Spring is a special time of year for sports fans. Baseball is just starting, hockey fans are ready for some fist fights and hat tricks in the playoffs, and sixteen NBA teams begin their post-season journey for a championship. Throughout the regular season, some games are described as having a “playoff basketball” atmosphere. Fouls aren’t easily given out. Contact is the name of the game. And crazy moments? Well, they’re just par for the course in the playoffs.
Compiled below is a list of the ten craziest moments in NBA playoff history. You’ll encounter everything from players taking the court hurt to buzzer beaters that still make every Jazz fan cry. It’s brutal. It’s unforgiving. It’s the NBA playoffs.
10. 1970 NBA Finals (Game 7) – Willis Reed Plays with Torn Muscle
In the 1970 NBA Finals, the New York Knicks went into Game 7 without one of their stars, their center. Suffering from a torn muscle in his right thigh, it would be crazy for Willis Reed to play. A torn muscle sends normal men to the hospital! Reed, though, was no ordinary man. Mustering up all of his courage, Reed took an injection of medication and took to the floor.
Although he was limping and feeling good on meds, he went toe to toe with Chamberlain for tip-off. The Knicks are glad he played, too. Scoring just the first two buckets of the game, Reed proved to be an inspiration for his courage rather than his actual actions in the game. Inspired by Reed, the Knicks would go on to beat the Lakers 113-99. Reed shows that inspiration is real and can lift teams, and people, to do great things.
9. 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals (Game 1) – Reggie Miller Scores 8 Points in 8.9 Seconds
Buzzer beaters are great. One man scoring 80 points in a game is great. But, someone scoring 8 points in 8.9 seconds? That’s more along the “how is this physically possible?” line of greatness. The stage is set. It’s 1995. The Pacers have traveled to the famous Madison Square Garden. With a hostile crowd to deal with, Pacers shooting guard Reggie Miller managed to hit back-to-back three pointers (tying the game).
After a couple of missed free throws, Miller ended up wrangling away the ensuing possession and was fouled. He nailed both free throws. New York failed to hit their final shot, leading to Miller himself essentially stealing the game away from the Knicks. Although many players have scored a bundle of points in short amounts of time, this particular moment still stands the test of time.
8. 1970 NBA Finals (Game 3) – Jerry West Nails 60-Footer
The 1970 NBA Finals were full of magical moments. Before Willis Reed’s heroic performance in Game 7 of the series (#10 on this list), Jerry West had the opportunity to make a little magic of his own. And boy, did he electrify the fans. In Game 3, the Lakers garnered a late 56-42 lead coming out of halftime. However, the scrappy Knicks fought back and eventually tied the game. With Chamberlain hitting one of two free throws with 13 seconds left, Lakers fans were hoping for a series-commanding 2-1 lead in the series.
The Knicks would quickly respond, hitting a jumper with a mere three seconds left on the clock. The only alternative left for the Lakers was a half court shot at best. Luckily, Chamberlain inbounded the ball to one of the greatest players of all time. Taking a couple of dribbles, Jerry West launched up a prayer. The prayer was answered. West drained the half court shot, sending the game into over time. Sadly, West couldn’t keep the magic going in the over time period. The Knicks ended up winning the game.
7. 2001 NBA Finals (Game 2) – Shaq’s (Almost) Quadruple Double
Earning a triple-double in the NBA is a feat most will never even come close to. Now, imagine going a step beyond the triple-double. Shaq almost achieved this in the second game of the 2001 NBA Finals. Angry after suffering their first loss in the entire playoffs in the opening game of the Finals, the Lakers were looking for retribution. Shaquille O’Neil was looking to make a statement. I think it’s safe to say that statement was heard loud and clear by the whole sports world.
#34 exploded for 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists, and eight blocks (an NBA record). Shaq was proving to be unstoppable. So too, was the entire Lakers team. Los Angeles would go on to win the next three games and cement their legacy as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Nothing has even come close to Shaq’s performance in the playoffs (and nothing ever likely will).
6. 1999 Western Conference Finals (Game 2) – Sean Elliot’s Miracle Shot
1999 is right around the time when the San Antonio Spurs began to dominate the NBA. The likes of David Robinson and Tim Duncan were searching for their first title. And it was Sean Elliott’s amazing shot from the corner that would propel the Spurs to begin their title reign. Having battled back from nearly 20 points in the second half, the Spurs battled back to get within two points with twelve seconds to go in the game.
