Every NBA Team's Best Playoff Memory of the 2010s

Mandela Namaste@@mandiba13Contributor ISeptember 22, 2020

Every NBA Team's Best Playoff Memory of the 2010s

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The last decade of NBA basketball was a thrilling one. 

    Though the constant player movement has gotten aggravating for some, it also gave birth to the two dominant dynasties of the period—the early 2010s Heat and the mid-to-late 2010s Warriors—and produced a host of thrilling results for fanbases across the league.

    Today, we're looking at each team's best playoff memory from the 2010s. Unless your team won a title over the past 10 seasons, this exercise is obviously subjective, but we did our best. And if your personal favorite moment isn't recognized here, that's fair. This is supposed to be a joyous occasion, and the memory you cherish doesn't lose any of its intrinsic value because it wasn't selected here.

    Before we start, two notes that bear mentioning. First, as these current playoffs are taking place in 2020, they don't factor into our decision. Secondly, as the Sacramento Kings didn't make the playoffs in the 2010s, they will not be covered here. Sorry, guys, but we weren't the ones who drafted Ben McLemore over CJ McCollum and Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic.

Atlanta Hawks: 2015 Playoffs

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    From Mike Budenholzer's status as an elite head coach to the fact that Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver will forever be known as one-time All-Stars, most aspects of the 2014-15 Hawks season have aged terribly. But based purely on results, the team essentially lived up to expectations.

    You could argue that this team making the Eastern Conference Finals isn't even impressive. The Hawks needed six games to beat the underachieving Nets in the first round and then dispatched a Wizards team that was without John Wall for half the series. But particularly in that second-round series, Atlanta may never have had the best player on the floor (Bradley Beal arguably outplayed Al Horford and Paul Millsap in the Wall-less games), which was the entire appeal of the team's 60-win campaign in the first place: It achieved high-level success without a perennial All-Star. 

    In hindsight, it's ridiculous that anybody expected this team to dethrone LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and LeBron would prove throughout the remainder of his time in Cleveland that his team's postseason seed never mattered. But circumstances aside, Atlanta advancing to the conference finals for the first time in 45 years is an accomplishment worth celebrating to this day.     

Boston Celtics: Game 2, 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    After years of bouncing around the NBA, Isaiah Thomas was unleashed in Boston in the 2016-17 season. He became a celebrated clutch scorer, led a ragtag roster to the Eastern Conference's first seed and finished fifth in MVP voting (just ahead of Stephen Curry). 

    However, as soon as the playoffs started, everything went awry for Thomas. Whether it was the death of his sister Chyna or him needing emergency dental surgery, The Little Guy just couldn't catch a break. Considering those two obstacles alongside many others, his subsequent performance against the Wizards in Game 2 of the conference semifinals remains jaw-dropping in its storybook nature.

    As the smallest player on every NBA court, Thomas took a pounding every night anyway, and now, he was dealing with a missing tooth and some of the most searing psychological pain imaginable too. So for him to somehow produce the best game of his career in response—and on his late sister's birthday, no less—is still profoundly moving.

    This wasn't the most successful Celtics season of the decade. But it provided the moment that still resonates most deeply.   

Brooklyn Nets: 2014 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Nets made waves in the 2013 offseason, trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in what would later become one of the most lopsided deals in recent NBA history. But at the time, hype around Brooklyn was off the charts. Adding Garnett and Pierce to a lineup that already included Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams seemed like the recipe for a true challenger to the Miami Heat's reign atop the East. 

    As it turns out, they weren't the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    Garnett's age immediately began to show, and the team stumbled to 44 wins. However, it was still an easy upset pick in the first round against a young Raptors club and lived up to that billing. Toronto fought hard, even taking a 3-2 series lead after five games, but the Nets' collective postseason wisdom won out. They advanced after a Game 7 that went down to its final shot, with Pierce blocking Kyle Lowry to secure a Brooklyn win.

    Though their shaky regular season was a strong indication of what was to come, the Nets' series win here gave fans temporary hope that those preseason expectations were accurate after all.

Charlotte Hornets: Game 5, 2016 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    With the Miami Heat still transitioning out of their Heatles phase and the Hornets ostensibly on the rise in the Eastern Conference, this seemed like it might be a competitive series, and through four games, it was. Miami maintained home-court advantage early on, winning the first two games by double digits, but Charlotte quickly responded with victories in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series up. 

