Michael Jordan, Steve Nash and the NBA's Top 10 Gutsiest Playoff Performances

Bart GadburyContributor IIIApril 1, 2011

Michael Jordan, Steve Nash and the NBA's Top 10 Gutsiest Playoff Performances

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    With the 2010 NBA Playoffs just a few weeks away, teams will be jostling for playoff position. Some will be looking to lock down homecourt advantage, while others are looking to put together a string of wins in order to improve their seeding, or even make a run at that eighth and final spot.

    While the next two weeks will show the character, determination and guts of teams and players throughout the league, you can't help but look forward to the playoff performances that will transform role players into stars, and superstars into legends.

    Will your team overcome steep odds to pull off the upset of the year? Will your favorite player get hurt and then make an unexpected return?

    So as you look forward, we look back at the Top 10 Gutsiest Playoff Performances in NBA History.

Allen Iverson Wins Game 1 Versus Lakers

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    Allen Iverson scores 48 points in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals. 

    Sure the Lakers eventually won the Championship in five games, but no one can doubt the heart, desire and passion of Allen Iverson. Especially when you look at who he was playing with:

    Eric Snow

    Aaron McKie

    Tyrone Hill

    Dikembe Mutumbo

    The best part is that Mutumbo was the second-leading scorer on the team. Yeah, the same finger-waving defensive maniac.

    How this team made it to the Finals is beyond me, but AI proved he's got GUTS!

Paul Pierce and His Sprained Knee

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    Paul Pierce vs. LA Lakers in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

    When this first happened, I thought the Celtics were done. There's no way Paul Pierce would come back after being carried off the court. Even if he did, there's no way he'd play. Even if he did, there's no way he'd play at full strength.

    Then the Truth was revealed.

    He returned to action minutes later to raucous cheering from the crowd. Some suggested later that the episode was orchestrated by Pierce as an inspirational "Willis Reed moment". He soon hit two three-pointers on consecutive offensive possessions that gave Boston the lead for good and finished with 22 points.

    Some say he really was hurt... others say he faked it. A gutsy move by Pierce either way. 

    A close runner-up for the C's: Their 24-point comeback against the Lakers in Game 4 of this same series. 


2002 Sacramento Kings

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    Oh! Sactown!

    2002 was your year. You had the talent, you had the pieces, you had the calls... oh, no you didn't.

    The 2002 Western Conference Finals is widely regarded as one of the classic series in NBA history, with the final four games coming down to the final seconds. Two games were decided on game-winning shots and Game 7 was decided in overtime.

    In Game 6, the Kings put on one of the gutsiest performances by a team in playoff history. Chris Webber nearly had a triple double (26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists), Mike Bibby scored 23 points, and Vlade Divac had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

    But the Lakers won Game 6, attempting 18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter, and went on to win the 2002 NBA Finals.

    It was, however, marred by corruption allegations.

    There are allegations that this sixth game was affected by the referees in relationship to the Tim Donaghy scandal. The Lakers shot 40 free throws overall, a whopping 27 in the fourth quarter alone, and the Kings' big men were plagued with foul trouble (Divac, Webber, Scot Pollard, and Lawrence Funderburke were called for 20 fouls. Divac and Pollard both fouled out).

    Oh! Sactown!

    Now you're on the verge of losing your team for good (Read more about Sacramento's potential relocation here: NBA Expansion: 10 Cities in 10 Years).

    If only 2002 had gone a little differently...

    Note: Also considered for this spot, the 2007 Golden State Warriors epic demolition of the top seeded Dallas Mavericks.

Willis Reed Plays Game 7

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    It was Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, and nobody knew if Willis Reed would play.

    The center and captain of the New York Knicks had suffered a torn muscle in his right thigh during Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers, and had not played in Game 6 when Wilt Chamberlain's 45 points and 27 rebounds enabled the Lakers to tie the series at 3-3.

