, so the matchup featured a pair of top-quality teams. Plus, the Sixers took a 3-1 lead, but watched the never-say-die Celtics avoid elimination twice to force a Game 7.
The most enduring sequence featured a clutch bank shot from Larry Bird with under a minute remaining. Boston's beloved forward ran back up the floor after his huge make and delivered a fist pump that Celtics fans can still see in their dreams—when they're not dreaming about the "Sawx" or "chowdah," which is what I assume they usually dream about.
Maurice Cheeks couldn't convert a free throw with less than 30 seconds remaining, which allowed Boston to keep a 91-90 lead. And when the Sixers turned the ball over on their final possession, bedlam ensued.
8. Bill Russell Goes Big
Old-timey stat lines are always a little suspect. The game was different back in the day, and it was a lot more common to see crazy things like Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game or Oscar Robertson's season's worth of triple-doubles.
But pressure is the same regardless of the era, which is what makes Bill Russell's 30-point, 40-rebound effort in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals so incredible.
Remember, Russell famously used to get so nervous before games that he would actually throw up in the locker room. Obviously, he never allowed that trepidation to affect him in huge moments. It's safe to say we'll never see a winner like Russell again.
Oddly, the most common snapshot of this game features Celtics point guard Bob Cousy putting on a dribbling exhibition to run the clock out at the end of overtime. It looks best when you play a little "Yakety Sax" over it.
7. The Comeback Oop
The Lakers were a juggernaut during the 1999-2000 season, but things looked bleak for them when they found themselves trailing by 15 points to the Portland Trail Blazers with 10:28 to play in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
But Kobe found his big man with a lob that capped a 29-9 run in the fourth period.
This is also a notable moment because it pretty much represents the only time these two guys didn't want to kill each other.
6. The Kiss of Death
Kevin Johnson had 46 points, and the Phoenix Suns had a one-point lead over the Houston Rockets with just 20 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals.
The Rockets got the ball up the floor, and as commentator Bill Walton said, they seemed likely to take the game's final shot. Instead, the ball found Mario Elie in the left corner with just under 10 seconds to go.
He let it fly.
As the ball swished through, Elie jogged back up the floor and gave a now-famous pantomimed kiss to the stunned Phoenix crowd. His shot would make the Rockets the first team in 13 years to win a Game 7 on the road and ultimately allowed them to advance to an eventual NBA title.
It was a huge shot, but Elie provided an even better celebratory gesture.
5. Worthy Helps Lakers Repeat
They didn't call him "Big Game James" for nothing.
James Worthy dropped a massive triple-double to give the Lakers a Game 7 win in the 1988 NBA Finals. With 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, Worthy helped make the Lakers the first back-to-back NBA champs since the 1969 Celtics.
The bespectacled forward went over, around and through the physical Detroit Pistons, somehow managing to run up such incredible totals without catching an "accidental" elbow from Bill Laimbeer. The fact that he somehow survived the game—as much as anything—warrants a spot on this list.
4. The Shooter's Bounce
Don Nelson wasn't just a world-famous, small-ball enthusiast as a head coach. Long before his days of center-less lineups and post-game Bud Lights, Nellie was a pretty good player for the Celtics. And his incredible jumper, complete with one of the greatest shooter's bounces of all time, helped secure Boston a Game 7 win to secure the title in 1969.
The Celtics were in the process of coughing up a 17-point lead in the fourth against the Lakers (doesn't it seem like half of these moments involve the Celtics and Lakers?) when the rock was knocked out of John Havlicek's hands and into Nellie's at the foul line.
He tossed the ball toward the bucket, watched it sail high off the back rim and then somehow fall softly through the net. You wouldn't know it from the commentators' half-asleep cadence, but Nelson's basket increased the Celtics' lead from one point to three with only about a minute remaining.
The Celtics would win by a final score of 108-106, thanks largely to Nelson's amazing (and somewhat lucky) shot.
3. The Duel
In Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals, the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics found themselves giving up on the team game and simply watching two of the league's best scorers trading baskets during the fourth quarter.
Dominique Wilkins poured in 47 points in the contest, but it was Larry Bird's 20 points in the final period that ultimately sealed the deal for Boston. But for every critical shot Bird drilled, Wilkins matched with one of his own on the other end.
Boston's run seemed to be coming to a close in that season, but Bird wasn't about to let his team fall against the younger, more athletic Hawks without a fight. The result was probably the best one-on-one duel in the history of the NBA playoffs.
The Celtics prevailed by a final score of 118-116.
2. Havlicek's Thievery
We've all heard it a million times, but Johnny Most's iconic call of the final play in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Division Finals never gets old.
Up by a single point, the Celtics were trying to hang on against the Philadelphia 76ers. Hal Greer was inbounding the ball under the Sixers' basket, and he had a pretty good target to get it to: Wilt Chamberlain.
Bill Russell walled off Chamberlain, though, forcing Greer to look elsewhere. When he tried to find Chet Walker, John Havlicek pounced, snatching the rock out of the air and getting it up the floor to Sam Jones as time expired.
The Celtics won the game, 110-109. It was a great play, and thanks to Most's timeless call, nobody will ever forget it.
1. Willis Walks
It's the moment by which all other gritty, inspiring performances are measured: Willis Reed's famous walk from the tunnel before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
The New York Knicks captain had torn a muscle in his right thigh during Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers, sat out Game 6 (which the Knicks lost in large part because he wasn't on the floor to defend Chamberlain, who scored 45 points and grabbed 27 boards) and didn't take the floor for warm-ups in Game 7.
Madison Square Garden erupted when Reed emerged from the tunnel, dragging his bad leg onto the floor in an incredible display of guts. He would go on to hit the Knicks' first two baskets of the game—his only points.
The Knicks notched a 113-99 victory, securing the franchise's very first NBA title.
The image of Reed limping up and down the floor in the first quarter of that game will forever symbolize the power of determination (and cortisone injections) in team sports.