    Back in Miami for Game 5, the teams played their best game yet.

    The Hornets fought the Heat tooth and nail down the stretch, taking the lead with 25 seconds to go thanks on a Courtney Lee three. And though Kemba Walker disappeared on offense in the fourth quarter, he made up for it by blocking a potential go-ahead three from Goran Dragic with just eight seconds left. Charlotte ended up winning the game 90-88 and was suddenly on the precipice of winning its first playoff series in 14 years. 

    Miami would control the rest of the series, winning it in seven and depriving the Hornets of their long-awaited postseason success. But in the immediate aftermath of Game 5, the franchise seemed close to a breakthrough that could have changed everything.

Chicago Bulls: Game 3, 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Considering that the Bulls won 62 games and made the conference finals in 2011, this may seem like an unnecessarily obscure choice. But aren't we all suckers for a good redemption story?

    After years of battling injuries, Derrick Rose was good to go for the 2015 playoffs and quickly led the Bulls to a second-round date with LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Chicago gained home-court advantage by winning Game 1 in Cleveland, and the series was tied 1-1 heading to the United Center. 

    Game 3 was the apex of the series and perhaps of Rose's career. He arguably outdueled LeBron (27 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds), scoring 30 points while recording seven rebounds and seven assists, and won the game by banking in a fallaway three at the buzzer. It was a lucky shot, but fate willed the ball to go through the basket.

    Rose's comeback as an MVP-caliber player was short-lived. But on this day, he went toe-to-toe with the greatest player of the 21st century and had us believing that he was back for good.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Game 7, 2016 NBA Finals

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    What else would be here?

    One of the two signature basketball games of the 2010s, this one had it all for Cavaliers fans, especially in the final two minutes. Any one of The Block, The Shot and The Stop would be iconic on its own, so for each of them to occur in quick succession is thrilling. 

    An underrated part of this game is just how ugly the last few minutes were. Both teams were scoreless for nearly four consecutive minutes before Irving's go-ahead three, and most players on both clubs looked exhausted down the stretch.

    But sometimes a moment of brilliance makes all the difference, and the Cavaliers' trio of All-Stars conjured up three such instances here. LeBron James' block nearly defied nature, Kyrie Irving's jumper came after he had missed six of his last seven attempts, and Kevin Love's frenzied defense on Stephen Curry somehow pressured the two-time MVP into clanking his bread-and-butter shot.

    But the messy process doesn't matter now. What matters is that it led to Cleveland's first NBA title, the city's first sports championship in over 50 years, and validated LeBron's decision to return home.

Dallas Mavericks: 2011 NBA Finals

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    At this point, it looked like an NBA title would elude Dirk Nowitzki. Though he was still performing at a high level at age 32, a relatively modest supporting cast and the rise of superteams combined to make the odds of a Dallas championship fairly long. 

    But that's why we play the games, right?

    The Mavericks weren't unusually great in the 2010-11 season, finishing with a respectable 57 wins. But when the playoffs started, a switch flipped, as they lost just three games against Western Conference opponents before meeting the Heat in a rematch of the 2006 Finals. 

    Miami's talent won the day early, as it took a 2-1 series lead. But Dallas quickly caught up, frustrating LeBron with its defensive coverages and playing elite team basketball. Everyone from Jason Terry to Tyson Chandler to Shawn Marion got a moment in the sun, and before the Heat knew it, they were watching the Mavericks go clubbing at LIV with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    Nowitzki was beloved enough that even without a title, he'd be remembered fondly. But this title clinched his place in Springfield and cemented his legacy as one of the best international players ever.

Denver Nuggets: 2019 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Nuggets were in and around the playoffs for much of the 2010s but failed to win a series until the last year of the decade.

    Though it earned the West's second seed in 2019, Denver's lack of postseason experience combined with the confidence of its first-round opponent—the still-dangerous San Antonio Spurs—made a premature exit very possible. And early on, that worst-case scenario was indeed playing out. 

    San Antonio took Game 1 and led by seven going into the fourth quarter of Game 2. However, a sensational performance from Jamal Murray (21 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the final frame) saved the day for the Nuggets, who then traded wins with the Spurs until Game 7 arrived.