The Spurs inbounded to Elliott (who almost had the ball stolen). Elliott didn’t have much room to maneuver, so the corner was the only spot Elliott could get to. As Elliott’s momentum was carrying him out of bounds, he was able to right his body, straddle the line, and throw up a miracle shot… that went in. The Spurs won the game 86-85, and gave further momentum for the team from Texas in the series.
5. 1949 NBA Finals (Game 5) – George Mikan Plays with Cast on Wrist
The Los Angeles Lakers’ storied history begins with George Mikan and his performance in the fifth game of the 1949 NBA Finals. Known as the Minneapolis Lakers, George was intent on bringing his team the first ever NBA championship. Leading them to a 51-17 record in the regular season, Mikan was one step closer to realizing that dream. However, as the NBA Finals progressed, Mikan injured his wrist.
Summing up his courage, George was determined to play Game 5. He would do just that. Even with a defunct wrist, Mikan was able to scrounge together 22 points. Along with bringing the first ever NBA championship to the Lakers, George also set a record of 303 points in the postseason. If you look up the term determination, you’ll probably see George Mikan’s face right beside it.
4. 1984 Eastern Conference First Round (Game 5) – Bernard King Duels Isiah Thomas
Both the Pistons and the Knicks were looking to start their playoff run on a positive note in 1984. Playing each other in the first round proved to be a difficult task for both teams. Battling to a Game 5, New York found themselves down by close to 20 points late in the game. Someone had to step up for the Knicks.
Isiah Thomas would answer the call, running off 16 points in about a minute and a half. This performance would propel the game into overtime. However, Bernard King was hungrier. Playing with two dislocated fingers and sick (a nasty bout of the flu), King was determined to win. He ended up nabbing a double-double with 44 points and 12 rebounds. Behind the incredible performance of King, the Pistons ended up winning the game.
3. 1986 Eastern Conference First Round (Game 2) -Michael Jordan Scores 63 Points in One Game
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see MJ‘s presence on this list. Arguably the greatest player of all time, Jordan set numerous records during his time in the NBA. Besides possessing a penchant for winning championships, Jordan also holds a unique scoring record: the most points ever scored by a single player in one playoff game (since the 1984 playoffs). Early in his career, Michael had the privilege of appearing in the playoffs with the Bulls. He was adamant to make the most of it, and he absolutely exploded one night in 1986.
On April 20, 1986, the Garden in Boston was rocking as the Celtics were up 1-0 on the Bulls. Jordan was determined to change the Bulls’ losing ways, and scored a record 63 points. He shot 22-41 FG’s and hit 19-21 free throws. Oddly enough, he did not attempt a single 3-point shot. However, the Bulls ended up losing the game 135-131. Still, this performance helped establish the young Jordan as a player who possessed unique talent and a dangerous threat to his opponents.
2. 1957 NBA Finals (Game 7) – Rookies Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn Both Have Crazy Double-Doubles
Most rookies need time to adjust to the pressure and play of the NBA. They need to learn how the NBA game works and get used to the bigger bodies and quicker pace. However, two men decided that they didn’t need the time to adjust. They jumped in full force. And were rewarded with an NBA Championship.
Future Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn were just getting their feet wet in professional basketball in 1956. Entering the playoffs, the two players were eager to see if they had what it takes to become NBA champions. In a Finals series for the ages, it all came down to Game 7 of the NBA Finals. That’s when Russell and Heinsohn both stole the spotlight. Russell scored a decent 19 points… with 32 rebounds. And Tommy added an astonishing 37 points and 23 rebounds. They led the Celtics to a championship and began a dynasty that is yet to be rivaled.
1. 1998 NBA Finals (Game 6) – Jordan Beats Jazz
It’s probably the most iconic moment in NBA and US sports history. The tale has been mentioned in movies, television shows, and numerous songs. When you think of Michael Jordan, you think of “clutch”. That’s exactly what Jordan was on June 14th, 1998. As the final minute of the game progressed, the Bulls found themselves losing to Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz. The game plan for the Bulls? Get the ball to #23.
First, Michael scored on a drive to the hoop. When the Jazz inbounded the ball, Jordan stole it. With time winding down, Jordan buried a 3-point shot with 5.2 seconds left in the game. Stockton actually got a shot off to win the game, but missed. Six titles. Eight years. Final game of both coach Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan with the Bulls. It is the craziest moment in NBA playoff history.