Ranking the Best NBA Finals Moments Since 2000
Looking back at the past 20 years of the NBA Finals, there is no shortage of storylines to remember. Whether it was a key play, a dynasty emerging, a future Hall of Famer winning a first championship or something else, these moments have created a variety of memories.
Which ones, though, are the best?
This ranking is focused on memorable highlights, such as a clutch shot, defensive play or big comeback. Team accomplishments are also considered but must be particularly rare.
What exactly qualifies as a moment is important to note.
For example, the Golden State Warriors won three titles in a five-year stretch. Despite that success, there is no enduring snapshot—relative to NBA history—of those championship runs. For the team, of course, but not necessarily to the common fan.
8. 'Star-Less' Pistons Win It All (2004)
In hindsight, "star-less" is not totally fair. Chauncey Billups developed into a five-time All-Star, Rasheed Wallace had already appeared on two All-Star teams prior to 2003 and Ben Wallace earned four career Defensive Player of the Year honors.
But the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons broke the mold of needing a transcendent player to win a championship.
Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, "Sheed" and Big Ben simply made it work. The quintet all played 34-plus minutes per game in the postseason, ending the championship run with a five-game gentleman's sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.
"They were a well-oiled machine, man—on both ends of the floor," Kobe Bryant said in 2015. "They were sharp as s--t. Extremely sharp, extremely crisp, extremely methodical and it was well deserved."
7. Ron Artest Seals the Series (2010)
Since 2000, four NBA Finals have required a Game 7. And in 2010, which featured a second clash between the Lakers and Boston Celtics in three years, the decisive showdown came down to the wire.
As the clock neared one minute to play in regulation, the Lakers had a slim 76-73 lead. Bryant looked to isolate, but the Celtics showed a double team and forced the ball out of his hands. He swung the ball to Ron Artest, who jabbed, stepped back and fired.
"He never passes me the ball, and he passed me the ball," Artest joked with reporters after the game.
The clutch triple gave the Lakers a six-point advantage they would ultimately protect for an 83-79 triumph. Plus, the victory landed Kobe his fifth and final NBA title, while Lakers coach Phil Jackson bolstered his record with 11 career rings.
6. Iverson Steps over Lue (2001)
So routine, yet so disrespectful.
During the opening game of the 2001 NBA Finals, the Philadelphia 76ers edged the heavily favored Lakers. Allen Iverson poured in 48 points, highlighted by a simple step-back jumper. The aftermath of that shot is what became unforgettable.
In overtime, Iverson scored seven consecutive points and capped the streak with the jumper. Lakers guard Tyronn Lue tripped as the ball dropped through the net, falling in Iverson's path.
No worries, though, The Answer walked right over Lue.
Although the Sixers won Game 1, the Lakers responded with four straight victories to take the championship. Nevertheless, that moment from Iverson is more iconic than the result.
5. Celtics' Game 4 Comeback (2008)
Two years before Artest's big shot, the Celtics broke a 22-year championship drought with a six-game series victory over the Lakers.
Largely, that success is a product of Game 4.
Boston entered with a 2-1 series edge, but the Lakers had home-court advantage for the contest. They surged to a 35-14 first-quarter advantage and led by 20 points in the third quarter. It seemed Los Angeles would tie the series ahead of Game 5 at home.
The Celtics, though, ripped off a 21-3 run to enter the fourth quarter trailing 73-71. Boston took the lead for good on Eddie House's jumper with 4:07 remaining in regulation.
Although the Lakers won Game 5, the Celtics wrapped up the championship with a dominant 131-92 victory in Game 6.
4. Robert Horry's Clutch 3 (2005)
The star-less Pistons returned to the NBA Finals in 2005 with a repeat on the brain. Were it not for Robert Horry in Game 5, that probably would have happened too.
From the final shot of the third quarter through overtime, Horry scored all 21 of his points. With under 10 seconds left in the extra period, Big Shot Bob lived up to his nickname and buried a winning three to give the Spurs a 3-2 lead in the series.
"The darkest day of my career as a pro was when Horry hit that shot in Game 5 on us," Billups said years later on the Lowe Post Podcast. "Oh man, that was brutal."
Detroit forced a Game 7, but Tim Duncan guided the Spurs to a victory―their second NBA title in three seasons. Horry joined John Salley as the only players with championships on three teams.
3. Lakers Finish the Three-Peat (2002)
During the 1990s, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls pulled off a pair of "three-peats"―three straight NBA titles. After MJ retired in 1998, Bulls coach Phil Jackson headed to the Lakers.
Two three-peats weren't enough for him, apparently.
Led by Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles defeated the Indiana Pacers (2000), 76ers (2001) and New Jersey Nets (2002). In a sweep of the Nets, the Lakers added their name to the history books alongside the 1952-54 Minneapolis Lakers, 1959-66 Celtics and 1991-93 and 1996-98 Bulls.
While the 2008-10 Lakers, 2011-14 Miami Heat, 2015-18 Cleveland Cavaliers and 2015-19 Warriors appeared in at least three straight NBA Finals, the 2000-02 Lakers are still the most recent three-peat.
2. Ray Allen's Big Shot (2013)
As the clock ticked away in Game 6, the star-studded Heat stared at a 94-89 deficit. Trailing the Spurs 3-2 in the series, Miami only had 28.2 seconds for a comeback.
Somehow, the Heat did exactly that.
LeBron knocked down a three, then Kawhi Leonard split a pair of free throws for a 95-92 edge. LeBron missed a three, but Chris Bosh grabbed the offensive rebound and found Ray Allen in the corner. He drilled a game-tying triple with 5.2 seconds left, and Miami ended up winning 103-100 in overtime.
"It's by far the best game I've ever been a part of," LeBron told reporters afterward.
Allen's shot both saved Miami in the 2013 series and ultimately sparked a new level of determination in the Spurs, who dismantled the Heat during the following NBA Finals.
1. LeBron's Chase-Down Block, Kyrie's 3 (2016)
Without a chase-down block from LeBron, the Cavaliers might have lost. If Kyrie Irving's three-pointer doesn't fall, perhaps the Warriors score and reduce the significance of James' defensive effort.
The story of the 2016 NBA Finals cannot be told without either play, and they happened only 58 seconds apart.
LeBron pinned an Andre Iguodala layup on the backboard with 1:51 remaining in regulation, preventing Golden State―the reigning champs―from breaking an 89-89 deadlock. Then, with 53 seconds left, Kyrie hit a go-ahead three over Stephen Curry.
Between the rapid succession of those plays, the star power involved and Cleveland snapping the city's 52-year championship drought, there isn't a more iconic moment in the NBA Finals since 2000.