    Though San Antonio made a valiant comeback at the end, Denver was in control of Game 7 from the start, winning an atypically low-scoring affair to clinch its first series win in 10 years. Murray led the team in scoring with 23 points, while Nikola Jokic tallied a triple-double (21 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists).

    This very same Nuggets core is the talk of the NBA right now, overcoming two consecutive 3-1 series deficits to make the Western Conference Finals. But this was the series where they broke through.

Detroit Pistons: 2016 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Admittedly, there aren't many options for the Pistons. They made the playoffs twice in the decade, and the series we didn't pick was the sweep by the Bucks last year—and Blake Griffin missed two of those games with a knee injury. 

    They were swept by the Cavaliers in 2016 too, but at least this matchup had some degree of entertainment value.

    The 2015-16 season was probably the last time Detroit could reasonably call itself a future contender. The team claimed Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, all of whom were 26 or younger and all of whom played fairly well against this Cavaliers team. Only one of these games was decided by more than 10 points, and the Pistons didn't surrender until the final whistle, losing Game 4 by a 100-98 count.

    Of course, none of those players are still with the Pistons, and even if they had stayed together, they'd still probably be a fringe playoff team just like they were in this season. But with all of them at their best, they were able to put up a fight against a Cavaliers team that eventually won the NBA title. How's that for glass-half-full talk?

Golden State Warriors: 2015 NBA Finals

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Buoyed by Stephen Curry’s first MVP-winning campaign, the Warriors burst onto the scene in 2014-15, winning 67 games. But even considering how accomplished their season had been up until that point, they still had to earn the benefit of the doubt against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

    Luck made this series easier for Golden State, as Kyrie Irving joined Kevin Love on the injured list toward the end of Game 1. But the team also rose to the occasion, comfortably winning the last three matchups and uncovering that famous championship DNA in real time. Curry’s series in particular had an arc unto itself, as he excelled in the first game, struggled against Irving replacement Matthew Dellavedova in Game 2, but then recovered to obliterate Cleveland’s defense thereafter. 

    The Warriors’ 2017 title run is arguably the most dominant one in recent memory (save for maybe the 2001 Lakers), and their 2018 iteration isn’t far off. But both teams are complicated by Kevin Durant’s presence. This first version, however, is unsullied by such a burden. It’s a snapshot of when Golden State was still just an upstart challenger and not the league’s perpetual archvillain.

Houston Rockets: Game 6, 2015 Western Conference Semifinals

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Toward the end of this game, it looked like the Los Angeles Clippers were going to reach their first conference finals ever. The team was up 3-2 in the series, led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter and was playing in front of a home crowd. But in classic Clippers fashion, they couldn't close the deal, and the Rockets gleefully seized upon their failings. 

    Five years later, it still feels unreal that Josh Smith and Corey Brewer led a fourth-quarter rally in an elimination playoff game, but that's what happened. The mercurial duo combined for 29 points in the fourth quarter and successfully led the Rockets to a 119-107 victory.

    Oh, and James Harden sat on the bench through the entire final frame, a detail that merely seemed curious at the time but has become a key data point for Beard skeptics in recent years.

    Given that the Rockets still had to win another game to complete this historic comeback, these 12 magical minutes didn't immediately become canonized. But considering that Houston did win that Game 7, this is undoubtedly its most treasured postseason memory of the past 10 years.

Indiana Pacers: Game 2, 2013 Eastern Conference Finals

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Heading into the 2013 playoffs, the Miami Heatles were on top of the NBA world. They were the reigning champions and had gotten even better since, rattling off a 27-game winning streak from early February through late March. But in the Indiana Pacers, they were meeting a credible match.

    Indiana beat Miami in two of their three regular-season matchups in the 2012-13 season and continued to bother the superteam in the conference finals. Game 2 was the apotheosis of their rivalry, as it saw the Pacers tie the series up with a 97-93 victory. Leading the way for Indiana was 23-year-old Paul George (22 points, 6 assists), who led the effort to guard peak LeBron James, and Roy Hibbert (29 points, 10 rebounds), whose two-year run as an All-Star remains a confusing and fascinating development.