    When the teams took the floor for pre-game warm-ups, Reed was not with his New York teammates. He remained in the locker room.

    Reed took an injection to dull the pain in his leg, and just moments before tip-off he limped through the tunnel and onto the court. Waves of cheers cascaded down from the Garden stands as fans caught sight of the Knicks' captain, a sight that was not lost on New York's opponents.

    Reed lined up against Chamberlain for the opening tap and scored the Knicks' first two baskets of the game. Those would prove to be his only points, but his presence was more than enough to inspire the Knicks to a 113-99 victory and the franchise's first NBA Championship.

Steve Nash Splits Open Nose

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    No blood no foul, right?

    With under three minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the 2007 Western Conference semifinals, Steve Nash and Tony Parker collided. Parker collapsed to the ground, and Nash stood on the court, unsure of what had happened.

    Then the blood started flowing.

    After several minutes of failed attempts to stop the bleeding, Nash entered the game with a bandaged nose, blood still squirting out the edges.

    He nailed one of his patented pull up three-pointers, then drove to the basket for a right-handed layup. He was single-handedly keeping his team in the game.

    The bandages couldn't stop the blood. The blood couldn't stop Steve Nash. But Nash couldn't stop the Spurs.

    Nash showed the toughness and grittiness that made him a two-time MVP.

The Return of Brandon Roy

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    Brandon Roy vs. Phoenix Suns- Game 4- 1st Round 2010

    Brandon Roy tore his meniscus on April 11th, 2010. He underwent surgery on April 16th and was expected to miss four-to-six weeks and the entire first round of the playoffs.

    But Roy had other plans.

    Only eight days after surgery, Brandon made himself available to play in Game 4 against the Phoenix Suns. He played 27 minutes, scored 10 points and made a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter to lead the Blazers to victory.

    Are you kidding me? The guy's got guts.

Isaiah Thomas on a Bum Ankle

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    Isaiah Thomas is one of the greatest scorers of his era.

    But he officially became a legend in the making during Game 6 of the 1988 Finals against the LA Lakers.

    Thomas scored 14 straight points in the third quarter, but sprained his ankle after landing on a teammate's foot.

    He returned 35 seconds later, noticeably hobbling as he made his way up and down the court. 

    When the quarter ended, Thomas scored a Finals record for most points in a quarter with 25, having hit 11 of 13 shots giving the Pistons an 81-79 lead heading into the fourth.

Bernard King Plays with Two Dislocated Fingers

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    Bernard King is often overshadowed by Isaiah Thomas.

    Not in this countdown.

    King earned a spot in playoff history in his duel with Thomas in the Knicks playoff series against the Detroit Pistons.

    He averaged better than 40 ppg and 60 percent from the field during the series, with TWO dislocated fingers.


Steve Nash Plays the fourth Quarter with One Eye

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    One of the most underrated PGs in the NBA, Steve Nash proves every year why he is still the best at his position.

    In 2010, Nash did it again in the most important game of the season.

    Facing their arch-nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs, in the second round of the playoffs and holding a 3-0 series lead, the Suns knew it would take something special to sweep. Something incredible. Something amazing.

    Something Nashty.

    After getting elbowed in the eye in the third quarter, Nash returned in the fourth with his right eye swollen shut. He went on to score 10 points, dished five assists and killed multiple Spurs rallies with one-eyed runners and literal no-look passes. 

    This is one of the most impressive playoff performances in recent memory.

Michael Jordan with the Flu

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    This really shouldn't need an explanation.

    But most of today's generation didn't get to see MJ when he was MJ.

    And everyone thought Michael Jordan wasn't going to be MJ in the 1997 NBA Finals: Game 5 vs. the Utah Jazz.

    Fatigued, dehydrated and running on no sleep, his Airness put up 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block... including the game-deciding three pointer with less than a minute to go.

    He proved once and for all that "less than MJ" is better than "no MJ".