The 10 Most Memorable Plays in NBA Finals History

The greatness of Michael Jordan is scattered throughout our NBA Finals memories.
The greatness of Michael Jordan is scattered throughout our NBA Finals memories.

The postseason in any sport is the time for the greats to step to the forefront, to make plays that will be etched forever in our memories and forever carve their names into the showcase of the immortals. (I think I just set a record for "WWE descriptions for Wrestlemania" in one sentence. Yay me!)

After six long months of the regular season and six more weeks of postseason games, here we are at the NBA Finals, with the two teams pretty much everyone was picking before the season started participating. It's Golden State versus Cleveland, Round Three, with each team having taken a series over the past two postseasons.

The collection of All-Star talent in this finals rivals the greatest championship rounds ever. (It's a coin flip between these two teams and the Lakers-Celtics series in the '80's.) There's a good chance we could get a play in this series that breaks through the list you're about to read and watch, because if this list proves anything, in order to provide a memorable NBA Finals play, you probably need to be an All-Star-caliber player (plenty of those!), and you don't necessarily need to have a competitive series (although it doesn't hurt).

So without further ado, here are one man's ten most memorable NBA Finals plays....

10. Gerald Henderson's steal and score, 1984 Game 2 vs Lakers
The only play made by a non-All-Star that cracks the list is Henderson's steal and score that saved these NBA Finals for the Celtics. Already down 1-0 and in danger of going down 2-0 at home, Henderson came up with a play that Larry Bird would later say "saved the series." Believe it or not, despite being in the league together for four seasons, this was the first time Bird and Magic Johnson met in an NBA Finals. (They'd meet twice more, with Magic's Lakers taking the next two.) Little-known fact — Henderson would be traded in the offseason to Seattle for a first-round pick that would turn into the late Len Bias.

9. Hakeem Olajuwon's block on John Starks, 1994 Game 6 vs Knicks
Am I being a little Houston-centric by adding a Rockets play to this list? Maybe. But given the fact that he was the centerpiece of two championship teams (that gave me so much personal joy), we will include a series-saving (possibly) play with Olajuwon getting a finger on Starks's attempt at ending the 1994 Finals on a three-point shot. Starks would go on to have one of the worst Game 7's in NBA history, shooting 2 for 18 in the final game.

8. Larry Bird's "mind control" scoop rebound score, 1981 Game 1 vs Rockets
Full disclosure — even though I grew up in New England, I did not root for the Celtics. I hated the Celtics. I was a Sixers fan. It was this play in the 1981 Finals, in Bird's second season in the league, that signaled to me that my teenage years were going to suck as a basketball fan (and Celtics hater).

7. Ray Allen's tiptoe three-pointer, 2013 Game 6 vs Spurs
Never has so much shifted on a four-second sequence. Trailing the Spurs 3-2 in the series and by five points in the final minute, the Heat overcame a brutal last 60 seconds by LeBron James (two turnovers, missed three to tie), and Chris Bosh (offensive rebound, assist on the final play) and Ray Allen (Jesus Shuttlesworth!) saved the day. The historical swing on this play — Pop would have had his fifth title a year earlier and LeBron would have had to live with one less title and an entire offseason of questioning his "clutch gene" all over again. Instead... well, here we are.

6. Dr. J's iconic reverse layup, 1980 Game 4 vs Lakers
This is the only play to make the list in what was ultimately a losing series effort, but this was the first basketball play that I can remember wanting to go in the driveway and impersonate afterwards. Thankfully, there were no iPhones back then to film it. Doctor J was "the man" before Jordan was "the man." (The greatest performance in this series for an entire game would be then-rookie Magic Johnson filling in for an injured Kareem Abdul Jabbar at center in the clinching game and scoring 42 points.)

5. Michael Jordan's "shrug" game, 1992 Game 1 vs Blazers
At the time, Jordan's six first-half three-pointers were a complete outlier — a record for a first half when it happened, and a performer unlikely to do it (Jordan was a 27 percent three-point shooter that season). The barrage of threes led to the legendary "shrug" by Jordan that would become a fixture of Gatorade commercials forever.

4. Magic Johnson's baby hook shot, 1987 Game 4 vs Celtics
In the final time Magic and Bird would meet in an NBA Final, the most memorable moment was Magic infringing on the gimmick of his legendary teammate Kareem Abdul Jabbar, using a version of the hook shot to finish off the Celtics in Game 4, take a 3-1 lead and go on to win the series in six games.

3. Michael Jordan's switching-hands layup, 1991 Game 1 vs Lakers
Okay, maybe it was THIS play that was on all the Gatorade commercials...this was the kill shot in Game 2, a Bulls win that would tie the series at 1-1 and open the floodgates for the Bulls to win Jordan's first title in five games.

2. LeBron James blocks Iggy, 2016 Game 7 vs Warriors
LeBron's entry on this list is a solid metaphorical entry as he swatted the previous season's Finals MVP (Andre Iguodala) in the biggest defensive sequence of the Cavaliers' 3-1 comeback against the 73-win Golden State Warriors.

Upcoming Events

1. Michael Jordan's final shot, 1998 Game 6 vs Jazz
This whole sequence was Jordan's '90s greatness in a nutshell — stealing the ball from All-Star Karl Malone at one end, and shaking Bryon Russell to knock down the game-winning jumper at the other end.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.


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