    In some ways, the Pacers' success foreshadowed what we discussed earlier with the Hawks. Despite George's future emergence as a superstar, he wasn't one at this time, so Indiana relied on its dominant defense and egalitarian offense to rack up wins. The core obviously wasn't built to last, but after this Game 2, Indiana as a future Finals participant seemed reasonable.

Los Angeles Clippers: Game 7, 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    After winning 56 games in the 2014-15 season, the Los Angeles Clippers were given the worst possible reward: a first-round date with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. To the Clippers' credit, they fought the Spurs all the way to a Game 7 for the ages at Staples Center. 

    Early on, it seemed like San Antonio had the clear advantage. The team's major players had all participated in numerous win-or-go-home matches over the years, but in addition, Chris Paul suffered a hamstring strain for the Clippers and his status was in doubt. 

    However, the Point God powered through a visible limp and played one of the best games of his career, scoring 27 points and recording six assists on 9-of-13 shooting. Blake Griffin recorded a triple-double (24 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists), yet it's completely forgotten by history because of Paul's showing in this game (up to and including his final act, a ludicrously difficult off-balance shot over Tim Duncan that won the series). 

    Though they were the ostensible favorites in this matchup, defeating such a vaunted opponent felt like a towering achievement for the perpetually discarded Clippers.

Los Angeles Lakers: 2010 NBA Finals

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Lakers' 2009 title was a validation of Kobe Bryant's singular greatness, but compared to many of the franchise's championships, it wasn't very satisfying. They beat the Magic, a younger and less talented team, in five games. Los Angeles' repeat, however, fulfilled all the requirements for gratification.

    First, their 2010 Finals opponent was the Boston Celtics, the Lex Luthor to the Lakers' Superman. Even if you don't root for either team, the history and gravitas associated with both franchises virtually guarantees watchable matchups every single year. Secondly, this was a revenge mission for the Lakers, as the Celtics had defeated them in six games in the 2008 Finals and both teams' cores were largely unchanged two years later. 

    Third and most importantly, however, was that this series went seven games. The last matchup was particularly nerve-wracking for Los Angeles, as Kobe had one of his worst postseason games on offense in years (6-of-24 from the field), but the fact that the team won anyway—and clinched the title with a three from defense-minded Metta Sandiford-Artest (then known as Ron Artest)—makes it even sweeter.

    With the Lakers and Celtics both still alive this year, they could meet in the Finals for the 13th time.

Memphis Grizzlies: 2013 Playoffs

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Before the 2013 playoffs began, Memphis had won only one postseason series in franchise history—its famous first-round upset over the top-seeded Spurs in 2011. And while that victory has a compelling case to be the pick here, we'll take a playoff campaign that saw more sustained success. 

    After losing the first two games of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Grizzlies got in a groove. They won the next four games all by double figures and then went on to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games (Russell Westbrook was sidelined in that series, but beating a team with Kevin Durant is still worth noting). 

    When the dust settled, Memphis had won eight of its last nine games and was in the Western Conference Finals for the first time.

    The Grizzlies' run was always going to end against the Spurs, a team with much more postseason experience. But for nearly a month, they were a galvanizing force in Memphis and provided a capstone experience to the Grit 'n' Grind era. 

    Let's hope Memphis gets to rally around more postseason runs in the future with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Miami Heat: Games 6 and 7, 2013 NBA Finals

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

    The Spurs were going to win Game 6 and claim their fifth championship of the Duncan/Popovich era. They led by five points with 23 seconds left, and the championship paraphernalia was out in the open for all to see. 

    But Miami wouldn't have it. A three from LeBron James got the team within two points, and a missed free throw by Kawhi Leonard gave them one more chance to even the score.

    The next sequence is one for the history books. LeBron fires up a three with seven seconds to go and bricks it. However, Chris Bosh grabs the offensive rebound and finds Ray Allen in the corner. The greatest pre-Curry shooter in league history then gets the ball right in rhythm and nails the game-tying, season-saving three with five seconds to go.

    If any team could survive a body blow of that magnitude, it would have been the Spurs, but even they weren't able to combat such a seismic shift in momentum. The Heat went on to win a tight Game 7 to become repeat champions. 

