Ranking the Greatest NBA Playoff Blocks of All Time
Momentum-changing plays in the NBA playoffs typically happen on the offensive end with a big dunk or a clutch basket up against the shot clock. But some of the biggest postseason moments have come on defense with big-time blocked shots.
We were reminded of that again Tuesday when Bam Adebayo met Jayson Tatum at the apex of an attempted dunk to seal a Game 1 Eastern Conference Finals victory for the Miami Heat.
The play begged the question: What are the greatest playoff blocks of all time? Let's dive in.
Kawhi Leonard's Middle-Finger Block
Kawhil Leonard's defensive prowess is legendary, and it starts with how large his hands are, hence the nickname "The Klaw." It usually manifests as ripping the ball out of people's hands for steals, but in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets this year, Leonard came up with a big-time block.
With the Los Angeles Clippers up by six with two minutes left in the game, Jamal Murray drove by Montrezl Harrell to attempt a momentum-changing dunk as Leonard rotated over. Just as Murray tried to drop the hammer, Leonard's big mitt got in the way for the rejection. His gigantic hands allowed him to stop Murray dead in his tracks.
Leonard didn't just block this dunk attempt with his fingertips—he blocked it with one finger, the middle one. A fitting poster denial.
James Harden's Biggest Defensive Play
Defense is not James Harden's greatest skill. This is not breaking news. Clips where he gets beaten backdoor or blown by are all over the internet. However, his biggest play in the bubble came on the defensive end of the court.
In the final moments of Game 7 in the first round against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets were up one and needed a stop. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drove and kicked the ball out to Luguentz Dort on the wing for three. Harden went from defending Steven Adams in the paint to sprinting out to the wing to block the attempt.
Out of all the Rockets, Harden is the least likely to be called upon for defensive heroics, but his block helped send them to the second round.
Manu Ginobili Shuts Down James Harden
Manu Ginobili was a key member on several San Antonio Spurs championship teams and had an incredible knack for coming up with the right play. Whether a three, layup, pass, steal or block, the Spurs could always count on Ginobili.
He delivered for the Spurs in their second-round series against the Rockets in 2017. With the series tied 2-2 and San Antonio up by three points, he came up with a game-saving block in overtime. Harden got by Ginobili after a switch, but as he went up for a shot, Ginobili came from behind and blocked his three that could've tied the game.
Just another play to add to the legend of Manu.
LeBron James Rejects Tiago Splitter
LeBron James' block from the 2013 Finals gets lost in the history books given the Heat's improbable comeback in Game 6 to force Game 7 on their way to back-to-back titles.
The Heat tied the series against the Spurs in blowout fashion in Game 2. James put an exclamation point on the victory when Tiago Splitter rolled down the lane off a high pick-and-roll. Just as Splitter cocked the ball back, James left his man and met him at the basket.
As impressive as this James block was, the one later is even better.
'Thou Shalt Not Pass' Block by Bam Adebayo
It is early in Bam Adedabyo's career with the Heat, but he is showing he is going to be a star in the NBA for a long time to come. Defensively, he is able to switch onto guards while patrolling the paint.
Look no further than overtime in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. With the Heat up two, Jayson Tatum blew by Jimmy Butler with just a few seconds left and elevated for a game-tying dunk, only to be denied by Adebayo at the rim. He rotated over from the weak side as Tatum drove and met him with the same amount of force, if not more, for the block.
Adebayo averaged 1.3 blocks this season, but this was the biggest and most empathic one of his career so far.
Chicago Bulls Stuff Charles Smith Several Times
The Chicago Bulls terrorized the New York Knicks throughout the 1990s. After the Knicks took a 2-0 series lead in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, they let the Bulls back in with two straight losses, leading to a crucial Game 5.
Down by one in the closing seconds, the Knicks were in scramble mode. As Patrick Ewing fell to the ground, he tossed the ball to Charles Smith, who appeared to have a layup. That is, until the Bulls defense collapsed on him, as Horace Grant, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen blocked all four of his shot attempts before getting the rebound and putting the game away.
The Bulls left Madison Square Garden with a 3-2 lead and finished the Knicks off in the next game. Game 5 became known as the "Charles Smith game."
Tayshaun Prince Chases Down Reggie Miller
The Detroit Pistons' 2004 championship run nearly ended before the NBA Finals. After going down 1-0 to the Indiana Pacers in the conference finals, the Pistons could not afford to lose Game 2. While holding a two-point lead, the Pistons turned the ball over, and Reggie Miller had a breakaway.
In transition, Miller thought he was alone and slowed down a bit. However, no one counted on Tayshaun Prince to come from behind to swat this away and save the Pistons. The timing of this play was perfect: Prince sized up the distance to get to the ball before it hit the glass and didn't foul Miller. The play is enhanced by the play call from now-Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
The Pistons would go on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games for their first championship since the Bad Boys era. They do not get there if it isn't for that game-saving chase-down block from Prince.
Kobe Bryant Volleyball Spike on Bonzi Wells
On the Los Angeles Lakers' way to their first championship in the 2000s, they faced their biggest challenge in the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. Despite going up 3-1, the Lakers could not put them away. Even in Game 7, they were down as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Just as the Lakers were beginning to rally against Portland, Bonzi Wells drove on Rick Fox and looked like he was going to get an easy bucket before Kobe Bryant rotated over to help. Bryant skied into the air and spiked Wells' shot into the ground, keeping the ball in play and getting the Lakers a defensive stop.
This was Bryant's fourth block of the game, and the Lakers would go on to win the series and their first of three championships in the Kobe-Shaq era.
Hakeem Olajuwon Forces Game 7
The Rockets' first NBA title came in a seven-game battle against the Knicks in 1994. It might never have happened if not for a game-saving block at the end of Game 6—one of Hakeem Olajuwon's four rejections.
The Rockets were up two and needed to hold on for the final five seconds. The Knicks inbounded the ball to John Starks. Coming off a ball screen, it looked like Starks had bought himself enough space to get a shot off, but Olajuwon recovered at the last second to block the attempt.
Olajuwon's blocked shot forced a seventh game, which the Rockets would win, and he earned his first Finals MVP Award.
Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals had several amazing moments in the fourth quarter, but it will always be remembered for "The Block." It was LeBron James' defining defensive moment as he led the Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit over the 73-win Golden State Warriors for the title.
With two minutes left in a tied game, the Warriors got a two-on-one fast break. Stephen Curry passed to the streaking Andre Iguodala, who thought he was about to glide in for a layup. Out of nowhere, James—who was near half court when Curry made the pass—pinned the shot against the backboard.
Weighing the importance and juncture of the game, this might be the greatest block not just in NBA Finals history but in postseason history as well.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.