Milwaukee Bucks: 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    After jogging through a first-round sweep of the Detroit Pistons, the Milwaukee Bucks faced off against the underachieving but still dangerous Boston Celtics, who outlasted the Bucks in seven games in the 2018 playoffs. Because of that previous playoff history, the series outcome was in question, and a Celtics rout in Game 1 only exacerbated these worries.

    But that was Boston's last gasp.

    Many Celtics haters remember this series fondly, as Kyrie Irving simultaneously did way too much yet was also mentally checked out. But let's not forget how well the Bucks performed here. They won the final four games of the series by a combined 65 points, with Giannis Antetokounmpo averaging a titanic 30.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists on 58.5 percent shooting in the team's four victories.

    Game 2 of the ensuing Eastern Conference Finals might be an even sweeter memory, given that the Bucks hadn't gotten that close to the NBA Finals in a long time. But Toronto's dominance from that point on likely sours the moment. Total destruction of a Celtics team that had just eliminated them the prior season is probably more satisfying, all things considered.

Minnesota Timberwolves: April 11, 2018

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    As this game took place in the regular season, we're slightly cheating. But considering Minnesota didn't do much of anything in its subsequent first-round series against Houston, Game 82 is a worthy substitute.

    As we saw this year with the Western Conference's fight for the eighth seed, win-or-go-home games are usually thrilling. They just don't happen very often due to the nature of the NBA schedule. However, the 2017-18 campaign was a wonderful exception in this regard.

    By coincidence, the Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets were scheduled to play on the last day of this season, and they were also the two teams battling for the final spot in the playoffs. It could have been an early blowout, but thankfully, it wasn't.

    Both sides treated this as a playoff game (because it essentially was), playing reserves limited minutes and relying heavily on their core starters. Predictably, the game went into overtime, where Minnesota took the lead on a Jeff Teague jumper with nearly 80 seconds left and spent the remaining minute-plus holding steady on defense and making free throws. 

    When the dust settled, the Timberwolves had ended a 14-year playoff drought.

New Orleans Pelicans: 2018 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    Scott Threlkeld/Associated Press

    For years, observers were frustrated by the Pelicans' inability to build a competent roster around Anthony Davis, but that worry dissipated slightly when the team acquired four-time All Star DeMarcus Cousins in 2017. Despite some spacing concerns, the duo worked well together until Cousins ruptured his Achilles in early 2018. 

    However, losing the best teammate he'd had in the NBA somehow unlocked Davis, who exploded from then on and led New Orleans back to the postseason for the first time in three years, where the team was matched up against the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Despite being a more experienced team, Portland stood no chance. Davis and Jrue Holiday averaged a combined 60.8 points, 15.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in the series and Holiday erased Damian Lillard, limiting him to just 35.2 percent overall shooting. The result was a sweep of the Blazers and a second-round date with the dynastic Warriors.

    Davis' tenure in New Orleans didn't end well, and his departure seemed likely even at this time. But his entrance into full-blown superstardom in 2018 was nothing short of delightful for Pelicans fans and nightmare fuel for everyone else.

New York Knicks: Game 6, 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    After winning 54 games in the regular season, the 2012-13 New York Knicks looked like the franchise's first real contender in years. But to follow through on that promise, the Knicks had to win a series, a task that eluded them for 12 straight seasons. 

    To make it even more difficult, their first-round opponent was the Boston Celtics, a team that remained threatening even after Ray Allen's departure the previous summer and Rajon Rondo's ACL tear midway through the season.

    This series was a throwback to New York's basketball heyday, as neither team broke 100 points even once. But despite their offensive struggles (41.2 percent overall shooting and just 15.0 assists per game), the Knicks survived, taking a 3-0 series lead and eventually winning it in six. 

    That final game was won thanks to a defense that limited Paul Pierce and Jeff Green to a combined 8-of-30 shooting performance. Carmelo Anthony isn't often credited for his defensive intensity, but it paid off here.

    Their lone series win in a tremendously depressing decade, there weren't many options for the Knicks. But this team backed up its fan-favorite status with quality play.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2012 Western Conference Finals

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    After drafting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in successive seasons, the Thunder were widely considered a dynasty-in-waiting throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s. But that future became the present in the 2012 playoffs.

    Though each member of this storied Big Three was just 23 years old or younger at the time, their collective talent was already too great for the Western Conference to contain. Oklahoma City went 8-1 through the first two rounds of the playoffs, dispatching the defending champion Mavericks and Kobe Bryant-led Lakers in the process, before meeting the vaunted Spurs in the conference finals.

    San Antonio’s playoff experience shone through early on, as Gregg Popovich’s club quickly took a 2-0 series lead. But the Thunder seamlessly adjusted and controlled the matchup thereafter, winning the next four games and making the NBA Finals off the strength of staggering performances from Durant (29.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.3 APG) and Harden (18.5 PPG, 49.3/60.9/80.6 shooting splits) in particular.

    This trio obviously didn’t stay together much longer. But after this series, it seemed like Oklahoma City would be a regular Finals participant for much of the next decade.

Orlando Magic: 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

    The Dwight Howard era in Orlando feels like it happened eons ago, both from a basketball evolution perspective and how Howard's career has progressed. But at his peak, the Magic seemed like the NBA's next superpower.

    Coming off a 2009 NBA Finals berth, Orlando put its playoff experience to good use in the 2010 playoffs. A first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats wasn't shocking, but repeating the feat against the third-seeded Hawks, who won 53 games in the regular season, seemed unlikely.

    That is, until it happened.

    Despite boasting a Big Three of Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith, Atlanta was completely outclassed against the Magic. Led by Howard (who shot an astonishing 84.4 percent from the field in the series) and a cadre of long-range gunners, Orlando won each game by an average of 25.3 points, including a 43-point drubbing in Game 1 to set the tone.

    The Magic then bowed out against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Howard era crumbled soon thereafter. But their annihilation of the Hawks made them seem like the present and future of the NBA for a brief moment. 

Philadelphia 76ers: Game 1, 2018 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    After years of waiting for Joel Embiid to be healthy and impatiently watching Ben Simmons' rehab from a broken foot, Sixers fans were in for a treat in the 2017-18 season. 

    The two prized youngsters finally combined forces and instantly raised Philadelphia's ceiling, leading the team to 52 wins and the third seed in the East. Now came the next step of the Process—winning playoff games. After all the losing and asset accumulation, would Sam Hinkie's controversial gambit translate to the sport's biggest stage? 

    At least for one night, the basketball gods were kind to the Sixers in the postseason.

    Even without Embiid, who was recovering from an orbital fracture, the Sixers unleashed a tidal wave on the Miami Heat in Game 1. They shot 64.3 percent from three and scored 74 points in the second half in a blowout 130-103 victory.

    "Trust the Process" chants rang out as the rout progressed, and Allen Iverson was in the building. The evening could not have unfolded in better fashion.

    Philly is currently approaching a crisis point, as Embiid and Simmons still haven't advanced past the second round. But this game temporarily validated Sixers fans' wildest dreams.

Phoenix Suns: 2010 Western Conference Semifinals

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    Steve Nurenberg/Associated Press

    After the Spurs eliminated the Suns in the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, you had to feel for head coach Mike D'Antoni and two-time MVP Steve Nash. The hyper-modern, uber-telegenic team fell victim to a slightly better version of itself in consecutive years.

    So when D'Antoni and Nash got a third shot at San Antonio in 2010, they jumped at it. 

    The Spurs won only 50 games during the 2009-10 season, their lowest mark in a decade, but they still upset the second-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. However, they couldn't compete with a motivated Suns team that sensed its title window closing.

    Although three of the four games in this series were fairly close, Phoenix pulled them all out behind incredibly efficient shooting and effective team defense. 

    It would have been more cathartic for Suns fans had the team gone on to defeat the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, but Phoenix is one of a select few franchises that can say it defeated Tim Duncan in a postseason series.

Portland Trail Blazers: Game 5, 2019 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Damian Lillard proved this season that he's at his best when he's doubted. But if you've been paying attention, you know that's been true about him for years.

    After LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers' other three starters departed in 2015, Lillard led the team to the Western Conference Semifinals the following season. After the lower-seeded Pelicans swept them in the first round in 2018, calls to break up the roster once again got loud.

    In 2018-19 season predictions, Portland got kicked to the side in favor of flashier, newer contenders like the Nuggets and Lakers.

    When the opportunity came to dispel the doubters, Lillard did so with aplomb. Matched up with the star-studded Thunder in the first round, Lillard outplayed archrival Russell Westbrook, capping his dominance with a high-arcing, series-winning three over Paul George that resulted in two effortlessly cool reactions. 

    Portland would go on to defeat the Nuggets in seven games and reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time in nearly 20 years, but this shot remains a symbol of the team's postseason breakthrough.

San Antonio Spurs: 2014 NBA Finals

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    After Ray Allen's once-in-a-lifetime shot denied the Spurs a championship in 2013, they yearned for an opportunity to avenge their defeat. One year later, they laid waste to the Heat in the 2014 Finals.

    This was perhaps the apex of "Beautiful Game" basketball, with the ball flying between teammates before Miami had a chance to react. Rarely has a team been this efficient in such a high-pressure situation against a quality opponent.

    As a team, the Spurs recorded a 63.5 true shooting percentage, and a mind-numbing 66.5 percent of their points were assisted. Those two marks would have led the NBA this season, and San Antonio was balling out a year before Stephen Curry and the Warriors rose to power.

    This title would be the pick even devoid of the vengeance angle, given how dominant San Antonio was throughout the 2014 postseason. But considering the pain that Spurs fans felt following Allen's shot and the Heat's subsequent triumph, it's an even sweeter victory.

Toronto Raptors: Game 7, 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Raptors' entire title run last year is incredible. But this shot made it all possible. 

    After the Cavaliers swept the Raptors in 2018, team president Masai Ujiri traded All-Star swingman DeMar DeRozan for two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. Considering that DeRozan was the franchise's all-time leading scorer and Leonard was not likely to stick around long term, this trade was far from a guaranteed win for the Raptors.

    However, Ujiri knew what he was doing.

    The Raptors annihilated the Philadelphia 76ers in Games 1 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but the Sixers nevertheless forced a Game 7. Sixers swingman Jimmy Butler tied the game with four seconds left, but Leonard ended the series with a shot for the ages

    That bucket seemingly freed the fanbase and players alike from a legacy of playoff failures, and subsequent series victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors weren't surprising in context. Toronto legitimately outplayed both teams.

    For being the catalyst that irrevocably altered the trajectory of the Raptors franchise, Leonard's iconic game-winner earns its spot on this hallowed list.

Utah Jazz: Game 6, 2018 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    After Gordon Hayward for the Celtics in 2017 free agency, it seemed like the Jazz would be stuck in no man's land. They rebuilt through years of lottery trips, finally breaking through to the second round of the playoffs, only to have their best player leave immediately thereafter.

    Donovan Mitchell's rapid ascendance spared them from such a fate.

    The No. 13 overall pick in the 2017 draft quickly became Utah's go-to scorer, averaging 22.5 points per game on 45.0 percent shooting from Dec. 1 of his rookie season onward. It's rare for a rookie drafted outside of the top 10 to become such an instant-impact player, yet the Louisville alum led the Jazz to 48 wins and the Western Conference's fifth seed.

    That carried over to the playoffs, where Mitchell seized the day in the climactic Game 6. The rookie outdueled a full-throttle Russell Westbrook, scoring 38 points on 14-of-26 shooting and leading the Jazz to a 96-91 victory. 

    Mitchell and the Jazz haven't made it back to the conference semifinals in the two ensuing years. But in 2017-18, they established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the West.

Washington Wizards: Game 6, 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Wizards and Celtics' rivalry ran hot in the 2016-17 season, starting when Washington's players showed up to a January regular-season matchup wearing all black to connote a funeral. So when these teams faced off in the second round of the playoffs later that year, sparks were inevitably going to fly.

    Before Game 6, the Celtics turned the tables on the Wizards by wearing all black since they were up 3-2 in the series. Though the Wizards didn't publicly comment on the Celtics' fashion choices before the game, they clearly got the message and responded on the court.

    With the season on the line, Wizards point guard John Wall temporarily staved off elimination by hitting a game-winning three-pointer with four seconds left. He then called out the Celtics in a postgame interview for appropriating his team's style.

    Boston won Game 7 back at the TD Garden and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. But considering the heated circumstances between the two clubs, Wall's scorer's table jump and his ensuing injury issues, this buzzer-beater will likely be about as good as it gets during his tenure in Washington.